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The language of movement

Harvey McGavin reports on a gymnastics video which aims to help unconfident primary teachers deliver PE. While parents worry about the health implications of the sedentary lifestyle of children in the 1990s, PE teachers are hoping that gym'll fix it.

A new video and booklet package, The Gym Kit, aims to improve teaching techniques in physical education by addressing the shortage of properly qualified staff and stressing its importance in the future development of children.

Produced by the Health Promotion Research Trust in association with leading gymnastics teacher Trish Maude, The Gym Kit is intended as a self-help guide to teachers who are responsible for PE at key stages 1 and 2. Gymnastics is one of the three areas of activity compulsory at each key stage under the new PE Order, to be introduced next September. The other areas are dance and games.

Trish Maude, the guide's editor, is head of the physical education department at Homerton College in Cambridge, an independent teacher training college which specialises in PE. Not every school can boast the facilities of Homerton College, where the 80-year-old gym is a listed building. But the main problem facing most primary schools, according to Trish Maude, is not resources but retraining.

"Generally there is a need for in-service education for teachers so that they understand the nature of PE in the national curriculum," she says. "Currently there are teachers at some schools who have not had the initial training. This video will be available for teachers to use in their own time so that they do not have to go on courses which are expensive and require supply cover and so on."

The video, narrated by television presenter Nick Ross, and 20-page booklet cover everything from the basic movements of key stage 1 to the use of apparatus and the more advanced gymnastics at key stage 2. These are the so called "skill hungry years" when children are keen to learn new tricks like headstands, cartwheels and rope climbing and their ability comes on in leaps and bounds. In more than 20 years as a physical education teacher, Trish has developed her teaching methods from watching children at play and transferring their natural instinct for movement into simple exercises. She likens physical education to learning a language where every movement is a word and, with time and good teaching, children begin to string together "sentences" or more complex patterns of movement.

"At the moment there is a huge gap in materials," she says. "I have not seen any video material relating to the current national curriculum and there are very few books around. There is a national concern about the the lack of fitness among young people due to transportation and their sedentary after-school habits and this has been devised with that in mind."

Dr Fay Bendall is scientific officer at the Health Promotion Research Trust, which decided to co-fund the project after their research suggested it was an area which needed attention. "All the experts we talked to said it was an important and worthwhile project. Hopefully it will turn non-specialist teachers into competent PE teachers and give them more confidence," she says.

"It is important to instill good habits in children at an early age so that they last them throughout their lifetime. The difficulty is in getting them to do what's good for them. By making PE a happy occasion and encouraging them in a range of activities it is possible to make PE relaxing and enjoyable. "

The Gym Kit is available, priced Pounds 25, from Homerton College, Cambridge CB2 2PH.

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