Improved fitness can help improve schools

Helen Ward and Jon Slater report on government interest in a study on the beneficial effects on children of regular PE

A NATIONAL database of school exercise routines is being discussed in Whitehall following an in-depth study which found high-quality PE lessons improved pupils' behaviour and attendance.

Four government departments are interested in a three-year project which has shown that PE is improving other aspects of school life amid fears that exercise is being squeezed out of the timetable.

The study of PE in 34 schools is being carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Crichton Casbon, QCA principal officer for PE and dance, said: "Schools with very good PE and sport in which youngsters take part willingly have seen a significant impact on behaviour and attendance.

"Examples of improved behaviour, particularly in primary schools, when pupils are given things to do at lunch and breaktimes are replicated in one school after another."

Curriculum guidelines say schools should aspire to provide two hours of PE a week, which can include extra-curricular activities.

But a Sport England survey two years ago found that only 11 per cent of children aged six to eight spent two hours or more per week in PE lessons, down from 32 per cent in 1994.

A Sports Council for Wales report, published last week, said Welsh schools did not devote enough time to PE. It found fewer than one in five primaries gave pupils two hours of PE per week.

Further evidence of the decline of sport comes in the sale of school playing fields. Schools minister Stephen Timms revealed that schools and English councils have netted more than pound;140 million from the sale of land since 1998.

Civil servants are now discussing how to collect data on sports projects, in order to get a wider picture of what is going on in schools.

Information gathered during the QCA study will feature on a website, enabling teachers to find a case study which most closely resembles their own school.

It will also include printable forms to enable schools to assess the results of their own PE projects.

Mr Casbon said: "One way a school can check participation is to ask a sample of six youngsters to record whether they had a sweaty or a non-sweaty playtime."

As well as the Department for Education and Skills, the departments for culture, media and sport; health plus transport, local government and the regions are interested in the QCA project.

Mr Casbon said: "They are thinking how to collect data so we have a national picture. There are discussions going on about how we could make that happen."

Nigel Hook, of the Central Council of Physical Recreation which represents national sporting governing bodies, said: "Collecting information about the benefits of PE has to be warmly welcomed.

"Clearly at some stage the Government needs to make a firm decision about ensuring all schoolchildren get the opportunity to take part in two hours of PE a week.

"Sport is making a contibution to education in its widest sense."


Three times a week children at Knowle primary in Solihull have a 15-minute exercisesession during classtime, on top of their twice-weekly PE lessons.

The sessions take place outside when possible and juniors change into their PE kits. The programme has been praised by inspectors who said children enjoyed it and there was no disruption to lessons.

The Fit for Learning sessions include warm-up and cool-down exercises as well as jumping, clapping and activities to raise the heart beat.

Headteacher Pat Preedy said: "The main effect is to improve concentration when children return to the lesson. They write more and they write better."

The beacon school also devotes 11 per cent of its timetable to PE.

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