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Pop goes the pupils' score

Some find them embarrassing, while others boast weight loss and an improved sense of rhythm. They may even lead to better academic performance from pupils.

Daily "wake up and shake up" exercise sessions are taking off in hundreds of primary schools as the perfect start to the day.

Teachers and pupils perform synchronised stretches, aerobics and dance moves to catchy pop songs like Is This The Way To Amarillo?

A few teachers are concerned by the trend. "We've been doing it for about three months and the gloss has worn off," one primary teacher said. "The littler kids like it but most of the staff just end up feeling silly."

But most said the daily five-minute sessions had helped them and their pupils feel more alert.

Ruth Mitchell, sports coordinator at Callington school, Cornwall, developed "wake up and shake up" four years ago when she was looking for ways to encourage physical activity in local primary schools.

More than 1,000 schools in Britain, as well as a handful in Germany, France and Dubai, have now requested her packs, which include a CD of pop music and videos of dance steps.

A similar scheme, coincidentally called "wake and shake", was developed by St Edmund's sports college, Salisbury, and is now being used in about 1,000 primaries, according to the college.

Looe primary, Cornwall, has used the exercises based on Mrs Mitchell's system every day for the past four years and has taken part in inter-school competitions to devise the best routines.

One pupil, Milly, 10, who has choreographed moves for songs such as Hey Ya! by Outkast, said: "There's a lot of star-jumping and stretches. You feel puffed out afterwards and your heart beats faster.

"It's funny to see the headteacher jumping about, but the teachers are not too bad."

Annemarie Pickering, PE teacher at Looe, said the exercises had helped her lose weight and improved her sense of rhythm.

"I'm never going to be a pop star but I can pick up all the routines," she said.

"It has become as much of a part of the school day as maths or science."

Her enthusiasm is shared by Gerry Sweet, head of nearby Trenode primary.

"Some of the pupils' routines can be challenging for people of my age, who are old enough to remember the Sixties," he said. "But I feel better for doing it and the children need to see that we take part."

St Edmund's assessed the impact that its programme had on pupils at Winterslow primary, Wiltshire, one of its partner primaries, over three months in 2003. It found reading skills went up four times faster than expected, with low-ability pupils showing some of the biggest improvements.

The projects are among many initiatives aimed at increasing exercise and improving pupils' concentration. Better known schemes include Brain Gym, which was recently criticised for dressing up sensible tips about excercise and drinking water with inaccurate pseudo-science.


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