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Cool when the heat's on

Crispin Andrews coaches pupils on how to perform under the pressure of a PE practical

Although a far cry from an Ashes test, an Olympic 800m final or even a "pizza throwing" contest between Man United and Arsenal, pupils taking GCSE PE practicals do feel the heat.

Expected to do their best under close scrutiny. The world might not be watching, but the examiners are and for Year 11, not necessarily the most confident age group around, the experience can be daunting. However, in the same way as coaches help top level players cope with marking Thierry Henry or facing Shane Warne, teachers can help pupils deal with the pressure of the GCSE practical.

Kevin Ford, director of sport at the Mandeville Sports College, has found simulating the exam situation, where a strange face (the examiner) is asking the questions, a useful preparation.

"Those who decide to answer analysis of performance questions about their chosen activity or explain how their personal exercise plan links to their chosen activity, find it beneficial to practice this component prior to assessment," he says. "Answering questions from their peers and their teacher, but also from a less familiar member of the department, enables them to get used to the exam situation."

Alison Philpott, director of sport at Redbridge Community College helps her students by trying to take the unknown out of assessment day. She says:

"Several weeks before their exam, students are given booklets in which they can record the time, date, a copy of the actual assessment grid along with an example of the task they will be performing. A progress report which they fill in themselves, throughout the proceeding months helps each student develop a realistic idea about what he or she is capable of achieving on the day."

After conducting their own warm ups, pupils at Redbridge undergo a final pre-assessment talk. This reaffirms focus and builds confidence explains Alison. "Concentrating on your own performance is vital, particularly if something unexpected happens or if a partner in a group activity is underperforming," she says. "A private 'chill out' area at the side of the sports hall is also made available for students to reflect on their performance or simply relax."

Aidan Moloney, director of sport at Ashton on Mersey Sports College, considers preparation to be the key to success. "During the three weeks prior to the assessment, we encourage pupils to spend as much time as possible practising their chosen activity. Whether at school or in the community, taking part in extra-curricular clubs can help students develop the confidence to perform better when assessed," he says.

He also believes departmental planning can help pupils demonstrate their potential during the assessment. "There is more to PE than simply performing skills in mainstream sports. Opportunities to coach, lead, organise officiate must also be given if more students are to do well at GCSE. It is also possible to arrange practical activities as diverse as kayaking, horse riding and weightlifting for those with high levels of proficiency and understanding in those areas."

However, Aidan warns that outside coaches need a full briefing when teaching non-mainstream activities: "It is important that the coaches are aware that the pupils must follow an educational syllabus and not a performance based one."

On the day of the assessment, Ralph Rickus, head of PE at Quarrendon Upper School, encourages his students to think positively. "I say to them 'The examiners aren't there to pick fault with your efforts, so go for it and show them what you can do." He urges them to keep going if they make a mistake, especially as it probably isn't as bad as they imagine and there is always the chance for a pupil to ask the examiner to have another look if they haven't done themselves justice.

But he also warns of over-confidence. "Some students, particularly those who think they are good at a certain sport, need reminding that they actually have to demonstrate their skills rather than simply turn up or worry about looking flash in front of their mates. Similar ability groupings help the students focus on their own performance rather than making comparisons with their peers."

In her role as a disability sports consultant and head of PE at the Treloar Independent School for children with severe physical disabilities, Sandra King has a great deal of experience of making GCSE practical assessments accessible to children with special needs. She always ensures the examiner is aware of a pupil's capabilities to enable a realistic appraisal of their performance.

"Its about assessing what a pupil can do rather than what their particular disability prevents them from doing. Examiners will expect the teacher to be the expert on this," she says. "I always prepare a written statement outlining the nature of a student's difficulties, how this affects their physical possibilities, and finally what adoptions I have made to both the assessment and the course in terms of equipment or activity, to allow an individual to demonstrate their proficiencies."


GCSE Sucess Guide: Physical Education from Letts is a magazine-style revision aid which is a snip at pound;4.50. The colourful paperback features lots of illustrations, exam-style questions, bullet-pointed notes, examiners' tip and quick tests.

Revision Guide GCSE Physical Education from Harper Collins (pound;9.99) is heftier and mixes plenty of photos in with the illustrations. Written to match all the exam board specifications, it features "check yourself questions" at the end of each section, highlights questions to look out for, advice on exam technique and "Question Spotter" boxes.

The Revise for PE GCSE series from Heinemann has individual guides for each of the exam boards AQA, OCR and Edexcel. Reasonably priced at pound;6.50, they lack colour and design verve but contain similar content to Letts and Collins.





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