There have been dire warnings that inactive children are heading for obesity, but Diane Parkes discovers a scheme to keep them fit and healthy.
Look at the pupils at Banners Gate Infants’ School playing Teddy Tennis and all those warnings about inactive youngsters and obesity ease a little.
Designed to introduce toddlers to the game, the sessions at the Sutton Coldfield school are aimed at children, aged three to five.
The aim is not to turn them into sporting superstars – just to instil a love of sport and a healthy respect for exercise from as young an age as possible.
While the youngsters are busy swinging their rackets and doing warm-up exercises, they are helping the school meet its target for the amount of physical exercise in class.
They are also helping the local School Sports Partnership achieve its targets across a cluster of 36 schools in the Sutton Coldfield area.
The partnership is led by Wilson Stuart School and Sports College, whose director of community Chris Wilson is aiming to encourage more than 13,000 children to take up more exercise.
Working with assistant development manager Neil Dawson, Chris liaises with 29 primary schools and seven secondary schools to offer sports provision.
“Our focus is on encouraging participation in physical education within the curriculum and in outside-school activities such as breakfast clubs and after-school clubs,” he says.
Formed more than three years ago, the partnership involves Chris and Neil tracking down innovative and imaginative sports activities which the individual schools can then access. Funding comes from a range of bodies, including central government, Sport England, the Youth Sports Trust and the Premier League.
In each case the activity tends to be in school for eight weeks of sessions and can target different ages.
“It means we are able to promote high-quality physical education in schools,” says Chris. “For a small infants’ school with a small budget many of the activities we are able to organise would not otherwise be feasible.
“The aim of the School Sports Partnership is to work towards the Government’s target of two hours of physical activity in the school curriculum each week. We have managed to smash the national statistic of 75 per cent of schools achieving this as we have achieved it in 92.7 per cent of schools across the partnership.”
It is also looking to develop out-of-school sporting activities in order to meet the Government target of five hours of physical education per week for schools – two in curriculum and three in after-school and club sport.
“We also try to ensure that activities offer an exit route for children,” says Chris.
“So a lot of the activities we organise are linked to local clubs where the children can carry on the sport once it has finished in school.”
Teddy Tennis is one of only a number of sports which children at Banners Gate Infants School have experienced while part of the Wilson Stuart School Sports Partnership.
“We have had creative dance, gymnastics, basic skills and salsa dancing,” says acting head teacher Roberta Bell. “We had a very good Ofsted report in January and one of the aspects which the inspectors picked up was physical exercise.
“When they asked the children what they enjoyed in school, physical exercise was highlighted. The children acted as the spokesperson for our sporting activities.”
The school has its own exercise promotion including daily Wake Up and Shake Up in which the children begin the day with a short burst of movement.
But Roberta says they are also keen to take up opportunities offered by the school sports partnership: “It means we can access the skills of a range of different organisations and encourage the children to enjoy sport and exercise.”
Banners Gate ensures it joins forces with its own partner school – the Bridge School Longmoor campus which is on an adjacent site.
“We involve children from Longmoor with a range of activities that we have as part of encouraging inclusion,” says Roberta.
“Children from the school have taken part in art and music projects and we have a couple of their children in Teddy Tennis.”
“We have to sit on an orange spot and decide which teddy we want to be,” says five-year-old Mackenzie Davis. “Then we play tennis and at the end we do a dance.”
Classmate Louie Newbold, also five, says: “We do exercises to warm up and then we are running around on the spot. Then we have to hit the balls. We can hit them high or low.”