The nation is getting heavier, or so we’re told. Kids are all fat and lazy, they say. So what can be done to change that? What role do the government and city councils play in getting children fit? Here’s a look at what action is in place and, probably more importantly, what action isn’t.
Everyday in the UK school kids come up with excuse after increasingly creative excuse not to do PE: “I’m really ill”, “I’ve sprained my ankle”, “the cat ate my trainers” and so on and so forth. It’s hardly surprising. I can remember cross-country running, through puddles, bogs and the rest of middle earth, with the rain teaming down on a freezing cold winter’s day. Dreadful business. What, I ask, is fun about that? How, in any way, will that engage children in sport? Surely if exercise is compulsory it should be at least a bit enjoyable.
Yet I also have some very fond memories of PE too. I love football, and I especially love indoor football. Growing up in the north-west of England you got used to the rain falling fairly consistently since about 1947, but it was still horrible to have to do sport in it. So it was a real treat when we got to play 5-a-side indoors. However, that was a rare treat. Usually PE was hideous. Which is why I dropped it when I got to choose my GCSE options. Incredibly, you were allowed to do that. Thankfully, it’s now compulsory to do at least some PE right until you finish school.
So what are the government doing to get kids into sport? Step forward Education Secretary Michael Gove, who’s just announced a £162m cut to the sports’ budget in schools. Oh wait… Yes, incredibly, that is the plan. The Schools Sport Partnership was set up to attempt to raise the level of sport participation in UK schools. Now it’s gone. And it’s funny, the government (and others) are always on at us to eat less, exercise more, drink less. They tell us that an increasingly sedentary lifestyle has led to an ‘obesity crisis’ among youths. People often attribute this to kids staying in and playing video games and watching endless hours of TV rather than going out and playing football in the street ‘like when I were a lad’. So the announcement of these cuts is not only concerning, but also pretty perplexing.
Gove’s decision has been met with some fairly fierce criticism. Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell, speaking to the Guardian, said:” I see some of the most troubled teenagers having their lives transformed through sport and I see the positive impact sport is having not just in PE but across the school curriculum. To cut funding now, when such incredible results are being achieved, is beyond belief.”
It’s not all bad though. Broxburn Academy, in Scotland, has become one of the first in the country to make Standard Grade PE a requisite. In 2008, the Scottish Government set a national target of two hours of physical exercise a week in the hope it would get kids more interested in taking up extra-curricular sport. Broxburn’s decision has taken it one step further, and it’s been met with a lot of enthusiasm. Many of the older pupils believe they’d have taken more interest in PE if they’d been working towards a qualification.
Sport can be fun, too. Cheerleading is one of the fastest growing activities in the UK education system. In fact, it can now be taught as part of the GCSE syllabus. Now it’s not for me, I’m far too self-conscious. However, that’s not to say it’s not for everyone. It involves fairly rigorous exercise. Lots of jumping around and waving your arms. It also works cognitive and motor skills simultaneously, and promotes teamwork. And it’s not just for girls.
Glasgow is doing its bit too. In fact, it’s doing rather a lot. Scotland has a real problem with obesity. Probably because almost everything is deep fried and people drink far too much. Glasgow, though, are determined to change that. In 2003 it was awarded the European Capital of Sport. And, of course, the Commonwealth Games will be hosted there in 2014. They have four major leisure centres, three world-class football stadia, and countless other facilities. One of their new initiatives was to introduce free swimming for all children, a great way to get kids involved. It’s about time other cities followed suit.
The Olympics in London are less than two years away, and the Commonwealth Games are coming to Glasgow in 2014. That’s going to mean the whole world will be watching. Probably about time to lose that lazy, overweight image, then.
You can follow Neal Wallace on Twitter @nealjwallace