North East athletics legend Brendan Foster has hit out angrily at Michael Gove’s plans to make running round the school playing field a punishment for pupils.
The former world record holder and founder of the Great North Run is “absolutely furious” that the Education Secretary has listed running as a suitable sanction for bad classroom behaviour.
Brendan, 66, a former chemistry teacher, accuses the Government of “demonising” the sport he has loved and championed for 50 years.
And he says they are making a mockery of their own policies to tackle childhood obesity and encourage sport in schools.
Father-of-two Brendan said: “This is an absolute disgrace and a real step backwards in terms of education and health.
“We have spent years telling people that running is actually an enjoyable, rewarding and beneficial activity and the success of events like the Great North Run shows people have bought into that.
“But now Mr Gove is sending out a clear message that it’s bad – a form of punishment on a par with picking up litter or doing 100 lines.”
Mr Gove wants a return to “traditional punishments” for school misbehaviour and this week issued new guidelines for teachers on the sort of penalties they might impose. They include weeding their school playgrounds, tidying classrooms, removing graffiti or reporting to school early.
But Brendan was outraged that running was included in the list.
In the 1970s he inspired a generation of athletes with his achievements on the track and in 1976 won the UK’s only track and field medal at the Montreal Olympics – bronze in the 10,000m.
Then, after retiring in 1981, he set out to share his passion with ordinary people and, through his company, Nova, made fun-runs a national pastime.
Brendan said: “I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard Mr Gove’s announcement – so I looked up the official Department of Education report.
“It said ‘When poor behaviour is identified sanctions should be implemented’ and one of those sanctions is extra physical activity such as running round a school playing field.’
“This is demonising running. I can only assume that Mr Gove or one of his Education department minions really didn’t like cross-country at school.
“But after this there are plenty of people – myself included – who would like to send him for a run around the field... if you can find a school playing field, that is. He’s the one who’s been selling them off!
“We organise the Junior Great North Run – the biggest mass-participation run in the country for kids which has more than 5,000 participants.
“Does Mr Gove think this is one big punishment event and others like it are an exercise in self-flagellation?”