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At play with the Sharks

Basketball players knock the curriculum into shape at a nursery and infant school in Sheffield, reports Hilary Mason

Wincobank nursery and infant school in Sheffield is regularly visited by giants and sharks. Nobody is alarmed. Whenever they appear there is a healthy buzz of enthusiasm and concentration.

They are members of the Sheffield-based Westfield Sharks basketball team, here to help the children with their literacy and numeracy. And yes, they also coach the children in basic basketball skills and team work.

One of the giants lies down on the floor and the children measure him. His legs are nearly three times as long as those of the tallest child in the class and, when standing, he can touch the ceiling with his outstretched arms. He weighs 19 stone and is 6ft 11in. The children are seriously impressed.

Later the children will convert these measurements to kilos, estimating and making comparisons - how many children would add up to the same weight as their giant basketball player? How much would three of these players weigh? Another group uses the dimensions and layout of a basketball pitch to reinforce their work in shape and measurement.

Wincobank is just one of many schools that steadfastly refuses to relegate physical education to the spectator's bench. They consider PE to be so important that they put this traditionally low-status subject at the centre of their teaching and learning.

This is pretty good going considering that in 1998 the Government gave primary schools permission to suspend the full programmes of study for foundation subjects - PE included - while they concentrated on literacy and numeracy.

Stuart Ayers, headteacher of St John's school, Essington, near Wolverhampton, could see no sense at all in reducing his school's PE allocation to concentrate on the core subjects. For him, PE is a core subject.

"At St John's we asked ourselves this simple question: do we want to contribute to the next generation being complacent about fitness and having a history of non-participation in sport or are we going to make them fit for life?"

This is a view shared by 89-pupil St Lawrence's primary in Somerset. St Lawrence's has no playing field or sports hall, just a small, sloped playground dotted with trees under preservation orders. Nevertheless, it has gained an Active Mark Gold - Sport England's highest accolade for PE provision in primary schools.

Like Wincobank, St Lawrence's has linked up with local sports clubs and also works with the local secondary, Wells Blue, which welcomes the younger children to share their AstroTurf, cricket nets and sports hall.

Through such dynamic partnerships and holistic models, the children not only learn PE skills, they are presented with excellent role models and can extend their learning in context right across the curriculum.

At St Lawrence's, children make 3D figures out of wire and clay in art which, says sports co-ordinator Clare Blackmore, "supports learning about the body, health and fitness". They use the Football Association's cross-curricular "Up for the Cup" resource, and the children have designed their own team games and rules.

"In our monthly achievers' assembly, team and individual performances are acknowledged and awards given for teamwork, fair play or for trying hard," she says.

Hilary Mason is editor of


* The whole school has to believe that educating children about health, fitness and physical activity is as important as the traditional subjects.

* Evaluate the quality of your resources and facilities. Look for additional funding and talk to your secondary school about sharing resources.

* There are hundreds of good and inexpensive training courses available through the governing bodies of various sports.

* Work closely with your local education authority PE adviser on ways of raising its profile.

* Contact local sports clubs for ideas and support.

* Link into the school sport co-ordinator partnerships being developed across the country. Contact Youth Sport Trust, 01509 226600,

* Have a dedicated PE governor.

* The Sportsteacher Guide to PE Funding contains information on more than 70 different funding bodies, along with handy hints and case studies.

Contact Sportsteacher on 01223 728100. Free copies of the guide for the first 10 callers

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