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Exercise falls victim to inertia

PHYSICAL EDUCATION is widely viewed as a subordinate subject in European schools, a study commissioned for the European Parliament has found.

The report revealed that 34 per cent of European Union countries viewed PE as a second-class subject, 16 per cent had reduced the time allocated to it and many countries had failed to meet their pledges to expand school sport, despite rising obesity levels across the continent.

Only 75 per cent of English secondaries provide the recommended two hours a week, and the figure is less for primaries, Professor Ken Hardman, of Worcester University, found. Some English schools are only doing half an hour of sport a week - the least in Europe - and few Scottish secondaries manage the required 120 minutes, the study discovered.

Irish primary pupils generally receive only half their recommended one hour a week, and Germany, France and Italy have all decreased school PE provision since 1999.

The report, Current Situation and Prospects for Physical Education in the European Union, recommends increasing PE provision across Europe from two to three hours.

"With the obesity crisis throughout Europe, particularly acute in England, an allocation of 120 minutes a week is totally inappropriate. The latest research indicates it should be more like 90 minutes a day," said Professor Hardman.

PE lessons are often first to be cut if timetables become overloaded. If they take place, they tend to be dominated by competitive sports and athletics, which Professor Hardman believes could account for the high secondary level drop-out rates.

"The sports on offer don't connect with pupils' lives and as a result they vote with their feet," Professor Hardman told The TES.

Games accounted for about 40 per cent of school sports time, while activities such as dance and swimming were squeezed out.

"The English PE curriculum is appropriate in theory, but not in practice.

Competitive sport does not appeal to the average child. That's why we see so many dropping out between 14 and 16," he explained.

He suggests replacing games with sports that appeal to the "culture of young people", such as skateboarding and street dance.

Overall, more than 20 per cent of countries said their sports equipment was below average and over 10 per cent thought their facilities were inadequate. Eastern and central European countries are often the poor relations when it comes to equipment.

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