Gym's a learning tonic

Sports project is boosting academic performance as well as behaviour, says glowing report on pilots

learning to cartwheel, somersault or do a simple handstand could boost pupils' academic performance and behaviour, according to Welsh experts working for the PE and School Sport initiative.

Calls for twice-weekly gym lessons to be more widely adopted in the PE curriculum follow glowing reports from schools taking part in the PESS programme.

It has also led to a pound;7 million investment by the Assembly government through the creation of 10,000 new teacher-training opportunities - with 2,200 of them in gym. Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, has also launched the Welsh Gymnastics A-Z awards as part of the drive towards gym and PESS development.

At Ogmore Vale primary in Bridgend, the launch venue, she watched "an awesome display" of gymnastic ability by pupils.

But the government's cash boost and support has nothing to do with finding the talent that has often eluded UK sport. It is simply to get widespread participation in gym activities at all ages.

PESS, launched in 2000, has been credited with having a significant impact, not just on teaching standards but on pupils' behaviour, learning skills and attitudes.

The project brings together clusters of primary and secondary schools with co-operation between PE teachers. It is hoped that the scheme will be rolled out in all schools in Wales by 2009, a year ahead of schedule.

Specially appointed co-ordinators are working in the 22 local authorities.

Advisers work with teachers to improve the way they teach all sorts of games and physical activities, including dance.

Ms Davidson believes gym work is a valuable tool for giving children confidence in their own bodies and can help them in all walks of life, including the classroom.

A report in the TES magazine last week revealed that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in England is researching the effects of high-quality PE undertaken by accredited sports coaches twice a week.

But Ms Davidson believes Wales is leading the way already. "It has been lovely seeing these children performing so naturally and confidently," she said.

"They were saying that they have gym twice a week and it's their favourite activity. No one else in the UK is doing what we have done here in Wales."

But theJminister's enthusiasm about the PESS scheme comes as a report by the Sports Council for Wales claims the project is only reaching a third of schools.

In a specially prepared paper for the Assembly's culture, Welsh language and sport committee, the bodyJcalled for more resources to extend the programme.

The new awards have been developed by Welsh Gymnastics, which is the sport's governing body in Wales, along with the Sport's Council for Wales and the Assembly government.

Teachers will assess pupils, who gain more badges and awards as they progress. A spokesperson at the launch said: "Gym gives children valuable skills such as balance, co-ordination and agility."

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