Most junior school teachers responsible for physical education have received little formal preparation in the subject during their initial teacher education courses. This often makes teaching PE a great challenge. The new Leapfrogs series is a welcome addition to the resources available to help shape and implement a balanced PE curriculum.
All three books contain valuable information to assist the development of subject knowledge and awareness of teaching strategies. Each opens with general material addressing the formal orders, programmes of study and brief comments on assessment, achievement and progression. In the case of Games and Gymnastic Activities, this is followed by more detailed information, organised as a series of yearly lesson plans. A selection of independent activities is offered for outdoor and adventurous activities (OAA).
In Games for Juniors Jim Hall discusses the problem of limited facilities faced by many junior schools. Aspects of safe practice are identified, but Hall fails to include the importance of a well planned, progressive curriculum as part of the teacher's checklist. The classification of games is discussed and ideas for developing general games playing skills, working individually, in pairs, groups and small-sided games are presented.
Some care will have to be taken in interpreting the material. Non-specialists may find it difficult to begin at Year 3 and follow 10 lessons, designed to be developed across the year as approximately 40 individual lessons, with few detailed programmes of study and clear objectives for guidance. The lesson notes include "main emphases", but these are generally too vague to be of value.
The same applies to Gymnastics Activities for Juniors, where there is also a predominance of teaching styles involving open-ended tasks, problem-solving and enquiry. This is useful material, but it can sometimes leave the learning of specific movement skills to chance. The focus on core skills in Years 6 and 7 is more prescriptive, and offers useful information for the non-specialist.
Outdoor and Adventurous Activities is a valuable book dealing with an often neglected area of the curriculum. Teachers can select activities from a range of materials to suit their own circumstances. David Balazik claims they "have been designed to fulfil the programmes of study without the need to take specialist Inset to acquire nationally recognised qualifications in hazardous OAA". I agree, but hope that non-specialists will see this as an interim arrangement, particularly when some of the activities engage pupils in offsite projects, such as camping and "setting up a den in an area of woodland", which may involve an element of risk.
The need for safe practice is acknowledged, but it must surely be recognised as part of in-service training provision.
Clearly defined aims provide a sound foundation for the material. Those for onsite activities are particularly useful and easily organised - for example, orienteering, problem solving, and a gymnastics confidence course. Much of this could be exciting and physically challenging for pupils. Not all the activities are specific to PE. Nature Trail, for example, could feature as part of cross-curricular work.
Non-specialist PE teachers are sure to find the new Leapfrogs series useful, provided the material is carefully selected and appropriate to their pupils' needs.