By John Bishop, Managing Director, Evolve
The recent doubling of the PE and Sport Premium for primary schools to £320 million a year from September 2017 gives headteachers welcome scope to increase the quality and breadth of PE provision.
Anything which encourages children to be more active is great news, and the fact the increase will be funded by a new sugar tax on soft drinks is even more satisfying.
But however well intentioned the PE and Sport Premium is, my long-held interest in the promotion of children’s wellbeing initiatives, leads me to believe its focus is misjudged.
One of the main triggers for the premium payments was increasing concern about childhood obesity. The government assumes sport is the key to tackling it when the issue is actually far broader.
Playing more sport undoubtedly encourages some children to be more active – but it tends to attract youngsters who are sporty anyway. Those who don’t have a natural aptitude for competitive games will hang back, and involve themselves as little as possible.
Sport can, in fact, be harmful to children because if it’s not delivered properly, it can blight self esteem. Being the last person picked for a team, or the player no one passes to, can inflict lifelong harm.
Similarly, the discipline of team sport or formal coaching undoubtedly works well for certain children, and can channel their energy well. But too much structure often inhibits performance, and the emphasis on competition can deter some children if they have not acquired the prerequisite skills, rather than encourage them.
The benefits of leading a physically active lifestyle are clear and this should be encouraged. However, there is no substitute for a healthy diet and children simply cannot run off the empty calories found in sweets, chocolate bars, processed food, and fizzy drinks. The maths simply does not add up.
Children who are physically active will develop stronger bones, form less adipose tissue (fat cells), maintain better blood sugar levels and improve cardiovascular function. But to suggest that the extra funding into PE and sport in primary schools is going to singlehandedly solve our obesity crisis is ill advised.
So while a sport premium can make a difference, I think the key to reaching more children is a far more simple approach. The main emphasis of this funding stream should be drawn from the first part of its name – PE or Physical Education.
Teachers will be familiar with the three domains of learning which form the bedrock of our curriculum: cognitive (thinking); affective (emotion) and psychomotor (physical). Sport obviously involves the latter, but good physical education encompasses all three.
Sport and sports coaching have a long way to go before they can claim to be the solution to many challenges faced by our society today, which is what is currently happening. Sport does indeed have a huge role to play within local communities and on a global scale. But let’s stop assuming that it is the silver bullet which makes the world a better place.
Therefore, I would actually rename this funding to become the “Health and Wellbeing Premium” and give it a more inclusive focus which promotes a healthier lifestyle. This includes dietary advice, activities to boost mental health, and a more physical, energetic outlook. Music, art and creative activities should also be covered because they can play a huge part in developing a greater sense of wellbeing.
The funding should be used to support and enhance teachers’ delivery of the curriculum, not to buy in cover for PPA arrangements, for example, which continues to dominate this spending. Teachers should be setting an example by joining in with physical activities rather than ducking out.
It works to the school’s long-term advantage if staff employed under this scheme, like the ethos they promote, are embedded in the school day rather than dropping in on a peripatetic basis. Pupils are more likely to relax and engage with coaches or mentors they see regularly, and if they observe them eating nutritious food, for example, or join a playground activity they instigate during breaks, they’re more likely to buy into the healthy lifestyle they promote.
Similarly, teachers who participate in activities laid on by PE and Sport Premium-funded staff can develop the skills and confidence to teach the topic or activity on their own. This is much more effective and non-threatening if teaching staff and coaches/mentors already have a relationship that has been formed in the staffroom, during inset days and in the pub on a Friday evening.
Any headteacher considering how to spend their PE and Sport Premium should consider the following:
1. Start with an audit of your pupils, to determine what their needs are. Then set aims to address them. Sounds simple but is the most effective way to get results
2. Consider clubs and activities to meet the needs of the least active children and not just those that will get good attendance from the same faces
3. Don’t limit yourself to sport; think about the wider health and wellbeing outcomes
4. Support and involve the least active children by running holiday courses at the school as well as after school clubs.
5. Consider CPD courses for teachers, to improve pupils’ health and wellbeing.
6. Create a wall chart with map showing the different community groups and clubs available in your local area. This signposting is a low cost but very effective way to get more children active and engaged in purposeful activities.
7. Use the funds to broaden the curriculum with school trips
8. Run parental workshops to encourage parents to be active with their children
9. If considering sports coaches, don’t limit their involvement to lunchtime, PE lessons and after school. The right individuals can have a much greater impact on school improvement during the rest of the school day.
10. Take a long-term view: Good health and wellbeing practice, once embedded into the school day, will remain even if the funding ceases.
The extra funding offered by the PE and Sports Premium is a real boost for primary schools. If spent carefully, with a focus on wellbeing and promoting healthy diet and physical activity as an intrinsic part of everyone’s day, youngsters will reap the benefit for the rest of their lives.