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One-in-ten schools 'failing'

Lead articles today in the Guardian (http://goo.gl/mXik7) and the Telegraph (http://goo.gl/76jCT) - among other UK newspapers – report that over 1300 schools are failing to reach official targets for English and maths. Furthermore, 150 schools are reported in the Guardian as having had ‘below the floor’ standards for five consecutive years. The Telegraph reports that these failures are affecting more than 300,000 students.

 While these years of what Nick Gibb (the school minister) called “chronic under-performance” are deeply worrying I am drawn back to some recent and ongoing research about children’s fundamental movement skills (FMS) and the subsequently knock on effect that poor FMS have on their basic literacy and numeracy skills. Professor Jackie Goodway from Ohio State University visited the University recently to talk through some of the work she had been engaged in in the USA and it was frightening to see the connections that were being made between FMS and other fundamental skills such as reading and writing. With this in mind I wonder how many schools – and not by choice but by a complete lack of funding and development in this area – are failing in terms of FMS development?

The findings of Jackie’s research were stark. A sedentary life for many of the poorest families was not a choice but a necessity given the dangers inherent in their neighbourhoods and the need to put food rather than physical activity in front of their children.  A lack of physical activity was summed up by one mother who said “I don’t have two cents to spit on! I can’t afford no damn ballet tutu program for Shequia! We can barely afford to eat!” If we are looking for advocacy in our schools  to halt those who are failing then we need to start treating FMS more seriously. We need specialist physical education teachers in every pre-school and every primary school to ensure that the “activity deserts” found by Jackie and her team (in places where gangs rules the streets and drug users prowl the playgrounds discarding their detritus where the kids would normally play) do not become prevalent in the UK.

While Physical Education in secondary schools remains important we need to put resources into foundation and early childhood education as it is increasing difficult to ‘turn around’ a child’s physical activity habits as they get older. It is clear from Jackie’s work that FMS serve as a ‘base camp’ (to use a climbing metaphor) from which to access the different mountains of motor development. This means tennis as well as writing – as the finite movement skills required in writing are formed at the same time that other movement skills are developed. 

We need to take FMS more seriously and ensure that the numbers of ‘failing schools’ don’t keep rising while all the time slipping under the self-same radar that highlights falling standards in maths and English. 

 

[Blog 1 in my 30 day blogging challenge]

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On Thursday 15 December at 21:56 Paul wardle said
Great post and it is imperative we think and start to act on investing specialist pe teachers in primary schools. There is no reason for students to not be at a certain stage of development. Until the government realises this we will be left with the same old problem which I also believe impacts on behaviour and learning progress throughout a child's life
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On Friday 16 December at 16:12 Jackie Goodway said
Thanks Ash for pointing out the many challenges that children growing up in our poorest families face. I have worked across many counties and where there is poverty we seem to find the same situation. Young children are not given the opportunity to be physically active or develop the requisite skills to go on and lead healthy and active lives later in life. I would imagine that British children will be no different. I believe that it rests with our preschools and primiary schools to give children an "Active Start" in life and that in order to do this we need trained physical educators who are specialists in early years motor development using effective early years curricula. At Ohio State University my team and I have developed an early years curriculum we call SKIP (Successful Kinesthetic Instruction for Preschoolers). This curriculum is focused on developing critical fundamental motor skills like throwing and catching and kicking and running. It uses a developmental and individualized approach recognizing that all children journey through physical literacy at their own pace and on their own path. Our findings for this program are quite remarkable. If they get two sessions of PE per week using our curriculm for 9-12 weeks they can go from developmentally delayed to the 75th percentile (high end of typical development). If they just get their regular preschool program with opportunities for physical play, but not structured or taught motor skills instruction, their fundamental motor skills dont improve staying developmentally delayed. I am a huge advocate for physical educaiton specilaists in the early years and hope that the British government will begin to enact policy recognizing this critical wondow of development we have with young children. Jackie Goodway
Vicky Goodyear
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On Friday 16 December at 20:45 Vicky Goodyear said
Great blog/posts. I was also privelaged enough to be at Jackie's presentation which to be honest was an 'eye opener' to the limited opportunities that some children get to develop their fundamental movement skills. Jackie at the time mentioned that her team were developing some apps for parents to use on smart phones for children to use to develop their fundamental movement skills - to me this was really interesting, using ICT in the early years as it is something that young people and adults are enagged/have smart phones (even in some of the poorest families). Although, in the UK their has been the PESSCL and PESSYP strategies which has improved the quality of physical education in ealry years/primary schools I wonder what the next steps should be and whether this can be/will be further developed and how?
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On Saturday 17 December at 20:30 Sharon May - PHE Canada said
In Canada most of our physical education is taught by generalist teachers in the primary schools. And while they have the best of intentions there is little knowledge of the importance of fundamental movement skills let alone how to teach them. Schools in my estimation are the most likely and most accessible institution where the building blocks for fundamentals movements can be formed. We have had some success within the school system using technology to teach fundamentals. In the province of New Brunswick on the Francophone side, Dartfish technology (www.dartfish.tv - PHE Canada channel) is being utilized and it is my understanding it has been successful. We have also seen a few school boards in various other provinces adopt Dartfish as a means of improving knowledge and demonstrating skills for teachers. PHE Canada will soon be piloting a Passport to Physical Literacy for Grades 4-6. We are working with Sport Leader (www.sportleader.com) to create online technology specific to education that will be used as a means of providing feedback on physical literacy skills and suggestions for improvement both at the child/youth and educator level. All of these are school based - but there are some advocacy pieces for parents at activeforlife.ca It will be interesting to see how an app would work at the family level most definitely.
Ashley Casey
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On Monday 19 December at 10:27 Ashley Casey said
Thanks for the replies. It seems to me that we have examples of good practice but we lack the means or desire (and by this I mean we don't actually sit up and make the time to deal with it because we are happy to maintain the status quo rather than rock the boat), As I said in a recent blog http://goo.gl/Vby2i we need to make the most of this crisis because it affords us the opportunity to do something big and something meaningful. We need to be the creators of the bandwagon rather than those who follow in its wake. But how do we do that? I would love to have the energy and the drive to make the change but I have heard two inspirational colleagues recently suggest that despite their lives work they have made little or no difference. This is disheartening and surely we can use those spaces to talk to those who need to hear these messages...or are the highways and byways of social media and other web-based forums so clogged up that they are no longer super highways but are instead multi-story car parks? How do we find the voice to share these concerns?

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