2 JANUARY 1932, Page 13

The Need for Better Physical Education in Schools


NEARLY fifty years ago Madame Bergman Osterberg opened the first Physical Training College for women in this country. Since that time several other highly efficient colleges have appeared, sending forth each year young women who have pursued a three-year course of physical training and remedial gymnastics. During the same period boys' schools have tumbled along in ignorant confidence that organized games were all- sufficient, an ignorance crowned by the fact that at the moment there exists in this country no full-time physical training course for men. It is not, therefore, astonishing to learn that the physical education of English girls to- day is about half a century ahead of that given to their brothers.

Six years ago the course organized at Sheffield on the fines of the Dunfermline College of Physical Education closed down for lack of support after several years of hard effort ; this year, at long last, and thanks to the gene- rosity of the Carnegie Trustees, a new training centre is being founded in connexion with the City of Leeds Training College. It will require all our support if it is to fill permanently a gap in our educational system that ought never to have existed. Physical education in English boys schools varies from a high excellence in the best to indifference in the worst. In the public schools two lines of development have been followed : either Swedish gymnastics as recommended for the training of the British Army, which is usually in the hands of ex-Army instructors ; or the excellent system outlined by the Board of Education in 3927. In the latter case the instructor is seldom a trained gymnast and at the most has attended one or more of the holiday courses organized by the Board, which, splendid as they are, even their organizers would hesitate to describe as more than a second best. Most public schools have well-equipped gymnasiums, but not infrequently army instructors of limited education arc in charge. In the day secondary schools even the most elementary needs are frequently absent; thousands of boys get little or no opportunities for apparatus work and the instruction is in the hands of amateurs. This is true, too, of the elementary schoolboy. Under the supervision of "organizers" instruction in posture and carriage is undertaken by the teachers of most primary schools ; but, as Sir George Newman has

said in his recent report on " The Health of the School Child " : '

" Lack of accommodation and equipment, and the necessity of teaching together children of widely different ages and of both sexes have imposed unfortunate limitations on the range and completeness of. the instruction Many exercises which are of particular value for correcting the common defects of posture and securing good carriago of the body have not been generally available , . . . "

Every system of physical education should aim at achieving in the individual the best that Nature has planned for him. Individual attention, therefore, rather than mass pro- duction will be the keynote of the training ; poise, rhythm, control, the complete co-ordination of mind and body will be its immediate object ; but the ultimate aim will be no less than to assist in the creation of the inte- grated personality, where physical, intellectual and emotional harmony make for self-discipline and personal vigour. The schools of England are not yet achieving these things. Lack of conviction among those who ought to know better, inadequate equipment for those who are convinced, a few trained men where there ought to be niany—these things hold us back.

What might there be ? The first need is to elevate physical education to the dignity of the school " depart- ment," with which the medical officer should be in constant, but not obtrusive, touch. It is vital, too, that the physical instructor should be a member of the Common Room, not only because the claims of the human body should rank as high as those of Latin syntax, but because lie should be a man of education, capable of undertaking academic work towards middle age when failing physical powers make work in a gymnasium less effective. It has been suggested that the physical instructor should be a graduate. I agree ; not by reason of the fact that he has taken up the difficult art of physical education as an afterthought, but because a more enlightened view of educational values should recognize that two years of academic work, followed by two years' severe study in the science and art of training the human body in the way it ought to grow, gives as high a qualification as most branches of the university curriculum. To such a man parents may entrust the bodies of their sons with confidence ; and watched by him the plastic stage of adolescence will have fewer dangers than it now has.

Is it too much to ask that every school should have a well-equipped gymnasium, a place sacred to the cult of physical fitness ? Mastery of the body cannot be attained in a dusty sehoolr3om or on an asphalt playground—. weather permitting. Every youngster craves for bodily expression ; it is one of the healthiest signs of his age ; but most youngsters in this country arc denied it, except in conditions that reduce its full value by at least one-half. Few day-school boys know of the thrill that a good gym- nasium and an inspiring instructor can give ; or, indeed, of the moral help that comes of felt

If every school, boarding, secondary and primary, possessed the advantages I have described ; if these youngsters were followed up in Lads' Clubs, Scouts, Y.M.C.A.'s and the many fine, but all too few, organiza- tions provided for their welfare, until they arc twenty years of age, what might our country be ? It would not he a C 3 nation. The English genius did not go I'm, astray when it captured the spirit of boyhood in the organized games of our schools ; but organized games are not enough. The continental countries, Sweden and Den- mark, may learn much from us ; that is their concern. But we can learn much from them ; that is our concern. If we can graft on to our system of organized games a. scientifically conceived physical education, expressive of our belief that the human body is a noble thing woyth caring for, we shall have in our midst one of the finest cultural and diSciplitary forces in the world.