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How rap DJ pushes healthy living

Sports-shy pupils are queuing up for PE using arcade-style games

HOUSE MUSIC blasts from wall-mounted speakers as a posse of girls hop and jump in front of a bright blue plasma screen. But this is not Eurovision.

It is Horndean technology college's attempt to entice sports-shy teenagers to the treadmill - an pound;80,000 virtual gym provided by ZigZag, the first of its kind in the UK, financed through sponsorship and government cash.

It has eight computer dance mats; four Exer-stations, hybrids of weight machine and games console; and a Sportwall where pupils work out by slapping coloured lights. PE takes place to a background of dance music courtesy of DJ Zombie and Dust Devil.

"It's not the kind of thing I'd listen to at home," said Jayne Burden, head of PE, who prefers James Blunt. "But I do find myself singing it from time to time."

The tunes come free with the dance mats, now the gym's most-loved fixture.

The Year 10s bounce happily to such tracks as "Funky Factory" and "Psalm Pilot", pressing the motion-sensitive floor panels to the music, following instructions from the giant screen.

Yazmin Dugdale, 15, said: "Before this I thought PE was boring. And because it's new stuff, it's like a privilege."

The kit is part of Horndean's drive to promote ICT-based learning (a technology subject is compulsory at GCSE) and good health. It has won recognition for its "points mean prizes" scheme, which rewards pupils with bikes and swimming lessons in return for buying greens in the canteen.

Nigel Sheppard, deputy head, said: "We're hoping to open the gym to the public in January and run family discounts so that mums and dads can come with pupils after school."

Pupils had complained that the previous gym was boring and the apparatus was often broken. The school is beginning a study with the local council to see if the new version has boosted motivation.

Horndean takes its technology status seriously and is keen to pursue sponsorship. Nike, Adidas and Kellogg's are a few of the firms with whom they are in talks.

The college still needs to raise pound;40,000 for the gym. But the England dance-mat champions want to use the facilities and Portsmouth FC manager Harry Redknapp, who launched the new gym, wants to introduce his players to Machine Dance.

"I think every school should have one," said pupil Sarah Oliver. "You can't complain about childhood obesity otherwise."

Or, as former PE-phobe Yazmin put it as she limped from the dance mat: "Ow, my legs hurt."

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