Last Friday I went to Wellington College to listen to lectures and attend workshops and discussions, as part of the Festival of Education. It is an annual event which brings together leading, innovative companies and key figures involved in education today. This year was no exception, with lectures given by Michael Gove, Kenneth Baker, Estelle Morris, as well as discussions held by Ruby Wax, David Baddiel and Melvyn Bragg to name just a few. It was an eclectic group of individuals who are all passionate about education and the direction that it takes. Often what is said at the festival becomes national news.
This was certainly the case when Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of schools, spoke about the importance of sport in schools. Since the 1980’s the provision of sport in state schools has declined. School playing fields were sold off and competitive sport was seen, according to Wilshaw, as an “optional extra”. In a recent report, following the 2012 Olympics, only 13% of state school heads expected all pupils to take part in school sport.
I was taken aback by these figures. Having been bought up in Australia where sport is integral to education and never seen as an option, I have always expected schools to deliver sport. The advantages are immeasurable: hand to eye co-ordination, dexterity, physical fitness and strength, as well as all the social skills of understanding the importance of being part of a team or leading a team. It also introduces you to the nature of competition, from the joy of winning to the resilience needed when losing. The sporting field teaches you life-long lessons that can be applied to all walks of life. As one pupil recently told me, she had learnt from sport how to be gracious in winning and dignified in losing.
It is therefore no surprise that at BGS, sport is fully supported and encouraged. All girls take part in sport from the age of 7 when they join us and it remains part of our core curriculum until they leave us at 18. I believe that if you are physically fit you are better able to cope with the academic challenges and at every opportunity I encourage the girls to take part.
To me, however, the most important part of sport is that it brings joy. Not just to those competing but those who support the teams. As a school we share the triumphs of the girls when they win and admire their tenacity when they lose. The pride I felt this weekend, when for the second successive year we won the IAPS Rounders competition, gained our first medal at the Henley rowing regatta, and came tenth in the English primary schools swimming championship, was also shared by many.
Sport is essential in a school and at BGS, it is an integral part of school life. I would have it no other way.