Sport and young people – by Dawn Forshaw

Sport is back in the political spotlight. Dawn Forshaw remembers a school where sport transformed demoralised and underachieving children

Soon after taking up the mantle of Prime Minister, Gordon Brown announced a £100m headline-grabbing initiative aimed at giving every child in the country access to the equivalent of five hours of sport every week. While I applaud the sentiment behind such a move, it would be simplistic to believe that by throwing money at this problem we can apply a quick fix that will negate the years of neglect that school sport has suffered at the hands of successive governments.

I believe strongly in the benefits of sport for all children, not just the sporty. Before becoming a head teacher I worked for several years as the deputy of a primary school serving one of the most socially deprived areas in the north west of England.

Children and staff at this school were demoralised and underachieving. In the space of five years, the senior managers and governors turned this into one of the most successful schools in the country. The impetus used was sport.

To ensure that all children received access to high quality sport a number of key decisions were taken. The first was that, due to the nature of our intake, which meant many children came from homes where there was little parental support, we decided that our sport provision should be delivered within school time rather than as an after school optional extra.

We devoted two hours of curriculum time to PE and games. The second, more controversial decision, was to use coaches who were skilled in their own field to help us deliver a range of sports from gymnastics to fencing.

A major benefit was on levels of self-esteem, especially in boys. Many came from homes with no positive male role model, so the presence of young men with something positive to offer, selling the benefits of healthy lifestyles and noticing the efforts they made during lessons, was inspirational.

For many it was the first taste of success that they had experienced in their young lives. For some, the experience represented a profound turning point, leading them away from a possible life of petty crime and drugs on the local estate to one of opportunity. Some youngsters were even talent-spotted by local coaches and went on to develop into elite athletes with a genuine chance to participate in the 2012 London Olympics.

I sincerely hope that the government stands by its promises on this issue and capitalises on the many resources that we have available in the field of sport to benefit all our young people – not just those with a perceived talent in a particular sport.

The children at my school quickly came to see sport as something that was a natural part of their daily life. They realised that it did not have to be expensive to participate, it could be a lot of fun, and allowed them to build on other strengths, such as team work and problem solving, which were equally valuable as the physical skills being refined and improved.

Perhaps most importantly, they realised that to practice and develop skills to the best of their ability gave a real feeling of success and achievement that made them feel like a million dollars. I believe that all children should be given the opportunity to experience this feeling for it is a great lesson for life.

Dawn Forshaw is the head teacher at Wellfield Church Primary School, Burnley, Lancashire

Read what The Child Minder has to say on education

This article appeared in the 16 August issue under the headline “How a taste of success proved a turning point for young lives”

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