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There was another one of those jolly picture-led stories about our school in the local paper this week. After being rained off twice over the summer, it said, we finally managed to meet up with two other schools in the area for our annual triangular sports day. And look at all these lovely pictures of the kids from all three places having a wonderful afternoon.
But behind the headlines, it was a completely different story, a scandal almost – for our school at least.
Aside from what most of the parents had been thinking in the run-up to the day: why on earth are they so intent on having a sports day… it’s September… clearly God was trying to tell us something on those two rainswept occasions in July… give it up! Aside from all that, the whole event exposed an obvious flaw.
Our school is absolutely rubbish at PE. In fact, diabolical is probably a much better word. Emphasis on the dire!
Now, like many of the parents, I have to take the blame for this. For a good couple of years now I have been very much aware that the average PE lesson in our school bypasses the idea of any real exercise in favour of a few games in the playground – weather permitting – which largely involve messing around with hoops and beanbags. And this hasn’t bothered me in the slightest. I always think back to my own primary school days and how I dreaded PE lessons with our very own Mr Hell (actually only one letter out) who’d happily humiliate you in front of the whole class for any sport-related failings.
One incident that is forever emblazoned in my mind is, as a seven year old, running up to the high jump bar that was way higher than my head (or at least seemed so at the time), but suddenly stopping and shaking my head resignedly, knowing I had no chance of scaling it successfully, only for Mr Hell to suddenly appear at my side and say with a malicious sneer: ‘pathetic.’ To this day I harbour a secret hope that I will one day find Mr Hell in some old people’s home, old and frail, hobbling along on a walking stick until he reaches some stairs where he’ll look up at this mountain in front of him and maybe rub his forehead and omit a helpless, despairing sigh of acceptance. At which point I’d be at his side to offer the same word of encouragement he offered me all those years ago.
I know, I know. I should move on…
But it explains my relief, nay envy, that my kids don’t have any such pressure placed on their physical capabilities. For them, PE lessons mean fun. Why sometimes they don’t even have to get changed. That’s as it should be, isn’t it? More time to focus on proper learning.
And I’m sure the majority of the parenting nation would have agreed with me before the Olympics turned us into a bunch of sporting maniacs over the summer. Now it’s all about needing more sports and PE on the timetable. Two hours a day, Boris reckoned. Idiot. Funny how just a few weeks prior to the Games, many of his fellow politicians would have happily endorsed planning permission for property developers to build housing estates on playing fields across the country. While the majority of parents had abandoned the idea of competitive sports in favour of the well tried badge.
Do any of us really stand by all these sporting and PE pledges now that even the fuss of the Paralympics has died down and that Public Enemy tune that soundtracked the TV coverage is plummeting down the charts? I seriously doubt it. Exams loom once more, there are league table targets to meet, same old same old…
But even I shuddered at the performance of our kids’ school at this sports day last Friday. For want of a better word, it was a bit, well, pathetic.
The first races involved dribbling a football around some cones, a task the other teams managed with speed, dexterity and panache – especially the girls. Some of our lot looked like though they’d never kicked a football in their life.
Ditto the scooter race. While the other teams sped ahead, even uphill, one of our team struggled to push our one along, staring at it as though bemused as to how exactly to operate this alien contraption. Clearly without a joystick and computer screen present, they just couldn’t do it. When another kid also rode along at the pace of an infirmed snail, we even questioned whether we had been given a bad scooter – until the third kid in the relay whizzed along on it. By then it was too late – the other teams had virtually finished.
Even the normal relay races proved disastrous. Our kids were alright at running, though none were the fastest, but many of them lacked the concept of what passing the baton meant.
In short it was a whitewash. Of course. no overall winner was crowned and all the kids were given medals for taking part. but most of the parents from our school left feeling a little bit aggrieved that our lot had performed so badly.
I daresay the other schools devote weeks of PE lessons to practicing football dribbling, having relay races and generally trying to be the fastest and best at things. In fact I reckon their PE teachers have already had a briefing with their kids this week where they punched the air victoriously and said ‘well that was a massacre, but next year let’s see if we can REALLY wipe the floor with them.’ And the kids all agreed, laughing smugly as they all prepared to dribble basketballs 200m and back.
Meanwhile. one or two parents are lodging complaints at our school, but I doubt they’ll amount to much. Indeed when I asked my daughter what she did in PE this week, she shrugged her shoulders and said ‘free play’. I still don’t know what this means, but I do know they are not anti-exercise and playing games. PE lessons should be about preparing kids for sports day, never mind the Olympics. Otherwise what is the point in having sports day? Other than to maybe flog school hoodies at £20 a time, but don’t get me started on that.
It took quite a lot to persuade my kids along to the sports day this year, but next year I’m tempted to leave it and stay at home. After all, if the staff can’t be bothered, I don’t see why us parents should be.