Stand up Mr Gove!

Michael Gove has decided that there is not enough competition in schools.

So do many people, you might say, and they all read the Daily Mail. Sadly, Mr Gove is the Secretary of State for Education; I have no information about his reading preferences.

Mr Gove's evidence for his claim is a little unclear, but he seems to have drawn on a mixture of research and personal conviction. His research reports that one in three pupils do not take part in internal school competition.

I have no idea where he sourced this finding, but it does seem a little concerning. But all is not lost as I have seen research evidence that two in three pupils DO take part in competitions, and that seems a rather promising finding! In fact, since the low tide of school sport in the 1980s, two-thirds of young people taking part in intra-school sport is a remarkable achievement.

Nonetheless, Mr Gove thinks/feels/knows that there is just not enough competitive sport in schools. Perhaps competition is like beauty or truth or celery: it is impossible to have too much of it.

Clearly he feels very strongly about this, because he keeps going on about it. And he continues despite the almost total rejection of his views by those who work in sport or education for a living. Physical education teachers, for example, have looked on in open-mouthed bewilderment as their political leader casually hacks away at the progress they have made over the last decade or so.

Well, Mr Gove was recently joined in his campaign to save PE and school sport from those who know what they are talking about by a recent article on the subject.
Dr Andrew Franklyn-Miller is a " BBC, Dr Franklyn-Miller also thinks that schools need to push competitive sport. For him, the blame for the current namby-pamby attitude stems partly from our soft society which deems it,
"acceptable to aspire to participate rather than achieve, to hope that vaguely defined skills might maintain fitness rather than test our children against benchmarks".
And partly from the national curriculum for PE with its talk of "aspirations of stringing together movements", floating in a swimming pool and "achievements" of participation and understanding.

What should we do? According to
Dr Franklyn-Miller:

"Let it be competitive and let us test our children against each other and identify those who need support from the network of doctors trained in sport and exercise medicine as an existing Olympic legacy."

It is difficult to know how to respond to this article. This is partly because I have a suspicion that 'Dr Franklyn-Miller' is really Mr Gove's more impressive pen-name, so self-preservation is hindering my commentary.

Here are the clues:

1) Both of them talk about the need for 'more competition' in schools, despite the fact that England, at least, has one of the most comprehensive competitive sports structures in the world.

2) They talk about school sport, but neither mention the people who actually run it, and who have made such extra-ordinary progress in recent years: PE teachers.

3) They are disconcertingly vague about the bases of their assertions. Gove just states things as if they were self-evidence truisms. Franklyn-Miller does this too, and adds a few suspicious quotations, to boot (as far as I can tell, the national curriculum for PE never mentions "aspirations of stringing together movements", at all).

4) They both seem to have a faith that competition is inherently motivating for young people, when in fact a huge body of evidence suggests that this is not the case for all. Some like competitive sport; some like dance, or outdoor activities; and some like recreational, but non-competitive physical activities. In fact, an over-emphasis on competitive is routinely given by young people, themselves, as a reason for dropping out of sport.

5) And they both simply assume that the imposition of adult sporting values and practices will drive up participation and performance standards.

Dr Franklyn-Miller says that the curriculum needs to be built on on the "lessons learnt in athlete development, and sport talent identification, not to build potential superstars but to change a lifestyle." What are these lessons? If actual science is to be believed, rather than the hunches of a sports doctor, the first three lessons are:
  1. do not treat children like mini-adults
  2. do not treat children like mini-adults
  3. do not treat children like mini-adults
Both politicians and doctor claim to be bound by the demands of evidence. But neither Gove or Franklyn-Miller show any awareness of the huge body of literature that should inform their pronouncements.

Vitally, there is no evidence to support their guiding assumption that more competition will improve participation or achievement. On the contrary, to the best of our knowledge the most successful curriculums offer a wide range of sporting experiences, including many that are non-competitive. And the underlying character of these experiences ought to be play and enjoyment, especially in the primary years. As even Franklyn-Miller acknowledges, lifelong physical activity is built on a foundation of 'physical literacy', or fundamental movement skills, or 'the basics'. Too much competition too soon undermines the development of these skills.

Does it matter?

Unfortunately it does. I suspect that Mr Gove, Dr
Franklyn-Miller and myself would all agree that regular sporting activities are among the valuable experience society can offer young people. We'd also agreed that physical education and sport ought to be part of everyone's schooling, probably as a matter of right. My worries start when they start to talk about turning these nice thoughts into practice.

Sport is a powerful resource for young people and for society. But like all resources, its use is value-free. The value of sport for young people comes not from the activities themselves but from the quality of the experiences offered by teachers and coaches. Provide a variety of positive sporting experiences for young people and we are some way to laying the foundations for lifelong physical activity and love of sport. Mess this opportunity up by playing to the ill-informed calls for 'more competition', or to push adult sport earlier and earlier into children's lives and the least serious consequence is likely to be a generation lost to the incredible potential of sport.

You have read this article children / education / education sport / Michael Gove / physical education / schools / sport / talent development with the title Stand up Mr Gove!. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

No comment for "Stand up Mr Gove!"

Post a Comment