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PE remains an activity too far for schools

EVERYBODY wants it. At least two hours of PE a week for all school-age pupils, they chorus.

But those who took the time to respond to last June's report by the Physical Activity Task Force, led by John Beattie, the Glasgow-based sports commentator, are uncertain how this laudable aim should be turned into reality.

The competing priorities, particularly in primaries, are underlined in the research study published by the Scottish Executive to coincide with last week's launch of the national physical activity strategy.

One local authority urged ministers to drop any indicators used to judge schools on the amount of time they devote to physical education as they would conflict with contradictory guidance on the structure and balance of the curriculum.

A second authority commented: "It will not be sufficient to assert blandly that flexibility time can be utilised." Uncertainty about implementing the proposed policy would be heightened by the recent pledge to slim down the curriculum with a focus on the basics.

Other respondents were equally concerned how two hours would fit into an already overloaded curriculum. One ventured: "It is debatable at the present moment whether primary class teachers could maintain effective physical education programmes for this amount of time without substantial support and training."

Some want mandatory PE. "The recommended two hours a week would be unlikely to be achieved across the board unless it was made a legal requirement or at least an incentive scheme to make headteachers want to deliver this scheme," a respondent told researchers.

Poor indoor facilities and a shortage of specialist PE teachers and volunteers or coaches would also inhibit the recommendation for one hour's activity a day, in school and out. That would include PE.

The nature and demands of school work are said to leave little time for other activities and the "school run" by car is yet another barrier.

Cultural factors such as the dominance of television and the computer are blamed.

Critics told researchers that PE lacked status and recognition in schools.

Several argued that headteachers should be reminded of evidence from the experiment in Renfrew that extra PE does not damage the core curriculum.

"Some respondents also highlighted the focus of much PE teaching on inactive, performance-led academic work and certification," the Executive's study points out.

A full response is expected after the publication this year of the further review of PE and school sport, chaired by Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister.

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