HMIE has come under fire for ignoring physical education in inspection reports, and has been accused of not taking it as seriously as other subjects.
An inquiry by MSPs revealed concern that the inspectorate, by failing to address issues about PE and physical activity in Scottish schools, was painting a rosier picture than other evidence suggested. Members of the Parliament's health and sport committee last week referred to schools where parents were worried about a lack of sports and physical activity. Inspection reports for the schools, however, had no information about the state of PE.
HMIE's Donald McLeod told the committee that "if no mention of PE is made in a report, you can take it that we are satisfied that the children's learning experiences in physical education are satisfactory".
Michael Matheson, Falkirk West SNP member, was "very surprised" by this explanation, and cited a recent inspection report which did not refer to the national target of two hours of PE a week - even though many parents were concerned about this issue. "The fact that the issue is not being sufficiently recognised within the reports suggests that inspectors are not giving physical activity and PE, in primary schools in particular, as high a priority as it should be given," he said.
West of Scotland Liberal Democrat Ross Finnie said: "I cannot think of any education report in which, if no reading, writing or arithmetic were being taught, there would be complete silence on the part of the inspectors. With respect, it is disingenuous to suggest to the committee that silence on the matter means that you are satisfied that schools are moving towards the target, because that is not how inspectors would approach any other targets. Your answers reveal a very serious differentiation in the minds of the inspectorate on the importance that you attach to physical activity in comparison with other disciplines."
Mr McLeod was giving evidence for the second phase of the Pathways into Sport Inquiry, which is probing the barriers preventing Scots from getting involved in sport. Mr Finnie told him that HMIE was painting "a much better picture" than any other witness.
Mr McLeod's riposte was to cite a 2008 HMIE report on how well the four capacities in A Curriculum for Excellence were being developed in primary PE. It highlighted room for improvement in planning, outdoor PE, partnerships and excessive time spent on warming up and changing.
Suzanne Hargreaves, of the Association for Physical Education Scotland, said there was a "lack of consistency" in meeting the two-hour target, and it should be the responsibility of inspectors to identify which schools were falling short.
But Fraser Booth, head of Carnoustie High, giving evidence on behalf of School Leaders Scotland, said he had never encountered parental concern about physical activity in the four schools where he had held senior management posts. Parents had often been the problem: "In my experience, there has been a lack of engagement from some parents to involve their children in physical activity in schools."
The impending disappearance of a school playing field in Penicuik has prompted a call for a national database of schools' outdoor sports areas. A motion to the Scottish Parliament from south of Scotland SNP MSP Christine Grahame "notes with alarm" that Cuiken Primary's playing field could be built over, despite the apparent protection of national planning policy.