Benefits of a good PE programme

Sue Laidlaw, Senior Partner of Laidlaw Education, Laidlaw Hall and Laidlaw School Search, shares her views on the benefits of varied and good quality school PE programmes, and how sport is important for children’s overall development. After ten years teaching experience in both the State and independent school sectors, Sue set up her own Education Consultancy, Laidlaw Education, two decades ago. Laidlaw School Search assists families relocating to the UK with school placement and associated educational needs and works closely with a number of international relocators.Sue is Director of Education for Junior Tennis Foundation and fc** tennis academy. She has had numerous articles on educational issues published and is currently sub-edits Archant “School Report”, having been education consultant to Archant’s Good Schools Show at Olympia.

My work in education has taken me along interesting avenues over the years. One such area that is now completely interwoven into daily work is the opportunity to educate young elite tennis players, all between eleven and eighteen years of age. Their school day usually starts at 7am and is a carefully planned and balanced timetable of tennis, fitness and academic education. Whether this is a life that many would choose for their children is another debate but, whatever the pros and cons, there is no question that the focus and rigour that they apply on court is reflected within the classroom.

On another level, in our special needs facility, we work daily with children for whom academic work, and learning in general, is a struggle and they often begin significantly lacking in confidence and self-esteem. Many lack co-ordination skills and have never, to date, enjoyed team games or sport at school.

Observing so many children, with so many different requirements, two points become very clear. Firstly, there are enormous benefits, beyond the obvious ones, to all children in participating in appropriate Physical Education activities. Secondly, the key is offering suitable activities that will allow each child to enjoy, anticipate and thrive in these opportunities.

Although the biggest survey of its kind for over four years, conducted by the Youth Sport Trust, has recently been published, suggesting that there has been a considerable drop in the amount of time given over to PE in schools, there are also many schools, Southbank being one such example, where PE is given its rightful status, both within the curriculum and in extracurricular activities.

Integrated wisely, with suitable opportunities for everyone, every child will develop, often in surprising ways and there are many examples from the children with whom we work.

One pre-teenage boy, who struggles with muscle strength and poor co-ordination, had, unsurprisingly, always shied away from sport at school. His parents had not been able to interest him in any significant physical activity and were not expecting that to change. As part of his educational timetable, it was possible to offer him the opportunity to have a weekly golf lesson. The wonderful golf professional who teaches the children has a perception and understanding of each child, but our expectation was that the lessons would be no more than an opportunity to provide a new outdoor experience and some gentle exercise for the child in question. How wrong we were! After the first lesson, it was clear to his teacher that he had a natural flair and his golf swing came easily to him. He is going from strength to strength in his golf- and now in another sport, too. However, more importantly, his self esteem has had a major boost which reflects in other areas of his work.

There are other examples: a little girl, so shy that she has struggled even in a class of ten children and very tentative in trying anything new, has found a joy and growing confidence in attempting her new chosen physical activity, a weekly lesson on an innovative indoor ski facility. She is working with tenacity and determination and has a desire to keep improving. Another girl, who began speaking no English, happily made friends on a tennis court, sharing the activity, transcending language barriers.

There are truly opportunities for sport for all- from the most naturally gifted and talented of athletes to those who find physical activity difficult. The joys and benefits clearly go well beyond the obvious.

Sue Laidlaw, Senior Partner of Laidlaw Education