To most schools a broad sports curriculum means 6 seasonal sports, swimming, PE and a couple of clubs. A remarkably narrow choice.
A broad curriculum requires a broad sports curriculum and a broad arts curriculum as well as a broad academic curriculum. This article focuses on the broad sports curriculum. It is perhaps the easiest of the three to evaluate since it reflects the number of sports offered and the time available for sport. The more sports, the more time for sport, the broader the sports curriculum.
Exercise is important for health, we know. A quick run around a park is good for everybody. But why is a broad sports curriculum important? In other words, what’s the benefit of a wider choice of sports? The answer is fourfold;
- Different sports exercise different parts of the body. Sports vary in the way they test cardiovascular fitness, specific muscle groups, flexibility and coordination.
- More sports and more time for sport lead to greater pupil participation in sport.
- Sports provide life lessons in teamwork, perseverance, dealing with success and failure.
- Individual sports give the opportunity for everyone to excel, not just those in the first VII, XI or XV.
PE is compulsory in UK state schools for pupils up to the age of 16. However, the amount of teaching time for PE is a school’s own decision. The English National Primary Curriculum for Physical Education mandates the teaching of;
- Running, jumping, throwing, catching,
- Balance and control, co-ordination, agility, flexibility and strength,
- Team games, attacking and defending, tactics,
- Dance and movement (up to Year 2),
- Outdoor and adventurous activities (usually in an adventure trip/residential),
- Personal bests and continuous improvement,
- Swimming and self-rescue (during Years 3-6),
- Competitive sports against other schools (from Year 7 onwards).
So, if a school offers more than this then they offer a broader sports curriculum than average.
The average UK school allocates about 9% of curriculum time to sport. That’s 2 hours per week of PE and Games. Some independent schools allocate 20% or more of a significantly longer school day. There may also be extra time at the end of the school day for team practice or sports clubs.
A broad sports curriculum in primary schools
Recent initiatives such as the Sports Premium and the School Games Mark have improved sports in state primaries. The Sports Premium has increased the number of sports taught. The School Games Mark has boosted inter school competitive fixtures at Years 3 to 6.
A typical primary school will offer football, netball, cross country in the winter, possibly hockey and/or rugby in Spring, and athletics, cricket and/or rounders in summer. There will be PE/gymnastics/health related fitness all year round. And swimming, at least for a term in junior school. Extracurricular clubs will be the major sport of the term; for the school team and sometimes for a mixed ability group. Beyond that the clubs are most likely to be two from a martial art, dodgeball, basketball and mixed sports. For many pupils, these after school clubs are the only opportunity to try non-team, individual sports. The most popular are tennis, fencing, archery, badminton, table tennis and golf.
Schools in the UK offer around 170 different sports. From abseiling and Aikido to windsurfing and yoga. Despite that huge variety the average number of sports offered by a state primary is 10 sports. While the average for an independent prep is 12 sports. Though not a big difference, the range is much wider; 8 to 19 for state, 1 to 39 for independent.
There is a limited opportunity to engage pupils in a broad sports curriculum
A broad sports curriculum doesn’t necessarily mean that a school achieves honours in sport. Equally, getting every pupil involved in a sport won’t boost the success of the football team. Teaching, facilities and the skill and perseverance of the pupils have more of an influence on sporting success.
Some argue that there is a limited age opportunity in which to introduce a broad sports curriculum to children. It starts when basic coordination and tactical awareness have sufficiently developed. It ends when pupils become too self-conscious to try or consider themselves “no good at sport”. That age range could be as wide as Years 3 to 11, but as narrow as Years 5 to 8.
It doesn’t help that many schools rarely stray from the “Big 10” sports; swimming, athletics, gymnastics, football, rugby, netball, cricket, hockey, tennis and cross country. However, some schools do offer and indeed focus on less obvious sports. There are schools, for example, whose sporting reputation comes from Karate, orienteering or gymnastics. Perhaps more schools should look outside the mainstream; broaden their sporting horizons. Particularly when pupils are receptive to trying something new.
Anyone for boxing, capoeira, canoe polo, croquet, handball, hurling, indoor rowing, korfball, Munro bagging, Parkour, skateboarding, surfing or tchoukball?