Leading Article: Whole new ball game for the curriculum

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ALMOST everyone has strong feelings about playing sports at school. Some look back with dewy- eyed nostalgia at the team spirit and rosy cheeks of cold winter afternoons on the football or hockey pitch. For others, compulsory games are a mercifully distant nightmare, made up equally of humiliation, boredom, physical exhaustion and fear. Sir Ron Dearing's School Curriculum and Assessment Authority therefore ventures on to hazardous ground as it decides this month whether to make team games compulsory for all pupils aged between 14 and 16.

At the moment, team games are compulsory only up to the age of 14; thereafter, students may choose two physical pursuits from games, dance, athletics, gymnastics and outdoor activities such as canoeing. One argument for change is that team games are character-building, and more so in larger doses. Another is that exposing the entire population to team sports helps to provide a pool of players from which national teams can later be chosen. Most people would want to see the British character improved and British teams doing better in international competitions. The issue is whether extending the period of compulsion is the best way to fulfil these aims.

The schools where team games are taken really seriously, and staff devote great efforts to making sure that sports are organised fairly, offer a glimpse of what could be achieved. Away from the spotlight of individual competition, even children with little physical co-

ordination can enjoy themselves and become fitter and more skilful. The sports field can also provide a counterweight to the disadvantage felt by pupils who do badly in class. Hence, perhaps, Plato's insistence that a good education must combine the physical and the musical (meaning the artistic or the intellectual) in equal measure.

The danger is that less committed schools might use the national curriculum as an excuse to opt out of more expensive activities that demand more skill and time from their staff. Badly managed team games are probably worse than no team games at all. The Government will be in a position to make team sports compulsory for pupils aged 14-16 when it can claim enthusiasm and support from schools themselves. Until then, Sir Ron and his colleagues should warn it against the dangers of appearing dictatorial.