Welsh Paralympic multi-gold medallist Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson has spoken of her desire for Wales to become pioneers in fighting the global obesity epidemic by making Physical Education (PE) a ‘core’ subject at school, alongside English, Welsh, mathematics and science.
Baroness Grey-Thompson, 43, was born with the congenital disorder spina bifida and therefore requires the use of a wheelchair. However, the disability did not prevent her from having a hugely successful athletic career and by the time of her official retirement in 2007, had achieved an impressive haul of 16 Paralympic medals; becoming Britain’s most successful paralympian. This included 11 gold medals and Baroness Grey-Thompson also held more than 30 world records and was a six-time London Marathon winner (between 1992 and 2002).
The former paralympian chaired a group comprising of education and physical activity experts from across Wales, and she delivered the report herself yesterday to the education minister Leighton Andrews and minister for culture and sport John Griffiths.
The reported praised the Welsh Government’s effort in maintaining ‘physical literacy’ as crucial as reading, writing and numeracy in schools, further adding that the government should ideally bestow PE with a ‘core subject status’, together with English, Welsh, maths and science. This would make Wales the first nation in the world to take such a stance.
Estimates for childhood obesity rates in the UK show that Wales have the highest, and Baroness Grey-Thompson is worried that unless actions are taken as soon as possible then the problem will get much worse.
Although the group predict promoting PE to that of a core subject could potentially cost £5 million annually, this is relatively inexpensive when bearing in mind that obesity and its related health conditions cost the NHS in Wales approximately £73 million each year.
After being requested to formulate innovative and practical recommendations on developing the role of schools in increasing levels of physical activity among children and young people, the group spent six months deliberating on ideas – mulling over how to improve facilities, training, the curriculum and the inspection of sports provision in schools.
Baroness Grey-Thompson says that if PE is to become a core subject, all teachers will have to be vigorously prepared during their initial training – as opposed to just four hours’ instruction on PE which exists currently.
She commented: “Parents would be horrified if that happened with maths, English or Welsh. Evidence shows that we are facing a ticking obesity time-bomb and unless we make sport and physical education and school sport a core subject, we will still be here in 20 years’ time having made little or no progress.”The minister for education Leighton Andrews gave his thoughts after seeing the report, saying: “We commissioned this report to consider how our schools can increase levels of physical activity in our children and young people. We will now take time to consider the recommendation in the context of the wider review of the national curriculum and assessment. We firmly believe in the positive impact that physical activity can have on the people and nation of Wales, and I’m determined to ensure that sport continues to make an important contribution to Welsh life.”