Why Schools Need to Offer More Sport, Not Less

sports not sugar tax

So the big headline from the budget was the introduction of a tax on sweet treats – an extra few pence added to the cost of a can of full-sugar drinks like Coke.

The government apparently thinks this is the key to solving the the nation’s health issues.

I’m not so sure.

Surely decades of declining activity have a bigger part to play than the odd soft drink here or there?

According to the biggest report of its kind, published in 2015, this government has overseen the most alarming fall in PE lessons ever seen – to well below two hours a week. The Youth Sport Trust also says there’s a major fall in links between schools and community sports clubs, meaning our kids are doing less sport than ever.

Flea isn’t a naturally sporty child.

She enjoys playing games, and always tries hard, but it’s never been something that comes naturally to her – she was slow to pick up some of the co-ordination needed for ball games, and as a shorter child, she’s never going to run as fast as some of her peers.

Without fail, every school report tells me that my child tries hard at PE and always has a smile on her face, but her fitness isn’t as good as some of the other kids.

And every term, I sort of roll my eyes.

Because the truth is, I think I do my bit.

Flea attends cubs on a Monday, which usually involves playing games of one sort of another. On a Tuesday, she goes to a life-guarding club, where she swims for an hour. On a Saturday she goes to climbing club for a couple of hours. On Sunday, she goes to a 90-minute karate class.

On top of that, she rides her bike and her skateboard, walks the dog… she’s fairly active, at home.

But at school? Not so much.

There are two PE lessons a week, but now Flea’s in her final year of primary school, the access she has to other school sports is reduced. Many of the activities her schools runs after school are selective, or they’re only open to younger kids.

There are two after-school classes Flea could take. One is on the day she sees her cousins after school, so we skip that one. Instead, she attends a weekly after-school hockey club, but if there’s a team fixture then the club is cancelled, because staff are needed to help with the match. It’s cancelled almost as often as it runs.

I know Flea’s school is probably better than many schools, and I’ve discussed the issue with teachers, and they’re absolutely doing their best with the resources they have available to them – but it’s not ideal. In a typical week, Flea gets less than two hours physical activity at school to counter-balance all those hours sitting at a desk.

At an age when all the research suggests that kids are beginning to lose interest in sport (70% of kids quit organised sport activities by the age of 13) I think our schools should be offering EVERY opportunity for our children to be active. And the government’s money would be far better spent supporting THAT rather than taxing sugar.

And aren’t these sporting opportunities almost more important if our kids aren’t naturally gifted at sports? Shouldn’t those kids be given a strong message that, hey, you might never be on the A Team but you can still have a lot of fun, and be competitive, and get dirty on the sports field? Or you can take part in sports where you’re competing against yourself rather than bigger kids – Flea loves climbing, karate and swimming a lot more than team sports, for example.

My gut feeling is that encouraging our kids to have a love of sport – no matter what level they might end up playing at, or what the sport might be – is going to do a lot more for their health than slapping 10p onto a bottle of fizzy drink.

What do you think?

[Image: Shutterstock] 


26 thoughts on “Why Schools Need to Offer More Sport, Not Less”

  1. The more I read about it, the more I am convinced that the tax isn’t going to raise much anyway and that it is another way to get one hand to pay for something that the centre should pay for (tampon tax anyone?) – we need more sports clubs, more sports facilities and ways that the less sporty kids can enjoy sport as well as the sporty ones

    We need a daily mile more than we need 10p slapped on a drink can price

    1. More sports clubs, facilities – amen to that. Flea might not be a hockey star just now, but she loves to play – but she loves other things that aren’t team-based and those opportunities are harder to find, I think.

  2. I totally agree with this, I think that treats and fizzy drinks are fine in moderation as long as kids have a balanced diet and an active life. Putting up the price isn’t going to make people notice or care any more than they already do, so it’s pointless really.

    1. Yes – Flea rarely has soft drinks with sugar, but if she did, 8p wouldn’t make a lick of difference. And the manufacturers know that – Coke still sells Coke because – guess what – there are people who want to drink Coke!

  3. I think it’s designed to make the drinks companies reduce the sugar in their drinks rather than make money from taxing them. If they don’t reduce the sugar (Coke have already said they won’t in their original drink), the tax levied is then supposed to go towards improving sport in schools. However, as you said, if they hadn’t taken it all away in the first place maybe we wouldn’t be in the situation of having so many obese children now!

    1. I do get that but if you take the example of Coke, they have made big shifts to cut sugar – there’s Diet Coke, Coke Life, Coke Zero. Lilt and Sprite both got reformulated a few years back to half the sugar. But people complain because they like the taste of classic Coke. They don’t want to buy a new, artificially sweetened version. So I feel they’re being penalised unnecessarily, in the UK particularly (in the developing world, I think there’s a difference case to be made)

      And why is this a soft drinks issue? Why isn’t it a candy issue? A chocolate issue? A kids’ yoghurt issue?

      It strikes me as being unlikely to raise the funds alleged, and won’t replace the funds the government itself cut from primary school sport.

  4. What about issuing every kid with one of those pedometers and giving redeemable points for reaching 10,000 steps a day (or 15,000? 20,000?). Who wouldn’t love that personal challenge. It may not be a cardio workout but it would get them moving.

  5. Sugar tax won’t stop anything. If people want a sugary drink they will have a sugary drink. End of. Alcohol is expensive but people still drink that.
    But this post has made me think about where schools perhaps go wrong with regard to PE. In my day it was called Games. And it was all very competitive. I hated PE because I was bad at it and always picked last for teams. This is no way to encourage physical education. In fact my school put me off sport for twenty odd years until I discovered running and realised that sport doesn’t have to be all about teams and who comes first or last. Learning to play as a team is important obviously but learning to keep fit and look after yourself is just as important if not more so. Schools should offer more sport that doesn’t necessarily need competition.
    Sorry I seem to have gone off topic a bit but you just got me thinking,…..

    1. Yes, it would be nice if schools took a broader approach to sport, but also if the government could relax the curriculum enough to give schools space to offer more sport!

  6. I think you’re right. Though it doesn’t have to be either or. It can be both and. More sports in schools AND tax on sugary drinks (and other sugar-packed foods/drinks too).

  7. But I think that’s the plan isn’t it? The money raised will go into schools for funding sport? Not that I agree with the tax. I think there’s a whole lot of other stuff wrong with the way the country’s diet is evolving and taxing Coke isn’t going to change it.

    1. I think it makes a nice headline, “This will raise £130m for sport”. But schools don’t have space in the curriculum for sport. They don’t have playing fields. Local community sports centres are being closed left, right and centre. From my perspective, all of that, combined with the cancellation of the programme to improve play grounds and spaces is FAR bigger issue than a nominal tax on one food or drink.

  8. Yes yes yes. Here too – our Year 6 girl now only gets 1 PE session a week, and that can be changed for extra maths or English at the drop of a hat apparently. The other weeks she ‘forgets’ any part of her kit she can manage… I reckon lack of motivation and inclusion plays a big part in that. Out of school she does Guides, dance, drama and fencing so I think we’re doing OK on the active front, but school? Not so much. Not through the fault of the teachers, more like the fault of this crazy Education department…

  9. This is a fear I hold for M going to school this September. He likes to be very active outdoors but isn’t too into sports yet aside from swimming. I know at 3 he still has time. But I want to feel he is given a good start. Round our way extra sports outside of school don’t start until 4+ so we will be getting him into something then. But I still want to see the school encouraging his fitness.

    1. Yes, it would be nice to see schools do more, and I don’t think the issue is funding – it’s just as much about space in the curriculum, space to DO sport and more. Worrying, though.

  10. I always walk to school with the girls they also use their scooters so we are doing our best too really interesting post thanks for linking to the #binkylinky

  11. I completely agree I have always encouraged my children to play sport and one of my daughters now plays football for Wales and I will be doing the same for my four year old twins, being active in some form is far more important than what you drink. I always walk everywhere with the twins thanks for linking to the #binkylinky

  12. I think it’s a good starting point in principle, especially if the money raised really does go towards primary school sports, but it’s no more than a start in what needs to be a more concerted effort that goes beyond taxation and encompasses education and other aspects too. For now it’s better than nothing – and a convenient tactic that deflected headlines away from other less palatable parts of the budget – but a long way from being a complete solution. That can only come with more concerted efforts that go beyond mere legislation. #binkylinky

    1. Yes, I suspect you’re right but I definitely agree, it’s an issue that’s going to take more than a relatively small amount of additional funding.

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