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No cheerleaders for activity co-ordinators

Proposals to appoint activity co-ordinators in Scottish schools have drawn a lukewarm response from teachers and physical education specialists.

The national network of 600 co-ordinators is part of a pound;24 million package aimed at developing an active schools strategy involving clusters of secondary schools and their local primaries. It will also try to convince parents of the importance of fostering healthier eating habits to combat the rising levels of childhood obesity.

This follows a recent report which showed that one in three 12-year-olds is overweight. Launching the initiative at a family centre in Port Glasgow on Tuesday, Jack McConnell, the First Minister, said the intention is "to increase the opportunities for physical activity, recruit pupils who will support and coach their fellow students and help to change Scotland's couch potato culture for good".

Andrew Maile, head of the Scottish Centre of Physical Education, Sport and Leisure Studies at Edinburgh University, welcomed the news as "an indication of the Executive's commitment to positive health in general and physical activity in particular".

But Mr Maile warned that the co-ordinators must ideally be PE specialists whose rationale is providing physical activity in schools.

Dave Collins, chair of physical education and sport performance at the university, went further and said that there were dangers in employing people with a limited sports background who might not provide "quality PE".

"Unless you have this emphasis on the development of a fundamental movement vocabulary, you end up encouraging children into one particular sport that they may or may not maintain," Professor Collins said.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, expressed concern about a dilution of standards if non-teachers were expected to take classes and of workload considerations if teachers are asked to take on the co-ordinators' role.

But Michael O'Neill, North Lanarkshire's director of education who chairs the national PE review group, welcomed the announcement, saying it was "unrealistic" to expect 600 co-ordinators to come from the ranks of PE teachers.

Expertise would be available from other teachers and coaches, Mr O'Neill said. "Theirs will be a co-ordinating not a teaching role.

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