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Shape up without a slog on the pitch

Diane Spencer finds many keen to blow the final whistle on the team games revival. It was the stuff of Sports Minister Iain Sproat's nightmares: 13 and 14-year-old boys and girls were in the gym, giving a fair to middling imitation of a dance routine from the film, Grease. They were enjoying themselves: thin, fat, athletic and un-co-ordinated ones alike.

The Year 9 group at Mountbatten Secondary School in Romsey, Hampshire, was doing its weekly 100 minutes of physical education as part of a rotating programme of gym, dance and movement, outdoor pursuits, health-related exercise and volleyball. Last half-term the time was devoted to a game of the pupils' choice.

Mr Sproat's well-known aversion to dance and aerobics and enthusiasm for competitive team games has not found favour with the nine-strong PE department in this comprehensive of around 1,500 pupils.

For the past eight years, head of department Peter Faulkner has been developing a policy of teaching mixed groups a balanced curriculum, giving a share of the time to health-related exercise. Dance was a challenge to some of the male staff, but "now they like teaching it and the kids love it", said Gordon Taylor, one of his colleagues.

"I don't see the need for the change in emphasis to games - politicians are harking back to mythical halcyon days. Games don't address the personal development of each child."

"Our job is to turn the pupils on to exercise and sport, make it enjoyable and keep them fit: does it really matter if it's football, hockey or step aerobics?" asked Mr Faulkner. Mandy Quill, another PE teacher, viewed compulsory games as a "dire" prospect. "Girls in particular will be turned off."

Mountbatten currently offers its 15 and 16-year-olds a choice between a variety of activities including squash, badminton, games, weight training, mountain biking, self-defence and ten-pin bowling as well as team games.

Mandy Quill thought some girls might opt for racquet sports, but others were "very poorly coordinated . . . it will be easier for them to opt out altogether. They will turn up without their kit."

The teachers are not just concerned about girls' physical well-being under the new regulations. Karen Bowen, who was putting her class through the Grease routine, thought that dance was just as beneficial for boys as for girls, especially for those who were not good at games. "We don't want to turn them off exercise."

Girls often take the lead in organising group work in exercise, gym, and dance: the planning part of the general requirements for the national curriculum which is followed by performance and evaluation. Mr Taylor is keen to keep boys interested in these activities so that they can learn from the girls how to use their imagination and communication skills. Group work benefits both boys and girls, he said, as it modifies boys' behaviour and can encourage girls' self-confidence.

Everyone does volleyball in Year 9 and Tchoukball (another handball game) in Years 7 and 8 to teach hand-eye co-ordination. Soccer and rugby are not on offer to Years 7 and 8 as the department reckons that enough is available out of hours. Girls' soccer has taken off, Mr Taylor said, adding that the school is keen to build bridges between its sports activities and those of the community with a view to pupils keeping up their sport when they leave.

When the timetable was reorganised two years ago, 50 minutes out of the 150-minute allocation to PE at key stage 3 were given to games, the rest to the PE curriculum. The aim was to prevent games from dominating throughout.

Mountbatten takes part in various county and local leagues, including sports acrobatics - a mixture of gym and dance skills, especially popular with Year 9 and 10 girls - as well as the conventional cricket, soccer and netball.

Its sporting diet was given an unsolicited testimonial by Duncan Henderson, a student at West Sussex College who has done four teaching practices at Mountbatten. He likes its approach because "everyone joins in and tries everything. Kids aren't pushed towards a particular sport because it's a favourite with one of the teachers."

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