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Game pays off for sports teacher

Mark Batten's mission, during his 23 years as a PE teacher at Bassaleg comprehensive in Newport, has been to raise the status of his chosen subject.

Now at last he feels that physical education's time has come. So has his - he won the secondary teacher of the year title at last month's teaching awards in Cardiff.

"PE is being treated seriously as a subject in its own right," he observes.

"Students can go to good universities and study PE, without any sense of it being a poor option."

Another of Mr Batten's crusades is to break down the stereotypes that discourage women from playing team sports such as rugby and football.

"Here, boys and girls play both hockey and football, and there's no sense of one or the other being a girls' or a boys' game. We also have a female rugby side."

Bearing testimony to PE's increased kudos, and Mr Batten's skill, is the fact that Bassaleg has 100 A-level PE students.

Headteacher Ian Garrero says: "Mark expects high standards, but also provides support and encouragement. Although we have a very high number of A-level PE students, Mark believes sporting activities should be open to everyone."

The school's PE department has been awarded the Welsh "sportsmark" an unprecedented four consecutive times. Numerous former pupils have become sports professionals, among them Welsh rugby internationals Alix Popham and Ryan Jones, and champion triathlete, Annaliese Heard.

One of five sons born to an army family, Mr Batten, 45, was educated at Christ College, Brecon, and gained a PE degree at the University of Wales Institute of Cardiff. An accomplished sportsman, he played rugby for Newport.

He says: "Sport is life-enhancing in many ways. I'd like to think that, throughout their lives, my pupils will be encouraged to get on a bike, join a club, or go for a run."

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