As a parent I would love nothing more than to see my children win sporting medals – but if they prefer to physically exert themselves through dance, Indian or otherwise, that’s fine with me too. And I would see it as a physical education.
David Cameron and his rowing partner Jeremy Hunt have got very enthused about competitive sport this week in their rush to explain dropping the target of two hours PE per week for schoolchildren. “The trouble we have had with targets up to now…” the PM told Daybreak, “..is that a lot of schools were meeting that by doing things like Indian dance or whatever, that you and I probably wouldn’t think of as sport”. So out with dancing and yoga and back to the track, the field, winners and losers. No more nonsense about the taking part mattering, or non-competitive exercise in a world of obese children, according to the PM. Dance, apparently, should not count as physical education (even though it is part of the P.E. National Curriculum). It’s all about the Olympics, stupid. And we’re going for gold. Not surprisingly he has provoked a number of teachers, dancers and Indians in the process, and he must have known that when the words escaped his mouth. The question is why?
With his usual candour Boris Johnson proudly declared recently how brilliant his Eton years had been when he and the other boys did two hours of compulsory sport every day. He would like that for all children. Like Mr Johnson I can never think of school sport without thinking about my own school days – being not quite good enough at football to make even the house team (yes, it was a private school), captaining the cricket team one week and being dropped the next. With his usual political antennae David Cameron has not cited his own school experience in explaining why he thinks competitive sport is so much more important than other physical education. But a glance at the Eton College website gives you a clue about his formative influences :
“Games are central to the Eton curriculum not just because boys enjoy them, but because they embody many qualities in which the school believes. Learning to win and lose, to lead and be led, to push oneself to and perhaps beyond one’s limits, to think as part of a team, to know when to strive for more and when to acknowledge defeat; these are all part of learning to be human.”
I believe in those qualities too. Shouldn’t all our children learn those things? The Eton website goes on :
“There is a vast range of sports available, from the familiar, like soccer, rugby,hockey, cricket, rowing, athletics, squash, to the less familiar like rackets and fives. There are some games which can only be played at Eton, namely the Wall and Field Games. In all there are nearly 30 different games on offer, all coached by Eton masters and professional coaches. There is a school team for just about every boy who wants to play – this amounts to more than 40 teams on some match days – and each of the 25 Houses fields a number of teams at senior and junior levels in the majority of sports.”
This is what David Cameron means when he talks about being lucky enough to have had a first class education. But when he says he wants to make sure every child in this country has the best opportunities we all know the kind of facilities described on the Eton website will never be introduced to every child. And that isn’t his fault. Ministers of all parties have to content themselves with the idea that those facilities should be available to all if they seek them out, join a club and wait on the waiting list. That’s what the taxpayer and the National Lottery should fund.
At top public schools there is a team for every boy and girl who wants to play – even the ones rubbish at sport. But in most schools there isn’t the luxury of giving as much attention to the bottom as the top. If you don’t make the teams it is easy to lose interest, and for the school coach to lose interest in you. That’s why forward thinking schools try to engage children with other physical activities from street dance to yoga and, yes, Indian dancing too. They are physically intensive and competitive too, leading to festivals, exams, competitions and more. They require extreme fitness, focus, determination and a thirst for excellence. They just aren’t “sport”. As a parent I would love nothing more than to see my children win sporting medals for their country – but if they prefer to physically exert themselves through dance, Indian or otherwise, that’s fine with me too. And I would see it as a physical education.