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Literacy born out of physical education

Sally Goddard Blythe is director of the Institute for Neuro- Physiological Psychology

New figures showing the percentage of children achieving the expected level in writing at key stage 1 has fallen for the second year running down two percentage points since 2005 to 80 per cent suggest that the government focus on literacy in the early years is not working. Results in reading and maths have also failed to improve since 2002.

One obvious conclusion is that the teaching of children in a formal education setting alone is not enough. They must be physically ready. Studies in schools between 2000 and 2005 (reported in the journal Child Care in Practice in 2005) indicate that 48 per cent of UK children in mainstream education are not "ready" for school in terms of their physical skills in the year of school entry and 35 per cent still have issues related to physical immaturity two years later. Of these, at least 15 per cent were underachieving at reading.

Physical readiness is important because it reflects maturity in neurological pathways involved in the complex processes of reading, writing and problem solving. These "higher" learning abilities involve physical action and co operation between the brain and the body.

Reading requires development of conjugated eye movements, sufficient to follow a line of print without jumping or loss of place. The desire to communicate using words is partly innate but is also dependent on being talked to and listened to every day in the pre-school years.

Writing requires co-ordination between the hand and the eyes supported by posture. Children with postural problems often find it difficult to sit still andceo-ordinate different parts of their body. Postural development in the early years is encouraged by physical play. Physical readiness applies equally to maths. It involves numerous interactions between the two halves of the brain to solve problems such as multiplication tables.

The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology is training teachers how to administer a simple battery of tests to assess children's physical readiness and implement a programme of exercises carried out under teacher supervision for 10 minutes every day. Behaviour, concentration and social skills of children who take part in the programme all improve.

General behavioural improvements are followed by increased levels of attainment in educational measures.

Physical education matters. Until we attend to the physical needs of children at every stage in development, a percentage of children will continue to fail to meet government targets.

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