The 2012 Olympics is currently underway and there has been much hand-wringing over the state of school sport, particularly the state of state-school's sports.
Lord Moynihan has suggested that the Olympics should leave a legacy by improving school sports. This has been echoed by Lord Coe and picked up by The Sun and John Major demanding more sport in schools.
Some commentators have demanded that the school day is lengthened (Dayley Thompson suggests 30 mins extra at the start of each day whilst Anthony Seldon suggests 2 hours at the end of each day).
We have had complaints that 21 schools have been allowed to sell off their school fields, concerns that the government has dropped the requirement that schools have 2 hours of PE a week and Michael Gove's move to cut the funding for the School Sports Partnerships now looks somewhat foolish.
With so many knees jerking at the political level we must make sure that any changes to schools and school sports does not create problems that are not there. I do not believe that the Olympics is the best goal for school sports for the following reasons:
1) The size of the Team GB Olympic squad is around 600 athletes. The population of the UK is about 62 million. That means that only 0.00096% of the population will ever become Olympic athletes. So should we really set up school sports with the aim of catering for this small population and ignore the other 99.999%?
2) There are many sports which are not part of the Olympics. If we focus our efforts on the Olympic sports we would no longer have rugby or cricket in schools but could have BMX biking. OK, this is not likely to happen but there have been complaints that schools allow students to do things like aerobics, which are not in the Olympics. If the Olympics becomes the standard we could lose far more than we gain.
3) Many students hate sport at school, I was one of them. The current demand for more Olympic sports in schools is being made by former Olympic athletes, who tell us all how enjoyable Olympic sports are. Well to you, maybe, but I enjoyed squash, climbing trees and hiking in Derbyshire, none of which I could do at school. For me team games were an opportunity to stand in a wet field whilst no one passed the ball to me and athletics was an opportunity for me to demonstrate how not to throw, run or jump. I am envious of students at schools today who get to take part in a far wider variety of sports that I ever used to.
So what should we do?
Well, let's first celebrate our successes! We have done incredibly well for such a small country, we must be doing something right.
Elite athletes need our support and that costs money. Giving funding to them from the National Lottery is a good thing and should continue.
Leave schools to encourage everyone to get involved and to find an activity they enjoy, even if it isn't competitive or a team sport or part of the Olympics.
Reinstate the Schools Sports Partnerships which, despite what Gove claims, were having a huge impact upon students taking part in sports in schools.
Schools need to work closely with local sports clubs to encourage students to get involved. Students who do have talent should be supported by local clubs and, if necessary helped to get better coaching.
Where students have real talent, offer them scholarships at specialist sports schools which can cater for their needs. This doesn't need to be independent schools but this does mean that the Government will need to develop centres of excellence in individual sports throughout the country.
If we can achieve the goal of helping young people find activities that they enjoy and provide them with a healthy lifestyle AND create pathways for talented students to reach the highest levels of Olympic standards we will have left a pretty decent legacy from these games.