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Sports coaches to the rescue

Diane Spencer on one city council's scheme to improve the teaching of PE

The infant class listened carefully as Warren Slingsby, dressed in a tracksuit, explained that he wanted them to jog round the hall in a clockwise direction. Then they dissolved into giggles as some, equally carefully, set off the wrong way.

This was the start of an hour's gym organised by one of Yorkshire's top gymnastics coaches as part of a sports programme run by Leeds City Council, which could be a model for other parts of the country.

The initial targets are not the pupils, but their teachers, many of whom are nervous about taking PE. Called "Activate Leeds", the programme is intended to improve PE and sport by using professional coaches to work with teachers.

"If the teacher goes off to mark books, the session doesn't happen," said Peter Smith, acting head of sports development.

"We want the teacher to become more confident and be able to deliver the skills when we're not there."

Nick Hardaker, advisory teacher for PE, said that new teachers had to teach all subjects in the national curriculum.

"For many, PE is the biggest nightmare because they have had as little as four hours a year in initial teacher training. Lots of people are uncomfortable with that."

The children and their teacher at Hunslet Moor primary school in a tough part of the city were enjoying their taste of gymnastics. They learnt how to do rolls on mats and some simple bench-work with Warren Slingsby, a sports science graduate of Leeds Carnegie College who coaches gymnastics at national level.

Later in the day senior girls at Mount St Mary's secondary practised advanced netball in an after-school club with Carol Williams, who coaches West Yorkshire under-16s.

Angela Wade, the PE teacher, appreciated Mrs Williams's expertise, adding that "new faces help tremendously".

The five-year scheme is a joint initiative by the Labour-run council's leisure services and the Department for Education and Employment.

Each school in a "family" (a consortium of schools and colleges in an area of the city) is allocated credits for an average of 45 one-hour coaching or in-service sessions a year.

The school audits its needs according to strengths, weaknesses and preferences. Then the headteacher approaches the relevant sports development officer who programmes the network of coaches to cover the sessions. So far Activate Leeds operates in 135 schools with almost 4,500 hours of support which will be reduced gradually in the two following years.

Gymnastics has been the most popular activity, followed by health-related fitness, netball, orienteering and rugby league. Schools can also decide how to use their coaches. One perhaps surprising growth area is dance, said Mr Hardaker. Credits can be used to hire qualified teachers from the Yorkshire Dance Centre.

These were used to good effect in one inner-city school, which put on a winning performance at a recent rock festival in Bradford.

"It brought a tear to my eye seeing those tough 14 and 15-year-old boys dancing in front of the Lord Mayor," Mr Hardaker said.

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