Misleading and unfair article overshadows wellbeing debate

Written by: Dr Bernard Trafford | Published:
Dr Bernard Trafford, head, Royal Grammar School, Newcastle

Wellington School’s recent misrepresentation in the national press overshadowed an important discussion on wellbeing in our schools, says Dr Bernard Trafford

My colleague Henry Price, head of Wellington School in Somerset, has every reason to feel offended. He blogged a fortnight ago about his school’s new Department of Sport and Wellbeing, which intelligently brings nutrition, mindfulness and leadership together with the traditional elements of sport (read the blog via http://bit.ly/2fxQlhz).

Wellington School still plays old-fashioned team games. As Mr Price wrote: “Girls and boys still thrive in a team environment and I would not wish to see an element of competition removed from school sport, as long as it is tempered by sportsmanship and a sense of perspective.” So Mr Price was as surprised as his students and parents to then see a headline in the Sunday Times: Zumba puts team games on the bench at top school (http://bit.ly/2feT8Ox).

The opening sentences of the report are hilarious: “If the Duke of Wellington believed that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, he would have been dismayed by the latest move at a leading private school that bears his name.

Wellington School in Somerset has abandoned traditional PE lessons, which included competitive games such as rugby and hockey, and replaced them with ‘wellbeing’ classes.”

By the way, the Iron Duke (like the school) took his title from the Somerset town, called Weolingtun in Saxon times, not the other way round. It’s Wellington College in Berkshire that “bears his name”.

I’ve been misrepresented often enough. Usually I’ve asked for it: 20 years ago I told a reporter in the pub, in a fit of youthful naïvety and exuberance, that I’d told my staff they must avoid being boring. All lessons should be interesting. The resulting article was inevitable: Lively head bans the school bores.

However, Mr Price’s reasoned blog didn’t invite such treatment. It was a model of balance: not to mention that the school doesn’t even do Zumba.

As it happens, this bizarre story – the distortion, I mean, not the original blog – raises an interesting question. Zumba and yoga can be valuable additions to a school’s repertoire, whether under the heading of PE or wellbeing.

At my school, Pilates and yoga are generally available for senior students as alternatives and I’m delighted that nowadays we boast a full-time dance coach so that dance is not pursued merely in lunchtime or after-school clubs, but built into a wide-ranging PE curriculum for all within the timetable.

All this is good: as are our occasional Wellbeing Days when year-groups are taken off timetable as part of the health education that joins personal and social education to form PSHE.

We do all that: but no-one’s yet suggested that my school is turning its back on traditional team sports. Parents and children alike nowadays want it all: fitness, dance, health and nutrition sit comfortably alongside the traditional team games, and all appear more than ever to thrive.

It’s a far cry from my school days where, hopelessly inept at rugby, I felt as if I spent my life jogging around the touchline in the cold and rain as punishment for not making enough effort. Eventually I took up fencing, having twigged that it was an indoor sport: it was just my bad luck that the fencing coach decided that we should start cross-country running to improve our fitness.

When my memoire – Bernard Trafford: My life in sport – is published, it will be a short, sad volume.

So well done, Wellington School! And Henry Price, too. The blog was an elegantly-phrased endorsement of excellent practice, and deserved better treatment by the press. More power to your elbow!

Now I think of it, a spot of Zumba would help with that...

  • Dr Bernard Trafford is head of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School and a former chairman of HMC. His views are personal. Follow him @bernardtrafford


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