The Department of Education in England has relaxed the requirement that schools provide up to 120 minutes of physical education and sport per week, the Daily Telegraph reports. The Coalition government explained that head teachers should be given flexibility to decide what level of physical activity is appropriate for their students, and that their decision-making authority would be hindered by a cut-and-dried requirement passed down from on high.
The question of physical education is at timely, as the country has just wrapped up hosting the 2012 Olympic Games in London — an undertaking considered a success by Britons and the international community. Many of the Team GB athletes who took home medals thanked their school's PE programs and sports facilities for giving them their start. Will the elimination of the PE requirement mean that today's students won't get the same opportunity? And even without considering future Olympic stardom, how wise is it to place less focus, rather than more, on exercise when childhood obesity rates in England are rising rapidly?
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt admits that sports facilities are sadly lacking at a number of state schools around the country, yet at the same time, Education Secretary Michael Gove is approving sales of nearly 20 school playing fields.
Officials insisted most became surplus when existing schools closed or amalgamated.
But the figures could prove embarrassing for the Government as the nation continues to be swept along by the success of the London Olympics and Team GB's medal haul.
The Youth Sport Trust says that by getting rid of the hard 2-hour target, the DOE is making it impossible to track which schools are shortchanging their students when it comes to physical activity. The group's spokesman said that tracking the level of youth sport participation in the country is vital, if only so that parents are able to make an informed selection of schools for their kids.
Under the previous Government, all children of compulsory school age were expected to take part in two hours of sport a week. By 2009/10, some 86 per cent of pupils were meeting the target.
Labour later outlined a long-term goal of ensuring children did five hours a week of physical activity during lesson time or after school.
When the Coalition got rid of the last 5-hour-a-week target, it also scrapped the yearly census of sports in schools. Still, the 2-hour-a-week mandate was expected to remain in place. Now that the DOE has made it official, that this is no longer so.