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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that I speak for every true sports person in the land as I press the Minister to tell us how the Government see the role of sport in schools. Several weeks ago, the Prime Minister said that he wants to see schools finding more time in
First, I ring out a positive note. The recently published Sport England report on schools is excellent. Much more constructive thought is now given to this subject than ever before. Also, I admire the robust contribution made by the Minister for Sport, herself PE-trained; she has worked as a PE teacher and she is passionately keen to see much more participation in sport in primary schools. She is so right. That is where we must begin.
We welcome the development of "life line bridges" linking the best talent in schools with the junior section of local clubs. I could go on. But nothing must deflect us from chasing hard so that more time is given in the school curriculum to physical education and sport at every age group--the younger the better. Frankly, to achieve that will require a huge sea change on the part of headteachers in their understanding of the impact that sport can have on the education of the young.
We all know the problems: headteachers are overwhelmed by too many pupils to cope with; inadequate sports facilities; and too few sport and PE teachers, who work with enormous zeal and energy but who are just too few to be able to cover the ground.
I have spent time recently in teachers' common rooms during breaks. They are a hive of buzz, industry and bustle. Teachers are endlessly filling in paper and more paper. That is a burden which never plagued my teachers, or so it appeared, for they had so much more time to give.
As to the value of sport in school, I give four examples from my own experience: fitness, discipline, the art of concentration and temperament. I shall leave the subject of fitness to other noble Lords because I know that we are all seriously concerned about the low level of natural fitness. Young people are driven or travel by bus to school; there is limited sports activity; they are driven or travel home by bus, where they switch into the computer or television. That is a daily pattern which we must somehow alter.
As regards discipline, I believe that on the sports field it is easier to make young people aware of the real need for discipline. There is the self-discipline required by each individual as he looks to improve himself. There is the discipline of learning to play as a member of a team. There is the discipline of having to conform to the conventions of sportsmanship and fair play. We shall hear a lot about that in the next few years.
On the subject of discipline, in my view it is absolutely essential that the teacher should maintain a firm control--I nearly said "fierce" control, because that is what I had--for the game to be played seriously. As a result, much more fun is derived.
Let us take the art of concentration, which I believe must be nurtured. I was lucky to start early. At the age of 10, I was at a practice football game. The ball was at the other end and someone near me made a funny remark. Stupidly, my friend and I fell about laughing. The master went berserk. There were long blasts on the
Last and perhaps most important is the development of a calm temperament. Some say that that is God's gift. They say, "That chap has a marvellous temperament". To a degree, that is right. But I believe that it can be nurtured. Sport is a cruel, hard taskmaster. You are up and winning one day; losing by a mile the next. There are the quirks of form and elusiveness of success. No classroom can match the drama that a sports field can offer. That one must come to terms with seeking to keep an even keel through the daily strains of life itself has been for me the most valuable lesson of all learnt on a sports field.
I am grateful for the number of noble Lords who wish to speak in this debate. I am particularly grateful to those who have put time aside this evening to speak on what is, I believe, an extremely important subject at a very important time.
Dare I say also that the Government have lost the plot a little with regard to the use of sport in making for a more rounded education for a huge number of young people? I urge the Minister to press the appropriate departments for a more vigorous and positive approach and, please, let it be with all speed.
I start by declaring several interests as chairman of the General Teaching Council and of the Education Standards Task Force. My only other closely related experience is that I once made a film about athletics which I hope went a little way towards celebrating our somewhat better days of sporting achievement; that is, before we forgot how to play cricket, lost faith in our ability from the penalty spot and learnt to come last in ski-jumping without complaining.
Twenty years after it was written, I find it hard to improve on the words used, albeit in a rather unfortunate context, by one of the characters in "Chariots of Fire", played by Sir John Gielgud. He stated:
As I am sure that we shall reach unanimity as to the value of sport, I shall leave questions regarding which party should be held primarily responsible for the current less than adequate provision to those noble Lords with greater knowledge and experience of the history of the matter; though I would suggest that the issue of blame is likely to be the least productive aspect of our debate. Having said that, to my mind it beggars belief that criticism can honestly be levelled at any initiative that in the space of just 18 months has turned around the literacy of our children to a point at which we are comfortably within sight of the Government's overall targets for improvement. That only goes to prove that miracles can happen when sufficient focus, commitment and resource are brought to bear. Surely a similar level of focus, commitment and resources will now be needed to be brought to bear on this problem.
For that reason I welcome the Government's announcement that as we escape from the bindweed of illiteracy, PE will once more be reinstated in the curriculum, but I rather despair at the low level of expectation contained in many of the proposed solutions.
We are told that from September of this year pupils will have at least two hours of physical activity each week, which will include curriculum time and what is termed "out of school" learning opportunities. Two hours is less than half an hour each school day or even nothing all week if a match can be arranged on Saturday morning. I have to believe that 100 years from now, anyone looking back at Hansard will be amazed that this debate was regarded as necessary, but necessary it clearly is.
Surely it is only in Britain that we tolerate the sort of reductionist discussion which holds that we can either achieve academic success at the expense of our national sporting prowess and physical health or vice versa. It seems bizarre to belabour the issue when we can find any number of working models that deliver excellence in both fields of endeavour.
The fact is that this whole debate would be rendered irrelevant if we would only stop being two-faced about the barriers to success and acknowledge once and for all the simple truth that we have a choice. We can choose to prioritise sport, to ascribe real value to its health, social and emotional benefits, and to invest accordingly. However, that would mean digging far deeper into our pockets to find the money required to turn what to my mind are perfectly reasonable expectations into reality.
We need money to buy back the sports field sold off by the previous Government. We need money and commitment to train a generation of brilliantly motivated and highly professional sports teachers. We need cash to invest in the kit for every age group and, if necessary, every sport. We need to pay the groundsmen and the extra staff required to develop the skills and support the team competitions from which schools gather their sense of achievement. We need to ensure that sufficient funding is effectively targeted and managed for our Olympic hopefuls after they leave school. Then, and only then, I suggest to your Lordships, will we be wholly entitled to indulge our national preoccupation with whinging and whining on the back pages of our national press as we greet yet another Test failure; yet another near medal-less Olympic fiasco; yet another national humiliation on an international stage.
As long as individual success can only be achieved at the price of parental near-bankruptcy; as long as we look to our imperial history as a source of inspiration rather than our current levels of financial commitment, we are deluding ourselves and, frankly, wasting a whole lot of time and energy.
There is an alternative. We may decide as a society that we do not want it both ways; that we do not sufficiently value the benefits of sport. That is OK, but let us at least be honest about it. We could stop applying the odd million pound's worth of sticking plaster to this gaping wound and just retire to our sofas to watch "Match of the Day". We could even reinvest that odd million in making programmes about other people's sporting achievements, and possibly sell them abroad. Better still, let us invest the few bob we save and put it into the health service to shore up the support system we shall undoubtedly need as a nation of increasingly obese, unfit, couch potatoes.
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