Thursday, October 17News For London

Sport lessons for children slump, but charities revive interest

London’s Olympics Games were a great success that boosted sport activities in schools. Correct? No. A recent survey by the Youth Sports Trust shows a drastic decline in the number of minutes spent on PE lessons in schools across the UK. If a lack of funding is to blame, a lack of interest certainly isn’t – as a burgeoning partnership between a sports charity and primary schools in London proves. 

Reporter: Li Ying   Sub editor: Sonal Gupta 

Group of five happy children jumping outdoors.
Kids love to move – so why are sports lessons in decline? Credit: Light truth

PE hours on the decline.

Is London a more sports-loving city since the 2012 Games? With such an amazing legacy from the Olympics, you’d expect a positive answer. But figures released in January by the London-based Youth Sport Trust after a nationwide school sports survey show a different picture.

Despite the coalition’s promise to ‘inspire a generation’ and continue the Olympic legacy, sport lessons and PE in schools have slumped. In 2014 pupils aged five to seven spent just an hour and 42 minutes per week in PE lessons – nearly 25 minutes less than in 2010. With funding tight, charities are stepping in.

bar chart
Youth Sports Trust: The number of PE minutes in the decline

A burgeoning sports partnership

It’s a Friday morning at Foresters School in Waddon, West London. Pupils arrive for a special coaching session with Gordon Secker from the Panathlon Challenge.

They are a mixed group of boys and girls, ranging from ages four to nine. They are divided into Team Red and Team Blue, ready to compete in some novel sports they have never experienced before.

Gordon takes a shine to his little pupils the moment he sees them, they’re polite and well behaved. He senses their excitement. Some children are fidgeting on the bench, ready to jump up and throw themselves into action as soon as the order is given.

“A good sign,” Gordon says to himself. He has prepared four to five Paralympic events for the day’s session. And he starts with New Age Kurling.

It’s a simplified version of curling, the better-known Winter Olympic event. But it’s been adapted to be played on indoor gymnasium floors by able-bodied and disabled children alike.

Gordon explains the rules to the children in simple and easy-to-follow language. He then demonstrates all the necessary skills and movements to keep the game going. All in all, precision and hand-eye coordination are the most important thing in New Age Kurling and Gordon expects the children to do well.

Martial arts is typical of a sport on offer through charitable partnerships Credit: Stefan Schmitz
Martial arts is typical of a sport on offer through charitable partnerships Credit: Stefan Schmitz

They don’t let him down. They took in every instruction he gave and no foul play occurred.

The division between the Red and the Blue quickly blurred. Whoever hit the big basketball hoop, which was positioned at the far end of the sports hall, aroused clapping and exclamation of equal strength from both sides.

Gordon was very impressed. “The children today were so capable and motivated. They responded to my instructions really well and they longed to excel in the games. And because of their excellent performance, I decided to move up the session to a more challenging level.” He said.

Vae Billin has been a PE teacher at Foresters School for 15 years. She’s very glad to see the positive changes among her students since the Panathlon sessions were introduced two years ago.

Foresters School in Waddon, West London
Foresters School in Waddon, west London.

“They boost their confidence and raise their self-esteem. A lot of our pupils used to have very low self-esteem. But now, they are more willing to come out of their shell to engage in competitions and make new friends.” Vae reflected.

Each child got a medal at the end of the session. All of them were proud and anxious to pose for a group photo with the medal dangling around their necks.

Learning and engaging

What’s been happening in Waddon’s Foresters School is a vivid example of a new partnership scheme combining the expertise of sports charities and the facilities of local primary schools in London. Gary Palmer from London Sport describes the scheme as “satellite coaching”.

“With satellite coaching sessions in place, school children will have access to professional guidance for more events that they may become interested in. It might be a bit intimidating for the children to step into a gym full of strangers. But with the sessions available on campuses in a more familiar surrounding, the children feel much more relaxed and are more liable to learn and engage.” Gary noted.

Gary also pointed out that the lack of sports space and professional guidance was perhaps the biggest challenge for PE lessons in London. And satellite coaches might be a good solution to help lift them out of such a dilemma.

When asked for comments about the survey, Gary Palmer said the decline in sports time doesn’t mean children are less interested in sports. In his opinion, it just reflects the urgent need for more London schools partnership schemes like the satellite coaching sessions.

View detailed interviews with Gordon Secker, Vae Billin and Gary Palmer here: