Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What Sandra Gidley actually said on exercise and sport in schools

Sandra Gidley's full speech on sports in schools can be read in Hansard here. I have also quoted a chunk below.

Her particular statement was: "I would ask that we try to get away from competitive sport in schools and think about increasing exercise and activity."

I didn't realise that suggesting that "we try to get away" from competitive sport in order to increase exercise and activity amounts to a call for Schools Sports Days "to be scrapped", as interpreted elsewhere in the blogosphere.

In fact, if you read Sandra's comments, they are reasonable and derived from a genuine motivation to reduce obesity and increase exercise.

I speak having seen both sides of this situation. I enthusiastically cheer on my daughter, who is excellent at competitive sports. I wouldn't have it any different.

However, I was useless at them and the experience of not being picked for teams and having the mickey taken out of me for being "disco-ordinated" at school led to 23 years of complete inactivity. It was only when I looked at my blob of a body in the mirror at 40 that I took up regular gym exercise and I am now what could be described as "reasonably fit". I thoroughly enjoy gym work but it took a long time for me to discover it after dreadful experiences with competitive sport at school.

Competitive sport can lead to an "all or nothing" approach. It is right that we explore ways to encourage those who do not excel at sport to exercise.

The exercise I do down the gym is not competitive. I wish I experienced earlier how you can be fit through non-competitive sport. It is right that Sandra is suggesting ways to make sure that youngsters don't have the same experience as people like me, and are sympathetically introduced to non-competitive sport at an earlier stage.

Here is a fuller version of what Sandra (and other MPs) said from Hansard:

Sandra Gidley: Much has been said about sport, and I want to take issue with what the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said about the need for a lot more competitive sport. Those children who are a towards the end of the queue when the teams are being picked soon get the message and decide that they do not want to exercise because they do not want to make fools of themselves. That is not a positive experience. I have a pet hate about school sports days. Children who have little sporting ability in the traditional sense are often forced to enter races and be publicly humiliated.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?
Sandra Gidley: I will not give way at the moment. I want to finish my point.
If a child cannot read, they are not put on a stage and made to stumble through the alphabet or a passage of Shakespeare, yet little thought is given to the children who do not excel at sport. Too little thought is given to other ways in which children can take exercise healthily and find a method of exercise that is suitable for them. That could involve dance, games and all sorts of other things. I would ask that we try to get away from competitive sport in schools and think about increasing exercise and activity. This is happening more and more, but I worry when I hear people saying, “Let's get back to good old hockey and football and other competitive sports.”
John Mann: Is the hon. Lady aware that one of the great successes in school sports under this Government is that the biggest increase in participatory sport in primary schools has been in the use of non-competitive climbing walls? Schoolchildren of all shapes and sizes are using them in increasingly large numbers in our primary schools.
Sandra Gidley: I am pleased to hear that, because that is the kind of diversity that we should be encouraging. Children often want to try something new and different, and they could be hooked into exercise in that way. The traditional patterns work against that. Many adults feel that exercise is not for them because they were made to play team sports at school, rather than being encouraged to find a form of exercise that suited them—
Mr. Bone: Rubbish.
Sandra Gidley: The hon. Gentleman says “Rubbish”, but this is well documented—
Mr. Bone: Give way, then.
Sandra Gidley: I will give way.
Mr. Bone: I remember watching my youngest son run around a running track and come last in his race, but that did not stop him. It encouraged him to go further, and he is now a pilot in the RAF. The hon. Lady is talking complete bunk.
5 Dec 2006 : Column 182
Sandra Gidley: I am not quite— [ Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Could we have just one debate, please?
Sandra Gidley: I am not quite sure that coming last in a school race is necessarily a proven route to becoming a super fighter pilot in the RAF, but I am willing to be persuaded.
It would be useful if we could look at ways of increasing the facilities for families to engage in sport together. It is often a positive experience for families to exercise together. Recently, I went to a “Skip to be fit” session at one of my local schools. Everyone has done skipping at school, but this involved digital skipping ropes, and the children were quite excited. The emphasis was on learning to skip on a six-week programme with a personal improvement assessment at the end of it. The children were not measured by their peers, but by themselves. Such personal improvement initiatives are much more positive and inspiring for children than those in which their performance is compared with that of others.
I was intrigued by the fact that the Government have spent £27,000—quite a lot of money—on pedometers. I have several pedometers, all of which seem to register different things. Most people wear them for two or three days and then chuck them into a drawer. What evidence base prompted that purchase? What analysis has been made of the cost-effectiveness of pedometers? We frequently talk about evidence bases: a new medicine cannot be licensed without a convincing evidence base. However, it seems that many well-meant public health interventions do not have an evidence base. With the varying inequalities in different parts of society, a little evidence about what works in different socio-economic or ethnic groups or on a gender-specific basis would be useful.
Dr. Murrison: Does the hon. Lady agree that although £27,000 is a lot of money, it is probably better spent than £20,000 on a piece of soft propaganda in the Health Service Journal? In the context of public health, does she agree that it is important to ensure that public money is spent in a reasonable and worthwhile way?
Sandra Gidley: It strikes me slightly that the Health Service Journal is preaching to the converted. An evidence base is needed to decide whether that is a more effective use of money than pedometers. I do not have the answer to that question.


  1. Well done Paul - you beat me to it. I've just posted a similar comment, also referencing Hansard, to Tristan's Liberal Alone Blog :)

  2. Thank you Richard. I never believe Ian Dale's Diary without checking the original text!

  3. I think she made a mistake talking about sports days and such criticism of competitive sport. It evokes too much of an ethos of loony-left teachers from the 70s and 80s.

    Perhaps I had a completely different experience to everyone else, but sports day in primary school was fun, we had silly races, and individual activities.

    In secondary school, for most of us it was an afternoon in the sun. Those of us who were good enough were in races (although the 1500m was usually run at lunchtime...) the rest of us just watched.

    I have no recollection of children picking others for sides (and I wasn't good at sport, so would have been one of the last picked), teachers would normally divide us (probably to avoid that sort of stigma).
    Runs where we all took part, we were timed, and I took that as racing my own time rather than other people.

    Too much emphasis on competitive sport is bad, but the emphasis from Sandra Gidley seems to have been attacking it, rather than calling for sensible policy by teachers and diversity.

    (the call for more competative sport riles me as well... I think a lot of it is that MPs shouldn't have any say over it anyway, it should be for schools to decide).