Hop, skip and jump to it

A Glasgow school is holding 45-minute exercise sessions every morning and seeing big improvements in pupils' concentration, self-esteem and respect for each other.

The sessions for P7 pupils, which include skipping, aerobics and running, started at Knightswood Primary in August and have replaced more traditional PE lessons.

Elaine McManus and Louise McKinnon, P7 teachers, came up with the idea after finding that several boys in the class were competitive and not working together.

After searching the internet for ideas on how to address this, they decided on taking all 62 P7 pupils for exercise from 9 to 9.45 every morning.

At first, there was some reluctance and certain pupils would take their time getting ready. Now, however, they arrive promptly, and Ms McManus is aware of only one child who does not enjoy the sessions. "It's a fantastic, positive and lively way to start the day," she said, stressing that there was a social side to the sessions. "Quite often we will talk about what we can achieve today."

Behaviour has improved, and fewer fights break out. One boy, who was often disruptive, has improved since he discovered a crowd-pleasing talent for skipping.

"I wouldn't say it's all down to fitness, but I would say the trigger was when he did the skips and people clapped and cheered," said Ms McManus.

The sessions have improved relations between pupils. Previously, some were disinterested and unco-operative, said Ms McManus. "Some had absolutely no manners", which in turn affected the more motivated children, who were "getting a wee bit fed up".

There has been a noticeable rise in self-esteem and respect for others.

Where, before, some pupils laughed at peers who were struggling, now there is far more encouragement; several pupils used to jump queues, another problem that is less common now.

All this has led to good teamwork. "It's simple things like setting things out for other people, sharing your equipment," said Ms McManus. "Or, if you've done your 200 skips, passing the rope to someone else. Before, they would tie the ropes round their wrists."

Concentration in classes has improved, and parents are noticing that their children are less tired. An added bonus is that the teachers, too, have more energy and feel less likely to suffer an afternoon slump. "The pupils seem a lot more focused, although some of them still find concentration difficult," said Ms McManus.

The 45-minute morning sessions are not the only exercise that pupils get during school hours, as they still go swimming on occasion and spend time with specialist visiting sports coaches.

It means that the pupils are well on the way to the national target of 60 minutes' physical activity a day (see right), which includes exercise both in and out of school hours.

The only downside, according to Ms McManus, is that she has to juggle her curriculum obligations in order to spend time on physical activity. This means, for example, that she has to allocate the exercise to health or personal and social development time. "It's a bit of a struggle to balance things," she said.

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