Government advice for schoolteachers to use running as a punishment is amazingly off the mark

When I was at school I used to have wild butterflies of pure excitement in my belly before weekly cross country sessions. Games afternoon on Wednesday – with cross country in winter and athletics in summer – was the highlight of my week and the only thing that could beat it was seeing my name on a cross country team sheet on the PE notice board. When that happened I would shiver with anticipation. Yes, I’m not exaggerating – literally shiver.

Okay, maybe I was a little unusual. I would go on to work for Athletics Weekly, after all. But I’m sure I’m far from alone. From world-beaters like Paula Radcliffe and Chrissie Wellington through to humble club runners like myself, those early races and training runs at school were an absolute joy.

This is why the Department for Education’s advice to teachers has caused so much surprise, frustration and dismay this week. To suggest “extra physical activity such as running around a playing field” as punishment for naughty children is an old-fashioned, ridiculous myth. Plus, what message does it send youngsters when bad behaviour is punished with sport?

Brendan Foster, a former teacher, world record-holder and creator of the Great North Run, slated the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in the Mirror this week. “It’s a step back,” said Foster, who accused the Government of ‘demonising’ running. “For years we’ve told people running is enjoyable and beneficial to health. Now Mr Gove has sent a message it’s bad – a punishment on a par with picking up litter or doing 100 lines.”

Chrissie Wellington, the ironman triathlon legend, wrote on her website: “Using physical activity as a punishment is outdated and inappropriate. It will entrench lasting fear and loathing for sport amongst children and young people, running the risk that they will carry negative attitude to physical activity throughout their lives.”

She added: “Physical activity is a joy, a pleasure: something to be embraced and welcomed. We need the next generation to grow up wanting to be active. We need school staff, parents and children to view running around the school field (if they haven’t been sold off) as a pleasure, rather than a punishment.”

Paula Radcliffe, meanwhile, was one of many to voice her anger on Twitter, as the world marathon record-holder said: “It is totally ridiculous!”

The topic is also covered in the editorial leader of the latest issue of Athletics Weekly and I have yet to find anyone who thinks dishing out cross country running as a punishment is a good idea.

So now, surely, Gove and the Department for Education must withdraw this cock-eyed advice as soon as possible. In addition it’d be nice if they have the grace to admit they were wrong.

Because the longer this nonsense sits festering on an official document, the dafter they are going to look.

» Jason Henderson tweets at @Jason_AW