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On the Map - Physical Education - Dashes of mystery in hurdles to exercise

Mens sana in corpore sano ... Many readers will be vaguely aware of the Roman poet Juvenal's assertion about a healthy mind in a healthy body. However, whether it inspired the drive to ensure all pupils do at least two hours of PE a week throughout their school years will not be clear until we can read the relevant minister's memoirs.

Whatever was behind the policy - and it might have been fears of too many couch potatoes playing computer games that improve hand-eye co-ordination but also risk a nation of overweight layabouts - concern about the fitness of the nation's young people is not new.

At the time of the Boer War, some recruiting stations were rejecting as unfit nine out of 10 of those who wanted to join the Army. This led to the creation, in 1903, of the Committee on Physical Deterioration, whose report the following year produced many of the first child welfare reforms of the last century.

Schools in most local authority areas fall within a band of 70-95 per cent of pupils taking part in at least two hours of PE at school a week. The curious exception is the East Midlands, where the figures range from 58 per cent in the city of Nottingham to the 100 per cent score of Rutland.

But even within these parameters, significant variations seem to fall into a consistent pattern. It is the towns and cities of the Midlands and the North where the proportions meeting that two-hour target are lowest, and the more rural and affluent suburbs that come closest to joining Rutland.

There are exceptions, of course. Halton and Warrington, two unitary authorities in the North West, and Middlesbrough in the North East, are the best-performing authorities in terms of PE allocation in their regions.

And why Hammersmith and Fulham, one of the richest of the London boroughs, should have the worst result in London, other than its lack of school playing fields, is a mystery.

Certainly, the sale of playing fields over the past 25 years has done nothing to boost access to sport. But even that should not have affected traditional PE lessons. It is more likely that changes in the design of schools have reduced the amount of suitable inside space for such activities.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education

PERCENTAGE OF PUPILS TAKING PART IN AT LEAST TWO HOURS OF PE A WEEK*

* In Years 1-11 (20092010); local authorities with highest and lowest figures in each region

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH

Gloucestershire: 94%

North Somerset: 82%

SOUTH EAST

Wokingham: 96%

PortsmouthMedway: 82%

WEST MIDLANDS

Telford and Wrekin: 95%

Wolverhampton: 75%

LONDON

Sutton: 92%

Hammersmith and Fulham: 70%

EAST

BedfordLuton: 96%

Peterborough: 82%

EAST MIDLANDS

Rutland: 100%

Nottingham: 58%

NORTH WEST

HaltonWarrington: 92%

LiverpoolKnowsley: 75%

YORKSHIRE AND HUMBER

North Yorkshire: 94%

Sheffield: 78%

NORTH EAST

MiddlesbroughDurham: 91%

Darlington: 71%.

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