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No. 10: Health-related exercise

Over the past 20 years, the teaching of health and fitness as a discrete area of the PE curriculum has become increasingly popular.

Subsequent revisions of the National Curriculum for Physical Education (NCPE) have also provided a stronger positioning and emphasis on health-related issues within PE, further enhancing its popularity. The NCPE comprises statutory programmes of study plus four aspects in which pupils make progress, including knowledge and understanding of fitness and health.

Despite this, a number of myths surround the teaching of health and fitness, or "health-related exercise" (HRE) in schools. For example, it is commonly thought that teaching health and fitness involves excessive amounts of theory and writing; or else that it is all about vigorous activity such as cross-country running; fitness testing; or safety and hygiene issues. Such myths represent a narrow interpretation of the area and may lead to undesirable practices such as inactive PE lessons with too much or all theoryteacher talk, dull, uninspiring drills with minimal or no learning or forced fitness regimes.

Such myths are clearly unhelpful in the promotion of active and healthy lifestyles among children. Not surprisingly, the teaching of health and fitness is often characterised by confusion and variation in practice, and concerns have been expressed about its value, content, delivery and organisation within the curriculum.

To dispel such myths, we need to clarify exactly what health and fitness is. In short, HRE is about physical activity for health enhancement and learning through active participation in purposeful activity. It should involve developing knowledge, skills and understanding about, and positive attitudes and confidence in, physical activity and exercise. Activities could include a range of sport, dance and exercise experiences, including individual activities that can be continued throughout life. Some of the key guiding principles that underpin the teaching of the area include that exercise can be a positive and enjoyable experience; exercise is for all; everyone can be good at exercise; excellence in HRE is maintaining an active way of life.

To enhance understanding, an excellent good practice publication has been produced: Health-related exercise in the National Curriculum, Key Stages 1 to 4 by Jo Harris (Human Kinetics Europe, pound;7.50. Tel:0113 255 5665).

This should certainly serve to dispel some of the myths surrounding the area and support teachers in their efforts to provide children with the knowledge, skills, understanding and experiences required for the enjoyment of a physically active lifestyle.

Dr Lorraine Cale is director of PE teacher education at Loughborough University. This is the final myth in the series.

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