Education: An outside chance for the unsporting: Susan Elkin thinks pupils should be let out of classrooms for better reasons than mere fun and games

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The Independent Online
THE END of another warmish summer term, my 25th in teaching. Sports Day arrives as inexorably as Christmas.

In my present school we sit like medieval spectators at a jousting contest, prominently displaying our favours - well, our house colours at least - while dozens of enthusiasts earnestly charge past us, apparently at random. The deputy head wears her seaside donkey hat, the annual sighting of which is an integral part of the tradition. At the end I run a three-legged race, partnered by a male colleague at least 12 inches taller than I am. It looks funny. We fall, and endure friendly laughter. Results are boomed out, cups eventually presented and a good time is had by . . . some.

Of course, there is nothing innately wrong with all this. For many pupils, staff, parents and governors it is one of the highlights of the school calendar. Athletes excel. Sometimes they are high-fliers in every sense, but for those who are not academically gifted Sports Day can provide a wonderful chance to celebrate their achievement. The bit of harmless fun at the end is healthy, too.

However, it is a deadly day for those who are uncompetitive by nature and - is it politically correct to admit it? - not in the least interested in sport. I have yet to watch any kind of sporting event where I have cared two straws who wins or loses. I have no team spirit. Much of the time, in fact, I have only the vaguest idea of what is meant to be happening: people dash hither and thither frantically bent on some mysterious purpose, while others ritualistically clap and shout from the sidelines. My disengagement means I have no interest in spectating. In short, I am bored stiff.

Unlike many of the pupils, I try hard to cover my yawns. But what a shame that it is really only for PE and competitive events that pupils and teachers are released from classrooms into the outdoors. The last few years have brought an unprecedented series of warm dry summers. Perhaps it is global warming or 'the greenhouse effect', which will eventually lead to something nasty. I am not qualified to judge. But have you noticed the huge Technicolor dragonflies now zipping about English ponds, the magnificently bright butterflies and the exotic grasses? Schools might be capitalising on those opportunities, rather than incarcerating pupils in stuffy classrooms.

Like many of the children I teach, I love to be outside - something that, in a curiously English puritanical way, has come to be regarded in some quarters as a form of disgraceful decadence. We could walk, make music, do drama, produce art, write poems and stories, read, study biology, geography and history more creatively in the open air. You can be outside without being idle, and you can certainly learn.

I am a reluctant connoisseur of sports days, having endured dozens, including one at a school that hired the sports centre at Crystal Palace. They were, without exception, excruciating events - so can we find some constructive reasons for getting out of doors for other educational purposes? In my last two schools it has been expressly forbidden to take classes outside other than for sport, but no one could ever explain why. There was just some vague idea that being outside meant lazing about. A really enlightened school would make Sports Day optional. I would happily volunteer to take those who opted out for a country walk instead.

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