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Let's get physical

You don't have to be able to turn cartwheels or climb wallbars in order to teach children PE skills. Douglas Blane reports on a new course at Glasgow University on which primary teachers from 16 authorities have enrolled.

Primary teachers can, of course, do anything. It's in the job description.

But now and again, they confess, a little extra staff development is welcome in some areas of the curriculum. Physical education is mentioned most often.

This explains the popularity of a new national course, backed by the Scottish Executive and developed and delivered by Glasgow University: "We have 230 primary teachers enrolled to start in January," says Theresa Campbell, senior university teacher in physical education.

Based on a successful pilot in selected Glasgow schools, the new course aims to produce "specialisms rather than specialists". It is worth one-third of a master's degree - 60 points - and demands 100 contact hours of evenings or weekends spread over 18 months.

"We are aiming to improve teachers' confidence and competence in the delivery of physical education," she says. "We are getting them engaged in debate and reflection - and we want them to share what they learn with colleagues across their schools."

During the pilot, participating teachers mentioned two aspects that appealed to them: they could relate what they were learning to what they were doing in school - and very often apply it immediately, to the benefit of school teaching and course learning.

The inclusive philosophy of the Glasgow University team was also a winner:

"You don't have to be brilliant at physical education to teach it well,"

says Ms Campbell. "Those not so skilled can understand what it's like for these wee learners who are not great at it. They can be more sensitive to every child in their classroom.

"We are not looking only for people who are physically fit and active. We want teachers with enthusiasm for improving physical education in the primary."

A balanced blend of theory and practice, the course ranges widely, from the impact on PE of Assessment is for Learning and co-operative learning, to early motor development, teaching basic skills and playing games appropriate to age.

Climbing wallbars and performing cartwheels is not called for, says Ms Campbell, "but we do put teachers through some practical learning, so they can reflect on their experience and get a feel for being a learner.

Teachers in 16 local authorities - from Dumfries and Galloway to Highland - are currently enrolled on the Glasgow University course. By funding development of a comparable course at Edinburgh University, also starting in January, the Executive has ensured that teachers across Scotland can add PE to their armoury of expertise.

Assessment is by essay and presentation: "That's valuable experience, since we want them to share what they learn with their whole school," says Ms Campbell.

Depending mainly on geography, the 100 hours of contact will take place in weekly or weekend sessions, at a school. "It's a huge commitment from the teachers. In fact, the Executive weren't sure if we could get enough of them from around Scotland who would put in the time and effort.

"It says a lot about the commitment that's out there. These people are doing the course to improve what's happening for children in primary physical education - and they're doing it in their own time."


Active aims

Learning Outcomes - participants on the new course will be able to:

* identify and respond to the physical education needs of all pupils;

* reflect on academic and professional issues in physical education;

* undertake reflective study that pulls together research, theory and practice;

* critically examine the impact of policy on the PE curriculum;

* self-evaluate and analyse knowledge, skills and attitudes;

* communicate partnership issues in whole-school health and activity;

* reflect on connections between PE and the health promoting school.

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