WHY SCHOOLS NEED TO ADOPT A MORE INCLUSIVE APPROACH TO SPORTS

Regular PE lessons should be used to engage the majority rather than burnish the competitive spirits of the few, says Jonathan Taylor, Head Teacher of North Bridge House, a co-educational independent day school in Canonbury. He argues that all senior schools – whether in the state or independent sector – need to adopt a more inclusive approach

‘Most teenagers won’t learn to enjoy sport unless they get to play one they actually like.’ Mr Taylor explained. ‘Teens often hate sport because they’ve never been especially good at it. They never get picked for a team and they get tired of always being overlooked. They’re not engaged with sport because it doesn’t engage them.’

Research suggests that traditional school sports often make teenagers feel awkward and unhappy, especially among girls when boys are around. The irony is that they aren’t unaware of the benefits any less than their parents. According to the Women’s Sport & Fitness Foundation 76% of teenage girls say they want to do more exercise.

76% of teenage girls say they want to do more exercise

Yet despite the record haul of medals at this summer’s Olympic Games, most teenagers won’t be inspired to try and emulate the nation’s sporting heroes. Physical activity levels for teenagers in the UK lags behind those of other developed countries and child obesity rates have never been higher. The problem is especially acute among teenage girls. Only 12% of 14-year-old girls get enough physical activity each week.

North Bridge House believes that school sports should be more varied

North Bridge House believes that school sports should be more varied

‘Physical activity isn’t only good for the body; it’s good for the brain,’ adds Mr Taylor. British, American and French research shows how sport has a positive effect on academic achievement. Good marks in the exam hall owe something to participation on the pitch, in the pool and on the track.

‘The problem is many teenagers hate sport. They aren’t going to skip off gladly to the gym or playing field simply because the latest research suggests it’s good for them or because their head teacher thinks it’s a brilliant idea. Schools and parents can proselytise endlessly about how good it is for them, but many teenagers will roll their eyes and do everything they can to avoid it. They turn off, zone out and find imaginative ways to skip PE.’

Physical activity isn’t only good for the body; it’s good for the brain. The problem is many teenagers hate sport

Mr Taylor’s senior school, which will open its doors to Year 7 pupils from September next year, makes sport compulsory but gives teens a variety of different activities in six-week blocks: judo, volleyball, tennis, rock climbing, sailing and aerobics. He says that as a result his teachers aren’t bombarded with dodgy sick notes or faced with sullen and very reluctant players.

‘Everyone finds something to like in at least one of those activities – and they don’t get bored. Rock climbing and sailing are particularly popular. Students who love competitive sports have extra-curricular clubs for the usual football, basketball and athletics to choose from.

‘Sport is good and students should play it.’

To find out more about North Bridge House Canonbury, join an Open Event in October or book a private tour at northbridgehouse.com/open