Last term my daughter, who is in year 11, broke her wrist. She had a jagged operation scar, prominently displayed. The need for PE notes had gone at least until half term. PE notes? Ones that might say "my child is not fit..." when my child might really be perfectly fit to run after a ball? I'm afraid so. I long ago gave up trying to persuade my children to fulfil the national curriculum requirement for PE.
Why? Not, I promise, for any love of couch potatoes. My offspring have always been refused lifts, taken swimming, bought bikes and booked into circus workshops. They went – their choice – for after-school coaching in football, tennis and hockey.
So what is wrong with school PE? I remember hating muddy hockey in freezing November. Somehow I thought today's PE would have become more flexible fun. Not so. Those who teach PE are the proper successors to my teachers. "Woodentops", as they are universally known in the teaching trade.
My oldest, 21, and considering a postgraduate winter spent snowboarding, was born with a heart murmur from a bicuspid aortic valve, giving him an irregular beat but no serious health problem. "Never stop him from physical exercise," the Great Ormond Street hospital consultant told us. "But let him find his own level. Do not stop him from team sports, but do not push him into them."
Try getting that one past a PE teacher. My son always hated team sports. He did, however, love physical activities, swimming and unicycling. Once, famously, he unicycled for the Cubs at the head of a two-mile parade. That was the year he did secondary transfer. He went to a circus workshop until after GCSE. But he evaded school games. The PE master said, almost admiringly: "He has developed standing still into an art form."
Our second son would be easier, I thought. In primary school, he played hockey like a demon, walked on stilts and was a mean rollerblader.
He was easier; he cheerfully went to PE for his first two years and started playing basketball. It was adolescence, not woodentoppery, that disaffected him. He did not grow until he was almost 15, by which time every other boy was about 10ft high. The PE teacher refused to put him in senior teams "because he is too small and if he gets hurt we will be in trouble with the insurance". Outraged, he joined the queue for sick notes. Hard to blame the teacher, except that there was no real alternative to basketball.
And so to my daughter. She, luck running against us, broke her ankle in her last primary term, during football practice. At her last primary sports day she completed the fun run on crutches. She seemed to hit it off with the secondary-school PE teachers, but then came the inaugural cross-country run. I had told the head of PE that she was only just out of plaster, but she was still sent running on wet grass.
She recovered with extra physio and joined the girls' basketball team enthusiastically. But then she broke her ankle again. Yes, she has a knack. This time the friendly PE teacher seemed to disbelieve the injury. How, as it too had happened during games?
Worse, on outdoor days, she was made to stand outside in shorts, in rain and sleet, until she was well. Talk about breeding disaffection. Teenage girls are a PE teacher's nightmare, but surely that mindless attrition does no one any good?
Now we only have to survive until May and GCSE revision study leave, and compulsory PE will be behind us.
If this sounds as though I'm pleased my children have been spectacular PE failures, please think again. I feel it is a failure on our part that we have not managed to keep them enthused about school sport. But I do think the failure is as much – OK, probably more – the fault of schools and especially the PE teachers. There must be a way to make sport and PE attractive to the non-team sporty type.Reuse content