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The education matters column with Dennis Richards

New challenges have emerged when it comes to school sports days.
New challenges have emerged when it comes to school sports days.

Here we go! The August silly season has arrived. Schools staggered to the end of the academic year, breathed a sigh of relief and pushed off to sunnier climes. Not so for some “unlucky” head teachers.

You would think that anything to do with fitness, with charity and good will would be a pretty safe bet. Sling in something as traditional as sports day and end of term should be a bit of a doddle. Apparently not.

The old debate about having a competitive sports day or an “everybody wins” type event appears to be a thing of the past. New challenges have emerged.

The worse bit about most sports days in secondary schools is the “skivers”. Those who slink off to the toilets, nip off site to the Co-op and generally want as little to do with it as possible. And that’s just the staff. The PE teachers have nobbled all the best jobs.

This is their moment. The fancy sports gear, superbly tanned physiques, state of the art stop-watches and occasionally a starter’s pistol, assuming the head has signed it off on the risk assessment sheet.

The rest of the staff are given the task of supervising the “non-participants”.

They are interested for all of five minutes. You spend your time begging for the ice-cream van to arrive. You muse outrageously that the starting pistol might just come in useful for other purposes.

So it is with something approaching shock horror, when you read what the head of a primary school in Wales is having to contend with. Some of the parents at the school have filmed the school sports day and have contested the results. The head of Mynydd Bychan School in Cardiff has been challenged by parents seeking to overturn the school’s sports day results with video evidence. Apparently they are citing in evidence the arrival of VAR technology in World Cup football. The head is probably still in a darkened room somewhere.

Mind you, to my everlasting shame, I did once feel compelled to make a similar protest. My daughter was running beautifully in the 50 yard school sports day sprint, way out in front, saw me, camera poised at the ready, to capture the moment for posterity. She stopped five yards short of the line, as you do, for the photo.

Everyone else swept past her. First to last in a few seconds. Cruel. I am mortified. I have ruined her Olympic future. I protest to the head, “Oh come on, you can see what happened. Give her a break”. I am gently ushered away. “She’s five years old, Sir. She’s behaving better than you”.

And so to the heatwave. All of which has become a nightmare for St Gregory’s Catholic School in Margate Kent. CAFOD, the well-respected Catholic charity, inspired by Pope Francis, has organised a campaign called “Share the Journey”.

He wants us to understand the plight of refugees. The imaginative idea is for schools the world over to add their steps to reach a grand total of 24,900 miles, the distance covered if you walk around the world.

The children at St Gregory’s walk round the school field three times. It’s hot. The children are wearing sun hats, carrying bottles of water, lathered in sun lotion.

The risk assessment runs to 50 pages. Facebook goes berserk. One grandma brands it “disgusting”.

Hell hath no fury like a grandma on the warpath. There were no casualties and the whole thing took about 20 minutes. The children “had a lovely uplifting morning and were proud of their contribution to the target”. And so they should be. The heat, it would appear, does funny things to people.

I ask you, who’d be a head?