Selection is not excellence

John Cairney

Sporting schools of excellence which select pupils early are unlikely to be effective, David Collins, professor of physical education at Edinburgh University, told the annual conference of the Scottish Physical Education Association last week.

The Government has backed sports school pilots north and south of the border and supported Bellahouston Academy's attempt to bring in youngsters from across Glasgow with sporting talent. Pupils join specialist provision in S1. But Professor Collins urged PE teachers to fight against early specialisation and to use PE and sport to teach generic skills in primary and secondary.

He said: "There is not a selection system in the world that has 100 per cent accuracy, so why bother? There is so much research which shows it is generic skill, agility and motor ability which makes someone good at a whole range of different things. The alternative to centres of excellence is to use physical education as a vehicle to develop in as many people as possible the characteristics of achievement and success."

The characteristics of a "champion" were reasonably discernable and affected not only sport but also success in such spheres as medicine and the arts.

Such features, along with life skills, should be integrated into the education process so the child can choose how to deploy these skills later in life.

Professor Collins added: "The military say that they can develop these skills from the age of 18, so why should we stop developing them at any time during a period of school physical education?" He warned about the consequences of wastage from an "outcome based system". Deselected students would face problems.

Meanwhile, a research study in five English secondaries revealed that policy makers imply there is only one PE, but children see the subject in bits, with different frames of reference, depending on age, ability, school and even culture. Christopher Laws, head of PE at University College Chichester, said teachers needed to delve into children's understanding of PE to provide an effective curriculum.

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John Cairney

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