French triumph in routine exercise

Three European countries are giving children a head start in PE, an international survey reveals. Diane Spencer reports.

French children spend more than twice as much time on physical education than their UK counterparts, a survey of 25 European countries shows.

Although most governments agree that schools should provide a minimum of two hours PE a week, curriculum time for the subject has been reduced over recent years.

Only three countries studied - France, Austria and Switzerland - offer at least two hours in primary and secondary schools. No European country offers a daily period of PE.

These findings, from the European Union of Physical Education Associations, prompted specialists in children's physiology to call on European governments to give youngsters a daily PE programme.

"The health and well-being of European children depends upon it," was the conclusion of their meeting, held at Moretonhampstead, near Exeter.

Neil Armstrong, director of Exeter University's children's health and exercise research centre, said delegates, mainly from the medical profession, were shocked at the implications of the survey.

The survey shows that the UK ranks 13th out of the 25 countries, with Ireland bottom, averaging under an hour a week for PE. From age six to 18, British children received, on average, 106 minutes of PE a week.

Over their school career French children had about 443 hours of PE more than their British counterparts; Swiss children had 379 hours more and German children 114 hours more.

Professor Armstrong, who presented the findings at the meeting, noted that since the introduction of the national curriculum there had been a marked fall in the time devoted to PE in UK schools, with only a minority of pupils getting two hours a week.

Research carried out by his centre over the past 12 years shows that many young people seldom took enough physical activity to promote good health.

Professor Armstrong was worried by the emphasis politicians placed on team games which dominated the PE curriculum as it discriminated against girls. Teenage girls in particular preferred individual activities.

He added that children need to have the opportunity to take part in a wide variety of individual, partner and team sports.

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