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A leap forward for PE

A new video from the SCAA is a boon for PE teachers, says Gerald Haigh. Assessing the performance of pupils in physical education brings challenges all of its own. What do you do about the enthusiastic boy who just seems to flail about? Or the highly talented gymnast who is being coached at county level? Or the special-needs pupil who does some things well and other things hardly at all? And where does the school's folk dancing team fit in? These questions are not new, but they are coming into sharper focus because next year statutory assessment is to be extended to non-core subjects at key stage 3.

With the particular needs of physical education in mind, therefore, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has produced a 40-minute video to illustrate the issues surrounding assessment in the gymnasium and on the playing field. It has been put together with real pupils and teachers from a number of secondary schools, and it achieves the considerable feat for this kind of publication of being not only informative but absorbing and, indeed, often moving.

The stars of the tape - all aged 13 and 14 - demonstrate a range of achievements. David, a keen but not very skilled gymnast and games player, is "working towards'' the requirements; Nick, a wobbly gymnast and a moderate but very thoughtful games player, is "achieving"; Gail, a good all-rounder, knowledgeable about the theory of the subject, is also "achieving''; and Lauren, an exceptional gymnast who transfers her superb movements and control into other areas of the subject, is "working beyond''.

Other pupils include Michael, a pupil with Down's Syndrome, who is taught at key stages 1 and 2 for most of the subject and at key stage 3 for swimming.

The tape has good sequences featuring each pupil, with clear voice-overs. So, as we watch David playing basketball, the voice-over points out that he tries hard to mark his opponent, but tends to follow the run of play rather than "read" the game and stay ahead. It concludes that David "shows little tactical understanding".

In the gym, Lauren's beautiful work is contrasted with "Gemma's more restricted and less well defined movements". Even without looking at the video you could imagine what is on show when the voice-over says, "control, clarity, fluency and complexity are again missing from David's trampoline routine".

Judgments are made about the pupil's achievement in the context of the end of key stage descriptions, and the reasoning is clear. There is good emphasis, for example, on the way that pupils transfer skills from one area to another, and to the way they think, plan and evaluate, as well as perform, within the subject.

Some of the sequences are particulary engaging; there is the contrast between Michael's eager but limited work in the gym and his fluency in the swimming pool, for example. And, in one scene, a group of folk dancers make an appearance, emphasising that this kind of work is relevant to curriculum requirements, enabling pupils to show "precision within sequences and the ability to repeat them consistently".

Teachers do not always welcome the avalanche of material that comes from the SCAA - and the authority has attempted to limit its output. It is difficult to imagine, though, how this video and the accompanying printed material can be anything other than helpful to PE teachers, not all of whom are equally confident across the whole range of national curriculum requirements.

The video comes with a booklet and a pack of materials from SCAA, sent to all secondary schools just before the summer holiday, containing exemplification material that covers each of the non-core subjects at key stage 3.

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