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An exercise in teamwork;Secondary

Harvey McGavin reviews a guide to games written by a four-strong line-up of lecturers

Sport and PE:A Complete Guide to Advanced Level Study. By Kevin Wesson, Nesta Wiggins, Graham Thompson and Sue Hartigan. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;18.99.

Physical education has come on in leaps and bounds since the days when double games was a poorly supervised session of five-a-side or a slog around a freezing field.

In the body-conscious Nineties, sport is a fashionable pastime, a money-spinning business and a subject for serious study, as this thorough, 500-plus-page volume testifies. It starts with the basics of human biology and moves through the history, culture and sociology of sport. It also covers the psychology, with a final section on the project element of A-level.

Clearly laid out and patiently explained, the text is punctuated with activities, tables and explanations. Each section closes with a summary, and pictures serve to illustrate points rather than decorate the pages.

The book's message is that while sport should be fun, it is also a social phenomenon as complex as the human body itself, and both aspects are worthy of study.

The opening section on physiology, fitness, training, nutrition and health, should be required reading for teenagers wanting to know more about how their bodies work. This is health education put into practice and any government committed to improving the nation's health might give the subject a higher profile. Shamefully, as one of the book's many tables shows, the United Kingdom allocates the least time of any European country to secondary school sport.

The politics of sport - including sponsorship, the media, hooliganism and drug-taking - are well covered, and put alongside illuminating comparative studies from the United States, Australia and France.

The book itself originates from a little-known but thriving stable of sporting success - Colchester. Three of its authors work at the Essex town's sixth-form college (Sue Hartigan is a lecturer at nearby Epping Forest College, and all are Associated Examining Board examiners). The college boasts the largest physical education department of any such institution in the UK, and has an impressive track record.

Colchester was one of the 15 institutions to offer A-level PE when it was launched 10 years ago. This year 85 students will take the exam, almost six times the number who sat it first time around. People who knock the subject as a soft option usually do so out of ignorance, says co-author and head of the PEdepartment, Kevin Wesson. "It has grown in academic excellence and the college has marketed it heavily," he says.

Colchester College teams hold national titles in boys' hockey, squash and badminton, the football team made last year's national finals and its swimming squad came second only to the elite Millfield. But students choosing A-level PE soon find that academic rigour is more important than athletic ability.

"Students will tell you it's one of the hardest subjects," says Mr Wesson. "If you tell them it's an easy option they would laugh."

Half the A-level students go on to study sports science and related subjects at university, where PE is gaining credibility with admissions tutors.

The mixture of human biology, physics, chemistry, history, sociology and psychology makes it a multi-disciplinary subject, which surprises, and can tax, many first-year pupils, says Mr Wesson.

As sport becomes more popular, commercialised and culturally relevant, a comprehensive text covering these phenomena was needed, and each author has a separate specialist area. Mr Wesson's is the psychology of sport, almost unheard of a generation ago, and now an integral part of the professional scene. "Most football clubs have someone players can talk to about motivation," he notes.

Motivation is not lacking in his students. The college has strong links with Colchester United Football Club (its youth team development officer trains the college team) and basketball players are coached by the manager of England's under-19s. Students respect professional advice, Mr Wesson says. "They know you are trying to put something good on for them."

Exam results compare favourably with the college's record in sporting competition - 60 per cent passed A-levels at grade C or above last year - and publication of the textbook has met with an enthusiastic response. "The students have been incredibly impressed," says Mr Wesson proudly. "They pick it up and say 'my teacher wrote this'."

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