She koude of that art the olde daunce

OK, the Wife of Bath — we got that. Where are we going next?

Stop that! Stop it, immediately!

Mr Cameron says so!

in a television interview, the Prime Minister was apparently critical of using “Indian dance or whatever” as part of previously compulsory two-hour time slots for sport or PE in schools as he sought to justify scrapping the targets.

He told ITV1’s Daybreak that it was something “you and I probably wouldn’t think of as sport”.

Well, give the man credit. He has to find something prescriptive to come down hard upon, else he’d have to respond to lesser matters such as the Bank of England report or the yawning Trade Gap.

… a som-no-lent pos-ture

When Malcolm is vainly fighting the old ennui, is really, really bored, when he’s run out of slugs to salt or kittens to drown, he feels moved to visit and irritate the Tories at ConHome. Actually, he’s either too reasonable or simply not very good at it, because he’s currently scoring +60 approval points.

It’s the nearest he can get to re-enacting the legend of Albert Ramsbottom (which finally explains that enigmatic sub-header):

… straightway, the brave little feller,
Not showing a morsel of fear,
Took his stick with the horse’s head handle
And shoved it in Wallace’s ear.

Confronting the enemy within

The present exchange at ConHome hasn’t been so much about the “Olympic legacy”: that amounts to a couple years’ more digging, shoving and heaving, restoring the Hackney Marshes to their primeval swampiness.

No, it’s the usual Tory stand-by of union-bashing, in particular — because teachers are away on summer hols and not likely to answer back — NAS/UWT working to the laid-down rules. For the true visceral Tory it provides a therapeutic liberation of the inner authoritarian.

Consider some examples:

¶ … the last thing we want is to go back to a time when school sport was crippled by militant union leaders embarking on a damaging and irresponsible work to rule. Ed Miliband and Stephen Twigg must condemn their union allies for standing in the way of children who want to take part in sport after school.

¶ The teacher unions are full of lazy teachers and they don’t want their well paid occupations prejudiced by having to think about sport for their pupils. Until standards generally are improved in State school teaching primarily by the right to dismiss indolent teachers without reviews, I’m afraid things won’t improve.

¶ … make it part of school contracts with the State to explicitly timetable 2 hours’ sport each day, and include sport supervision in teachers’ contracts.

¶ I believe doing things you don’t necessarily like doing is what life, and especially working life, is all about – and it is good for youngsters to realise that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.

¶ Old-fashioned rigour has lost its place in our soft-touch, over-feminized society.

¶ Boris says schools should provide two hours of PE daily 

And, soon after half-time, hostilities were resumed:

¶ Schools should be competing against each other on a weekly/fortnightly basis, even if its [sic] out-of-hours. Ideally though football/rugby/limited over cricket should be played out in fron[t] of the whole school on occasion with the pupils roaring their school on.

Including the truly bizarre (or is this an outbreak of irony in a previously irony-free zone?)

¶ I do belieave there is a big,big,big, problem with the lack of anti E.U feelings among our top mismanagement of the top three parties.    [Even more sic]

Sweet reason

The sports-for-all enthusiasts do, of course, have a axe to grind, and it is right and proper that they should be at the grit-stone. Much of the time it isn’t any lack of willing by school staff. After all, the average secondary staffroom contains more than the average of “sporting Thirds”, rugger-buggers and similar hearties. Rather the difficulties come from:

  1. Lack of provision (hollow laugh at the suggestion that all schools should be providing rowing and canoeing opportunities);
  2. Sheer cost — the delegation of school budgets means that any off-site resources have to be bought and paid for, including the transport, insurance, bureaucracy … Hence, so much for swimming lessons.
  3. The insuperable requirement of staffing the business. While a classroom situation may justify an adult-pupil ratio in the high 20s or even 30s (not applicable in the private sector, but naturally), that would never be acceptable in a swimming pool, near a water-course or a tide-way, at a climbing wall, adjacent to javelins, weights, discoi (a classical note there, Malcolm!) … in fact in most situations which are not “team sports”. Taking an excess of staff out of the classrooms means increased numbers in the classes not off-site at that time.
  4. Therefore active resistance by managers and school-leaders, not because of any lack of willing, but in the main because they know the cost of [2] and [3] above and have to balance the books.

“How much is your claim worth?”

Even that merely scratches the surface:

  • Put aside any mistaken notion that it’s all down to the all-purpose Jobsworth and his guardian Elf Ann Saftee.
  • All those bureaucratic “risk-assessments” are, too often, a condition of insurance cover.
  • Add in a recognition of litigious parents: if a school hasn’t already painfully dealt with some, they are an ever-present lurking threat.
  • Don’t necessarily blame the parents for the “compensation culture”: day-time commercial television is underwritten by floods of advertising by ambulance-chasing lawyers.

Much of this could be by-passed were Secretary Gove and his Department to accept the role and duty of being insurers of last resort: they won’t, because it’s committing a bottomless purse. So why should school managers?

The quick and the dead unwilling

Many school-students are constitutionally opposed to all that physical stuff. Stuffing obligatory PE into a particular timetable slot has, let’s admit it, the faintest whiff of Mrs Squeers’ expense of flower of brimstone and molasses, just to purify them:

If the young man comes to be a teacher here, let him understand, at once, that we don’t want any foolery about the boys. They have the brimstone and treacle, partly because if they hadn’t something or other in the way of medicine they’d be always ailing and giving a world of trouble, and partly because it spoils their appetites and comes cheaper than breakfast and dinner. So, it does them good and us good at the same time, and that’s fair enough I’m sure.’

Essentially Malcolm’s sticking-point is that nothing in schools — academic, vocational, recreational, creative — is allowed to be just for fun anymore. The be-all and end-all is that strictly utilitarian notion:

it does them good and us good at the same time, and that’s fair enough I’m sure.

What’s missing is any Corinthian spirit, any sense of ars gratis artis.

There’s likely to be more of the same, if Malcolm can be induced to apply himself. Meanwhile, he’s off back to ConHome for another prod and taunt.

Before he does so, he can’t help thinking Cameron is dead wrong about “Indian dance or whatever”. From personal experience he can testify that competition for the First XI or XV is as nothing to that among girls, especially those ethnic-minority groups who find organised games a proper downer, to be included in cheer-leading squads and dance troupes.



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Filed under Britain, Charles Dickens, ConHome, Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, economy, education, Ethnicity, Literature, politics, Rugby, schools, Sport

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