Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 01 Nov 2008

The Government wants more team sports in schools. My daughter would hate this, but needs exercise. Shouldn’t schools be helping children like her?

Hillary's Advice

Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, has recently joined Gordon Brown in calling for more competitive school sports, and pledged to spend £3m on promoting inter-school leagues. But these ministers are pushing on an open door. School team sports have been growing in popularity for a while now, and we are a long way from the days when even egg-and-spoon races were banned least any child should feel a loser. More than 4m pupils now play competitive school sport, and schools routinely offer pupils a wide choice of games and activities.

However school sports policies, like most things in education, swing too wildly from one pole to another. With the Olympics coming up, the current emphasis is all on the confidence and fitness that playing to win tends to encourage.

But you are right to point out that schools must also remember those – very many -- pupils who hate team games. If charging up and down a netball pitch or hockey field is not something your daughter is good at, it is vital that she, and others like her, are encouraged to exercise through more appealing programmes of dance, aerobics, circuits or even just plain power walking.

Competitive team sports can build a powerful in-school ethos that is great for those on the inside of it, but that needs careful management if it is not to tip over into an elitist and exclusive PE culture. Since games teachers are all too easily caught up in this themselves, it is something that a school head needs to keep an eye on, and that parents should speak up about if they see it developing.