Sport's a Hidden Social Worker That Engages Children in Activities as Important as Learning to Read and Add Up; Education in Wales Must Do Better. Discuss. Here Professor Laura McAllister - Chair of Sport Wales and Professor of Governance at Liverpool University, Argues That It's Important to Look at How Sport Can Improve Pupils' Attainment
inWales Laura Ichair THINK I can honestly say that sport has taught me virtually everything I know in life. I was definitely the sporty one in my family, so tried any sport on offer. Football was always my first love. I played for Wales 24 times - an achievement I'm proud of.
of at But I was aware you didn't have to be particularly good at sport to enjoy it or to benefit from it.
it's Research shows children who are physically active inside or outside school achieve more in the classroom but they are also better behaved.
Taking part in sport also teaches participants important life and employability skills - attributes that are much-needed in an increasingly competitive job market.
Winning and losing, coping well under pressure, problem solving, team working, perseverance, dedication, discipline and so much more are all spin offs of children taking part in sport whether it's as part of team or as an individual.
I believe that sport is a hidden social worker - a mechanism that can provide something positive when they would otherwise have little to do with their time. Sport can bring children back into the mainstream of their communities; connecting with adults that are coaching them and kids who are engaged with education and exams.
But too many young people - especially girls - are dropping out of any sporting activity by the age of 15. Nature didn't intend for us to be inactive. A 15-month-old toddler doesn't stop moving, so why do so many teenagers drop out of sport after puberty? Between competing demands including exams and friendships, sport starts dropping from teenagers' priorities and that is something that must be addressed.
At Sport Wales our goal is to get every child hooked on sport for life.
Physical literacy - or, in other words, the ability to hop, jump, throw and catch - is as important as being able to read and add up.
Our Play to Learn resources are helping children within the Foundation Phase improve their reading and maths in a fun and active way. As the Minister for Education Leighton Andrews sets out on a mission to drive up standards, sport should be used as a powerful ally towards hitting national literacy and numeracy targets.
Teachers delivering the play-led Foundation Phase for under-sevens tell us young children are more likely to learn to read well through activity. Our story books are geared towards motivating children to read and also achieve physical literacy.
Even the teachers tell us that our Play to Learn programme has helped them develop their own physical skills - such as learning to throw - which they had never mastered as a child. Storytelling through cartoons and pictures is being connected to activity and proving to have a powerful effect on children's all round literacy.
Motivational teachers are, of course, essential. When I went to comprehensive school, two PE teachers Bev Pearce and Barbara Owens - both Welsh hockey internationals - were passionate about achieving success in the sporting arena but also in selling sport as an activity for everyone.
But even more important to our success is the attitude of the school head. To be fair, most head teachers already see the value of sport cross-curricular and extra-curricular.
But for those heads still in doubt, I would ask them why they think private schools make such a noise of their sporting activities and achievements? It's fairly obvious to me why they do, as there is a proven link between success in sport and academic achievement. But excelling - or simply taking part - in a sport also helps young people sell themselves to universities as well as employers. Sport helps create confident leaders and well rounded individuals - an asset in any global economy.
Of course, teachers are juggling a multitude of priorities. But by embracing a whole school approach to sport and hooking up with clubs in the community, more hands can make less work. …