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You can’t judge a school by its sports fields

23 August 2012

9:35 AM

23 August 2012

9:35 AM

There’s a glass case in the hall of Number 10 at the moment which contains a large sports bag with two shiny Olympic medals poking out. This wasn’t left behind by a Team GB athlete: it’s actually an enormous, elaborate cake, complete with icing zips. Downing Street staffers are looking forward to eating this part of the Olympic legacy soon.

A considerably less tasty leftover from the Games is the row over school sports provision. During the Olympics, I argued that the Prime Minister’s interventions on the matter were largely unhelpful, but as Fraser and Matthew d’Ancona have pointed out, schools selling off old tennis courts to pay for new gyms, or a proliferation of Indian dancing classes will become more common under the freedoms they now enjoy. The key for politicians is to make it clear that it’s a good thing they aren’t in charge of what one school chooses to do with its sports provision.

Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, has a letter in this week’s Spectator in which he argues that you can’t judge a school by its playing fields, anyway. The sorts of venues Harris academies use in lieu of their own field would make even the most unsporty pupil swoon (maybe even Melissa Kite, who speaks for many in her piece this week about how much she hated school PE). You can read the letter in full below:

Sir, Many of us in the education world are baffled by the political furore over school sports fields. Harris Federation runs 13 academies, largely in tight urban spaces. All manage to deliver outstanding sports lessons. Why? Because of the skill of our sports teachers and the vision of our sponsor, Lord Harris of Peckham, who once dreamt of becoming a professional footballer.

Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich has sport as a subject specialism but almost no outside space of its own. Bizarrely, in 2008 Southwark Council would only provide planning permission to build the school on condition that we would not use the park opposite for sport. Our local MP, Harriet Harman, has not helped our efforts to get this reversed.

Yet the school’s PE department still manages to provide an outstanding sports programme, using the Peckham Pulse swimming pool, King’s College London’s sports grounds and the Herne Hill Velodrome, where Bradley Wiggins began his cycling career. We annually hire our local sports stadium, engaging 10,000 students in a day of competitive sports. A little imagination can deliver a great deal.

The Olympic legacy ought to be about giving pupils the thrill of competition and an outstanding experience of sport. And this is about far more than whether a school owns an on-site playing field.

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