Jayne Dowle: School sports days need a level playing field

It's that time of year again. Nothing, not even the Nativity play, is guaranteed to cause more angst than school sports day. What should be a fantastic opportunity to get our children into health and fitness has turned into a politically-correct farce. So I am pleased to see that the Government is to reverse the trend, and bring back competitive sport in schools.

Although the idea is to create inter-school "Olympics" to encourage the best young athletes to compete against each other, it is hoped that it will reinvigorate school sport in general, and foster a culture of excellence.

For the first few years of my oldest child's school career, I was all for sports day. Learning about winning and losing is important, I thought. That was until I learnt that sports day is about the exact opposite.

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And I was pleased, because too often, physical activity is shoved to the bottom of the list. Overburdened teachers always have something else to do, some other hoop to jump through. My oldest child, Jack, is seven and naturally sporty. He plays football, swims and loves nothing better than throwing himself around with sheer physicality. If he doesn't run off steam he is like a caged lion.

But I think it was the pathetic sight of him in the school hall last July which did it for me. The grass was a bit soggy because it had rained the day before sports day. If you have stood on a freezing football pitch all winter, a bit of damp grass doesn't faze you. However, our (now retired) headmaster, decided that it was "too wet" for health and safety and cancelled the whole thing.

Cue uproar from parents, not only because their children were excited about the prospect of an afternoon off lessons, but because many of us had cajoled bosses into getting time off work, and pulled all kinds of favours to get there. Under protest, the head rescheduled it to take place in the school hall. It is not a big school hall, and filled with parents and pupils, it was pretty cramped. When it was his turn, poor Jack set off to run at such a pace, he couldn't stop and crashed into the wall. Talk about a caged lion.

Everyone laughed. Except me, who felt so desperately sorry for him, and for the other children who so obviously would have preferred to be dashing around outside.

Even when head-teachers are not cancelling because of too much rain, or in some cases, too much sun, they have taken all the fun out it. Every child must win a prize, so every child must take part. But every school needs to recognise its sporting heroes, who thrive on competition and strive to win.

Making them compete on the toughest terms is not elitist, it is

giving them a chance to prove their potential. If we want world-class athletes to make Britain proud, we

have to accept this from the starting whistle. Jack appears decidedly unimpressed by the prospect of this year's sports day, because he knows that even if he comes first in every race, it won't mean anything.

And although it's sweet to give all the children a chance, how must it feel to be that child who knows that they are going to come last? Rubbish at sport myself, I would rather have written a 1,000 word Shakespeare essay than run the 400m. If sport isn't your thing, why should you have to participate in some watered-down version that just makes you hot and embarrassed? And now I sympathise with the parents, watching through their fingers as little Sammy trips up when he would rather be in the chemistry lab.

I think the sports themselves should definitely be opt-out. Then the sports-freaks like my son can run and jump to their heart's content, while everyone else has a nice afternoon watching.

And let's focus funding and planning on those who understand the point. Looking at the very littlest children, such as my daughter Lizzie, who is four, I'm not sure they have a clue what they are there for. And seeing the tense faces of their perspiring teachers, armed to the gunnels with sunhats and bottles of water, it is obvious that foundation stage sports day is one big stress-fest they really could do without.

I think the problem is that while the inclusion of all and the political correctness gone mad is so 21st century, the concept of sports day

owes more to an imagined halcyon

past than anything real life ever delivered. However "challenged" our school, we all seem to find ourselves gripped by the image of jolly parents battling it out in the tug-of-war and teachers cheering in Panama hats.

If it ever actually existed outside the realms of our grander public schools, the PC brigade will have banned it. And the disappointing reality is interminable races, eggs super-glued to spoons to save tears, and pass-the-beanbag. If the new Government

can find a way to bring back proper sport through that particular legacy, then they will deserve a prize of their very own.