Select Committee on Health Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Mr Graham Readfearn (PH 63)

  Graham Readfearn is a journalist for the Yorkshire Post.

  He has been largely responsible for researching and writing a series of articles called A Sporting Chance, a continuing campaign to highlight the decline of sport and PE in schools.


  A number of concerns prompted the Yorkshire Post to launch the campaign.

  For the vast majority of youngsters, their first introduction to physical exercise and sport come during their days at school.

  Regular exercise is acknowledged to be an effective factor in combating heart disease and a key factor in developing a healthy lifestyle.

  However, the Yorkshire Post was struck by the findings of a number of pieces of research in the past few years which showed a clear and worrying decline in both the quantity and quality of physical education and sports activity in our schools.

  Prompted by this research, some of which is outlined in this memoranda, the Yorkshire Post embarked on its Sporting Chance campaign to revive sport and PE in schools.

  We contend that successive Governments have paid lip-service to the value of school sport while presiding over its decline.

  We sought the reasons for this decline. We questioned world experts in physical education, more than 50 influential sporting figures both nationally and in Yorkshire and also sought the views of politicians from all political parties.

  Importantly, we sought the views of almost 400 Yorkshire teachers.

  We wrote to them with a questionnaire and asked them for their views and support and their response amounted to a scathing attack on the state of school sport.

  Some 55 per cent said they were either pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of their subject.

  Eighty-eight per cent said pressure on curriculum time because of the emphasis on maths and English was a major factor in the subject's decline and 76 per cent said the current time allowed was not enough to give children a proper grounding in sport and PE.

  Embarrassingly, 39 per cent had not heard about the Government's sports strategy, launched just weeks earlier, and 41 per cent of those who had heard about it, thought it would have only a minor impact.

  In our campaign, we suggested a number of measures which we felt would improve the prospects for sport and PE in schools. These are also discussed here.

  We continue to highlight areas of good practice, where teachers and other individuals have, despite a negative backdrop, embraced sport and PE in their school and are reaping the educational rewards.

  As the campaign continues, we are also aiming to make a difference in our own area, by providing free sports equipment to schools and coaching to primary school teachers and creating a web site for teachers, youngsters and parents to celebrate school sport in Yorkshire.

  We hope the committee will acknowledge that good quality provision for sport and PE is a key factor in a healthy lifestyle. We feel this is at risk.


  1.  Earlier research—Presented here are a selection of sourced facts, statistics and statements used as part of the Yorkshire Post Sporting Chance campaign which all bear on a reduction of physical activity among youngsters.

  1.1  Only 11 per cent of children aged 6-8 spend two or more hours in PE lessons a week, compared with 32 per cent in 1994. (Source: Sport England February 2000.)

  1.2  Only 21 per cent of children aged 9-11 spend more than two hours in PE lessons a week, compared with 46 per cent in 1994. (Sport England February 2000.)

  1.3  Some 95 per cent of primary schools have no full time PE specialist and 86 per cent have no part-time specialist either. (Sport England February 2000.)

  1.4  A quarter of all teachers say sports facilities are inadequate. (Sport England, February 2000.)

  1.5  Children spend 7.5 hours on sport/exercise, 11.4 hours watching television and 4.4 hours playing computer games. (Sport England February 2000.)

  1.6  One third of primary schools have reduced time for PE during the last school year, half losing 30 minutes a week and a further 20 per cent lost an hour. (Sport and Physical Education Network August 1999.)

  1.7  One third of primary schools say there is insufficient support for teachers to become confident and competent in teaching PE. (Sport and Physical Education Network August 1999.)

  1.8  A quarter of primary schools have insufficient qualified PE staff. (Sport and Physical Education Network August 1999.)

  1.9  Experienced teachers of PE say the future of the subject has never looked so bleak. (Sport and Physical Education Network August 1999.)

  1.10  Just under half of secondary PE heads said traditional outdoor sports had been eroded by the take up of indoor facilities. (Stadia Sports Ltd survey February 2000.)

  1.11  More than half of Britain's youngsters fail to do the minimum recommended level of exercise for their age. (Haris poll for Norwich Union Healthcare, 1998.)

  1.12  Obesity in the last 10 years has doubled in six-year-olds and trebled in 15-year-olds. (Reilly J J and Dorosty A R Epidemic of obesity in UK children—The Lancet November 1999.)


  Many primary school teachers lack the confidence to deliver quality games and PE lessons in their schools because during their four-year teacher training, some get as little as six hours learning about PE.

  This means that unless individuals are predisposed to physical activities, they will either shy away from delivering it or do it in a way which does not properly teach our youngsters the basics of running, jumping, catching or hitting a ball.

  If youngsters are not taught properly these basics, it can restrict the enjoyment they get from a game or activity, thus reducing the chances of them taking it on outside school and developing a "healthy habit" to take into secondary school and adulthood.

  Also, this develops an environment where youngsters do not really know why they are doing something—for example that stretching helps them to avoid injury or that cardio-vascular-based activities are good for them—and so does not encourage them to continue. We discovered that Sport England's Top Sport programme is attempting to address this skills gap by providing kit, lesson plans and coaching to primary school teachers and we feel this programme should be encouraged.


  The Government must intervene to ensure that, through the Teacher Training Agency, trainee teachers in primary schools are given enough time to become confident in learning the basics of delivering quality PE lessons to youngsters.


  According to Prof. Margaret Talbot, head of sport at Leeds Metropolitan University and a genuine world expert on physical education, children spend more time out of school caring for their family or in part-time jobs than they do in front of the television or computer screen.

  And, according to Sport England, each week children spend 7.5 hours on sport/exercise, 11.4 hours watching television and 4.4 hours playing computer games.

  Many of these children do have commitments after school and so developments for extra-curricular sport are not within their reach.

  It is essential then, that these children get regular exercise while in school. But the facts as represented in 1.1, 1.2 and 1.6 of this evidence show this is not happening.

  In 1998, Education Secretary David Blunkett suspended the detailed orders for PE in the national curriculum at key stages one and two.

  At the same time, he introduced literacy and numeracy hours and continued to support league tables which gauge schools performance on results in these areas.

  Headteachers no longer had to follow the curriculum guidelines for PE and were free to teach the subject however they pleased.

  Under pressure to perform in literacy and numeracy, they were left with a difficult choice and understandably PE was not a priority—as it obviously was not a priority for the Education Secretary.

  According to research carried out in 1995, before the national curriculum was suspended at primary school level, Britain gave school children an average of 105 minutes of PE a week—behind Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Switzerland, Luxembourg and France.

  It is still too early to assess the damage caused to the PE profession during this period of suspension of the curriculum, which reverts back to full curriculum guidelines in September 2000.


  While nobody argues against the benefits of a literate and numerate nation, that the Government helps to redress an imbalance by allowing schools the time during school hours to deliver at least two hours of PE a week and thus deliver a more rounded child, in an educational sense.


  It is a myth that the teacher stood on the touchline on a Saturday morning/Tuesday evening, coaching his sports team, is getting paid for it.

  Since the industrial action of the late 80s and early 90s, some teachers who had for years given up their time free of charge finally withdrew their goodwill. Many have not returned.

  PE teachers and non-specialist teachers who do coach in their own time continue to be ignored by the Government while they watch their peers being paid to take after-school homework clubs and SAT preparation sessions.

  There are still thousands of teachers who give up their time to support sport, not only at their school, but in the wider community. In France, these teachers are paid for their time.


  That the Government reward teachers for the free time they give up to coach our youngsters.


  Inevitably with an every growing population, there has got to be areas of open space found to make way for housing. Thousands of sports fields have been sold off since the early 80s, when a Conservative Government actively encouraged schools to sell off their fields by allowing Grant Maintained schools to keep 100 per cent of the profits from sales, where the figure had previously been 50 per cent.

  Without a field or play area, children will not seek to travel to find somewhere, but will instead hang around on a street corner or sit indoors and watch television. There is no way back from here and those fields cannot be brought back.


  That the Government keeps its manifesto promise to stop the sale of sports fields and to encourage local authorities to consider that there are adequate facilities for physical activity when granting planning permission for new developments.


  The British Heart Foundation has repeatedly told us that Britain is the heart disease capital of Europe.

  According to figures compiled by the Central Council for Physical Recreation before the July 2000 Comprehensive Spending Review, Britain's treasury gave 88p per person to sport, compared with £3.31 in Germany, £5.16 in France and £18.51 for every person living in Sweden.

  The national lottery was hailed as a panacea to all sports problems.

  But in the last three years, lottery sales have slumped and annually the money going to sport, through Sport England, has fallen by £100 million from £300 million a year in 1997.

  That fall went unchecked by the Government, whose treasury continued to put £34 million a year into sport but continued to pour millions and millions into the health service.

  More investment in sport would help to introduce more people to regular exercise and reduce the need to spend millions on a reactive rather than preventative health service.

  Recommendations (written before the details of the July 2000 Comprehensive Spending Review were revealed)

  That the Government radically reviews its funding to sport at grassroots level to create a healthier nation and reduce the need to spend millions on the National Health Service.

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