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]