Darren Padgett: School PE lessons will engage young and boost exam results

SOME things just aren't as fun as they used to be. It's easy to put on rose-tinted spectacles and long for days gone by.

TV explorer Ben Fogle says Lego is discouraging children from enjoying the natural environment.

Take Lego, for example. Celebrity explorer and television personality Ben Fogle slammed the Danish toy brand for its “box ticking criteria” that has “ruined the world and stunted children’s natural creativity”.

He says those colourful plastic bricks, that once allowed for endless creative possibilities, are now responsible for sucking the fun out of childhood.

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However wild his claim may be, it’s not just Lego.

Recently, thousands of parents took their children out of school to boycott forthcoming SATs testing.

The boycott comes as part of the Let Kids Be Kids campaign which condemns our school system for placing “more importance on test results and league tables than letting children be children”.

In some ways, I can sympathise with this campaign.

As director of Team Activ, I understand the importance of getting children participating in sports and playing outdoors.

I also agree that in many cases, schools are becoming dry and regimented. They are over-focused on achieving results, games have been replaced with grammar, sport with spelling and playing with punctuation.

Children are not machines. We cannot expect them to sit at their desks in constant revision, all day every day, stressed over the next test. We need to bring the fun back.

The simple solution: we bring PE to the forefront of education.

A lack of funding, growing financial constraints and increasing demands from Ofsted focused on the core subjects, have unfortunately led to the sidelining of Physical Education.

A recent survey by the Youth Sport Trust revealed that some schools in the UK offer as little as one hour of physical activity each week, with just a fifth of young people regularly playing sport outside of lessons.

However, the shining beacon of hope lies in this year’s Budget.

Hidden amongst gloomy growth forecasts, George Osborne unveiled his sugar tax proposal: a levy on sugary drinks which will provide extra funding for sport and extra-curricular activities for children.

This is exactly what schools need. But my worry is that with academisation looming on the horizon, schools will become more and more like businesses, focused on results and not on student wellbeing – despite the Government appearing to relax its intention that all schools become academies.

What many schools may fail to recognise when faced with slumping results is that the secret to achievement is not tests and more tests.

With more than 30 years’ experience in school sports, I have seen the tremendous benefits of engaging children in sport and physical activity.

Schools involved in Team Activ’s programmes, and other similar sporting programmes, have reported higher self-esteem, better behaviour and increased motivation.

Teachers have reported pupils have greater levels of enthusiasm for physical education, more awareness of their responsibilities and higher aspirations.

There is a stack of research out there which links physical activity to the effective development of children’s learning. Better PE also leads to better results in the core academic subjects too.

A study by the universities of Strathclyde and Dundee revealed that for every 17 minutes boys exercised and for every 12 minutes girls exercised, academic performance increased. A full 60 minutes of exercise could improve academic performance by a full grade. Put simply, a kickabout in the playground could be the difference between a C and a B, or a B and an A.

What’s more, a study by the Nuffield Foundation last month revealed that the children who stand to benefit the most, are the ones who will be left behind with academies relentless focus on academia.

Disadvantaged children, in particular white working class boys, are proven to be let down by academies, leaving an achievement gap between rich and poor. Physical activity could help to close this gap.

The study of over 6,000 children revealed that after-school activities can improve academic attainment and social skills of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

At Team Activ, the biggest accolade we can receive is when a parent or teacher tells us we’ve had a positive impact on their children. It’s time we saw this across society; sport really does have a vital role to play in education.

As the saying goes, weighing a stone more than once doesn’t make it weigh more. Let’s stop over-testing and vying for results. Not everything in life is fun, but let’s allow children to enjoy it while they can.

Darren Padgett is founder and director of Barnsley-based Team Activ, a not for profit organisation which works in partnership with schools and teachers to deliver PE and sport for thousands of school children every year.