Ofsted claim many state schools ‘opt out’ of competitive sport

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
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OFSTED have sparked a row by claiming that too many pupils are being denied the chance to take part in competitive sport by state schools who treat it as an “optional extra”.

In a new report published today, the chief inspector said a child’s education was poorer if they were deprived the chance to compete.

Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested that many state schools were failing to offer good quality competitive sport when it should be seen as key to helping boost children’s results in the classroom and exam hall.

Ofsted’s new report, commissioned after the 2012 London Olympics, examined why so many winning athletes come from private schools rather than the state sector, and the links between the quality of competitive school sport and sporting success later in life.

It found “unacceptable discrepancies” between the proportion of pupils attending state schools and how well they were represented in elite sport. Sir Michael has suggested this was down to private school’s attitude towards the subject.

However Kevin Courtney, the deputy general Secretary of the National Union of Teachers described Ofsted’s findings as ridiculous and highlighted funding cuts as one of the problems.

Fewer than one in 10 pupils across England attend fee-paying schools, but they make up the majority of the players in the English Rugby Union Premiership, the watchdog said.

Privately educated students also accounted for more than a third of top-flight cricket players, it added.

The study, based on visits to 10 independent schools, 35 state schools, plus surveys of headteachers and 11 to 18-year-olds, concluded that competitive sport remained optional in the vast majority of state schools.

In many state schools, the quality of competitive sport was no better than average, while in a significant number it was weak, inspectors warned.

Half of the 1,000 young people questioned said they regularly played sport in school against their classmates or other schools, while 40 per cent said they regularly played sport outside of school.

The report found that the best schools’ competitive sport was flourishing because it was valued and seen as a key part of the culture and ethos.

Coaches were hired to work alongside teachers and coach school teams, while teachers gave up their time to help organise activities and run teams.

But it added: “In too many of the other maintained schools and academies we visited, students had few opportunities to excel in competitive sport because it was not seen as a priority.

“It was undervalued by school leaders, who were not investing in it.”

These schools were less likely to be rated good or outstanding, Ofsted said, and typically had lower levels of academic achievement than those state schools that offered high-quality competitive sport.

The report did note that limited facilities were a factor in preventing some state schools from helping their pupils to excel on the sports field.

Eight of the state school and academies visited had a swimming pool, it found, 16 did not have a multi-use games area with an all-weather surface and one academy did not have playing fields.

Inspectors suggested that helping pupils to train and play sport outside of school hours was easier with good facilities and supporting competitive sport was much more difficult if a school lacked these facilities.

However in a foreword to the report, Sir Michael said that private schools performed better at sport not because they had better resources, but because of their attitudes to the subject.

“As things stand, many state schools treat competitive sport as an optional extra or fail to offer it in any meaningful way,” he wrote.

“They get on the bus but fail to turn up on the pitch.

“This matters not because I expect every school to produce a Mo Farah, but because children’s education is the poorer if they are deprived of the chance to compete.”

He added: “The real value of competitive sport is the positive effect it has on education.

“Schools that win on the field win in the exam hall.”

Sir Michael, who is due to present the report at the Festival of Education at Wellington College today said: “Heads who treat competitive sport with suspicion or as an optional extra are not only denying youngsters the clear dividends that come with encouraging them to compete, they are also cementing the social inequality that holds our nation back.”

He added: “More state schools are now encouraging sporting excellence.

“They use competitive schools sport to energise the entire school culture.

“They demonstrate that high school fees and large playing fields are not a pre-requisite to success.

“If all schools follow the example of the best identified in this report, there is no reason why more pupils from state-funded schools can’t be batting for England at the Ashes or scoring a winning try in the next Six Nations.”

John Steele, chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said: “The findings from this report highlight a worrying inconsistency in the provision of competitive sport being offered in state schools.

“It is encouraging however, to see that where state schools take competitive sport seriously there is a clear correlation to academic attainment.

“Not only does PE and competitive sport build confidence and self esteem, it plays an integral role in boosting academic achievement across all areas of education.

“This report should be a wake-up call for those schools that do not fully value its place in school life.”

Mr Courtney said: “Ofsted’s comparison between state and independent school sport provision is ridiculous. State schools have neither the same facilities nor time and space in the curriculum for sport as independent schools.

“Free schools and academies are being allowed to open with little, or, in some cases, no playgrounds let alone playing fields. The Coalition Government abandoned the target of two hours PE provision a week. Funding for the School Sports Partnership was also withdrawn - it funded work at a local level, linking schools with sports and athletics clubs. Ofsted’s report itself points out that providing opportunities to train for and play sports is a lot easier if there are good facilities at hand. It also points out that many of the schools visited did not have such facilities.

“Asking teachers to do more is the usual solution to issues from Ofsted. Teachers already put in the ‘extra mile’ for students, often working up to 60 hours a week. Many take on extra-curricular activities. It is not teachers who are the barrier to a good sports education in schools but a lack of support, resources, funding and facilities. Those are the areas Ofsted should have been looking into with this report.”

Local headteachers have rejected Ofsted’s view of sport in state schools.

Goole High’s executive co-head teacher Danuta Tomasz said: “Our PE department is as strong as any you will find in any school, whose members go above and beyond to instil a sense of sporting pride in the students and making sure there are many and varied opportunities both within and outside school time for them to get involved in.

“The staff are passionate about sport and pass on to the pupils their absolute belief that taking part in team or individual activities, at any level, is central to providing the life skills and attitude that produces success in life in general.”