Martial Arts For GCSE

ust over 3 years ago now I set out to try to investigate why martial arts (specifically Taekwon-Do) had all been removed from the list of GCSE and A level sports subjects that a student can choose to study and submit as evidence to gain the qualification.

As an instructor I remember plenty of students in the past who have approached me and asked if I would write about their
Taekwon-Do achievements and ability and what level they had reached – of course I was more than happy to do this, my piece of writing was used along with video evidence of the student performing in a competition or class in order to make up the
practical side of their qualification.

When my own son was choosing his options we were looking down the list and with shock realised that Taekwon-Do had been removed from the latest list of subjects that a student could choose to study- not only Taekwon-Do but all martial arts had been removed.

My son had at this point trained to black belt 2nd degree he had literally trained since he could stand up. A sport that he loves and was highly skilled at and the option to use this had been taken away from us.

So, I decided that further investigation was necessary, and I thought naively that I could do something about it and make a change. It was too late for my son but I felt/feel strongly that I wanted to get this error sorted out for my students and for their future as I knew it would impact a lot of people.

The list is very long, however to give you a good example of some of the sports available to study they range from the obvious mainstream football and rugby to some less obvious such as – horse riding, wind surfing, rock climbing, Gaelic football, rowing, lacrosse, hurling, ice skating, Canoeing, Skiing, Kayaking, Roller hockey, BMX and sailing. Yes, pretty much every single sport that you could think of except for any form of martial art. For reference boxing is on the list.

I wanted to find out why? I thought that if I knew why they had been removed then I could possibly do something about it. So as my investigation continued, I used the power of social media to try to gain support for my campaign which I named unimaginatively – Martial arts for GCSE! It was amazing – straight away it got a lot of support from students who were world champions and been forced to play tiddly winks in order to pass a GCSE, from parents who’s children had had to give up Taekwon-do as they didn’t have the time or money to do another sport purely to fulfil the GCSE requirement, and plenty of instructors who were frustrated with the situation and also losing talented dedicated students at age 14/15 due to the lack of inclusion of their sport.

I set up a petition which quickly gained over 4000 signatures and made a Facebook group with likeminded individuals who were also trying to get this situation sorted out and get Taekwon-Do/martial arts reinstated. The group included some very good instructors and martial artists and I was/am glad of their help. At this point I realised that I certainly could not fight the system on my own.

Interestingly and sadly enough I also encountered some resistance from the martial arts community, some individuals were very negative and told me that I would never succeed and that the cause was a waste of time, for every solution I came up with they seemed to have a negative point and would not
support us (us now because there was now a team working on it) – It seems to me today over 3 years on that these negative people were in fact correct- this is a very difficult task and I had not appreciated this fully when I took it on.

Actually, it’s not a difficult task – quite the reverse! What is difficult is being able to speak with anyone in a position of authority who could help me to make a difference- all the authorities simply palmed me off with an email and suggested that I speak with someone else. Its not what you know, it’s who you know!

There was also some confusion about our intentions – some people in the martial arts community thought that our aim was to get Taekwon-Do onto the GCSE curriculum and therefore taught in PE lessons, they were worried that their style would be watered down and diluted. This is absolutely not what we want. You don’t bring a horse into school in order to use it as evidence for GCSE or a boat for wind surfing? They submit video and written evidence – this is all that we are asking for.

Eventually the campaign was picking up momentum we had a video which showed a lot of students all enjoying various
hobbies and then featured a Taekwon-Do student whom was asking why they couldn’t practice their sport any more,

we sent hundreds of letters to the department for education asking them to reconsider their decision to remove martial arts from the list, and I did manage to get the blessing and support from high profile people such as Sir Neil Adams MBE who was also trying to get Judo back on the list with little success.

I did also manage to have some correspondence with Oliver Dowding who was at that point the secretary of state for digital, media and sport, Gavin Williamson (secretary of state for education) and Sue Wilkinson MBE who was working for the association for physical education. Unfortunately, the only person who was interested in helping us at that point was Sue Wilkinson who gave me lots of advice on how to proceed – Things were moving along in the right direction nicely.
Until …………… Covid!!!!!

I have to admit that as the whole world ground to a halt so did this project, we were all consumed with the virus, survival and keeping our own martial arts schools afloat, keeping our families safe and the dreaded home schooling!! For months I didn’t give any thought to this project, and unfortunately by the time I felt that I could put energy into resuming it the momentum we once had was gone.

The petition timed out, the MPs who we were corresponding with were no longer in the same role, and some of the initial group that we had created were just busy with other things. We started again – less of us willing to help than before – big thanks to John McNally, Marcus Gelder and Phillip Payne who still share my initial enthusiasm and continue to support the cause.

In order for people to understand how far along we have got I will share a letter that I wrote at the beginning, this letter outlines the issues and states why martial arts were removed in the first place (well the reasons that I could find and not I suspect the real reasons) It also shows I believe the reasons that martial arts should be put back onto the list.

Dear Sir / Madam 
I am writing to you because we really need your help. My name is Zoe and I run a Martial arts club in Coventry called Coventry Taekwondo. We currently have around 400 students.
We (the martial arts community) are desperately working on behalf of the youngsters that train with us to get Martial arts (Taekwon- Do, Judo, Karate, Jujitsu ) put back onto the list of choices that students can choose to study and submit as part of their practical exam in both GCSE and A level.
Up until around two years ago martial arts were included. A student would regularly get their parents to video them during class to use for evidence and as their instructor I would
happily write about each student and the level that they were working at, any competitions that they had taken part in and the progress they were making. This was not a difficult process between instructor and the student and the teacher.
Martial arts as I’m sure you are aware is an amazing sport which requires discipline, dedication, focus, flexibility and power. It is a unique sport where boys and girls can train together, they can compete on an equal level and no discrimination is made. The nature of the sport also allows for children with autism to readily and happily train and integrate, the repeated moves and set sequences appealing to them often making them extremely good at a sport where in the past they may have tried other sports and felt uncomfortable.
There is a massive issue now with the removal of martial arts from the list, one example of this is students that are competing very successfully at world and European level and are holding Dan grade black belts are regularly being told to take up table tennis instead because that’s on the list!

This fills me with outrage, these children are passionate and dedicated to their chosen sport why on earth should they be told to give up martial arts and play something different instead?

Another issue is causing problems for the parents, parents are often short of time and money, we are frequently being told that they cannot continue with the sport that they love and are good at because their teacher has told them to take up another sport that’s on the list, and parents can’t afford both.

Martial arts is all inclusive we have a lot of Polish students as well as Korean, Japanese, and other nationalities, I strongly feel that these students will be deterred from choosing GCSE or A Level PE as their main sport is not on the list. This is such a shame.

The reason that Taekwon- Do and martial arts were removed is that they are deemed ‘too specialist or niche, and that specific expertise in that area is required to be able to assess them’ Ofqual set out their 5 levels of criteria that a sport must meet in order to appear on the list, martial arts met all but the last point 5- The level of performance can be realistically assessed by PE practitioners (Teachers and moderators)

There are good arguments where we ( martial arts instructors) feel that point 5 can be adhered to easily we would argue that actually martial arts is one of the easiest sports to assess by anyone due to all of them having a belt and ranking system already in place. This allows the PE teacher to see exactly what level a student is at and you can monitor progress easily. All the martial arts have set syllabus and strict criteria that they are following, the student would easily be able to provide the list of criteria that they completed in order to obtain a set belt. This is very non subjective, and no other sport that moderators are marking has this in place. The teacher would simply ask the student to provide this as evidence. The belt system within Taekwon- Do would have to be awarded by one of two main governing bodies either ITF or WTF both are equally credible and recognised worldwide, allowing a student that moved from one country to another to be able to easily continue with their training.

We would also argue that leaving off martial arts due to point 5 is discriminatory due to the amount of other sports that appear on this list that could easily fall into the same category as being very specialist, such as figure skating, Equestrian, Snowboarding and rock climbing, we feel its massively unjust that martial arts does not appear due to being two specialist when these activities which are just as specialist do.

Sue Wilkinson who was chief executive for the association of physical education in schools states that “ Extending the list of sports which pupils can use for GCSE and A level PE opens the door to those qualifications for children across the country , dedicated to a sport they love” – Absolutely not the exact opposite has been done for all of our thousands of children, she also goes on to say that these sports have moved away from traditionally “white, male-dominated, invasion sports” again we absolutely disagree with this statement, how can removal of a sport where the girls achieve as highly as the boys and where a large proportion of the oriental students make up our classes possibly be a move away from white male dominated sports? If anything, its a move towards them.

I conclude this rather long e mail with a massive thank you for taking the time for reading it, with hope in my heart for the future of our amazing martial arts children and young adults, that you can come on board with us to make the appropriate changes to reinstate a sport that is recognised throughout the world for its athleticism, dedication necessary, its all-inclusiveness and passion required to partake.

Thank you once again please help Kind regards Zoe

This letter along with hundreds of letters was sent to MPs all over the country – as expected most did not bother to respond it was also sent to the Department of Education and other such associations. Although the response was minimal and disappointing there is a glimmer of hope as you will be able to see from the reply below – This was from CIMSPA

Hi Zoe

Thank you very much for your email and for taking the time to write to us. It is brilliant to hear about your work and passion for Martial Arts and particularly, Taekwondo.

An association of PE Professionals who are dedicated to Physical Education are the Association of Physical Education and you’ll find some further information about them here. They may be able to provide you with some support as they will have an influence on the school PE curriculum.

CIMSPA are currently in the process of working towards a Professional Standard for two areas of Martial Arts; Tai Chi & Qui Gong to standardise, endorse and quality assure education and training for anyone working in the Sport and Physical Activity sector. We hope to expand this in the future to further areas of Martial Arts to ensure that they can be seen by all as a viable profession for the future. You will be able to find some information about this here. The pandemic has most certainly pushed our timescales back for this project but we would encourage you to keep connected with CIMSPA (we have a Stronger Together Hub on Facebook) to ensure that you’re in the know when this happens.

I am currently able to signpost you to organisations who you may or may not have already contacted as they would, I’m sure, be keen to support you with this and advise on any similar projects that they too have underway.

We are currently working with the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts and Tai Chi & Qigong Union for Great Britain on the Professional Standards. I am sure that you will have a connection with British Taekwondo and British Judo already. There is also the British Karate Federation too.
Although this does not cover your points entirely, we hope in the future to get involved with additional areas of Martial Arts to ensure that they can continue to progress with professionalism and success.
Kind regards Minal

You will also be able to read a letter that was sent from my local MP Zarah Sultana to Oliver Dowding MP which I was happy with and found very encouraging.

Thank you for reading my article – in summary I feel that I’ve failed the students and the instructors to a certain point, although this is certainly ongoing and I have not given up hope of seeing Taekwon-Do/ martial arts back on the list. At the moment martial arts students are at a disadvantage with regards to their GCSE options through no fault of their own and I would like to fight to see that changed.
I will admit that I can’t do it alone and thanks to everyone who has supported this so far, in particular those instructors whom I mentioned previously. I wanted to share my story of limited success and epic failure in the hope that someone reading will know a way forward – as I said before its not what you know its who you know, if someone reading this does have any contacts or ideas, I would be very happy to discuss them and grateful for the input.

Thank you for reading
Zoe Tizick

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