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Stephen picks up the ball

THE Deputy Education Minister has signalled the determination of the Scottish Executive to see action on health and physical activity by chairing the group that will carry out the review of physical education. Michael O'Neill, director of education in North Lanarkshire, is his deputy.

Nicol Stephen, speaking to the school sport annual conference in Livingston on Monday, said that the review will encompass wider aspects of PE and school sport in primary and secondary.

It will include the findings of the Physical Activity Task Force, which reported last week, the 5-14 expressive arts guidelines as they apply to PE, the recent inspectorate report on PE in primary and the Scottish Parliament's report on sport in schools.

The commitment by Jack McConnell, as Education Minister, to establish a school sport alliance will add to the review's work as will the recommendations on school swimming. Mr Stephen said proposals to allow every child the chance to learn to swim would be included within the overall PE plans by the end of the year.

Under pressure from PE teachers, he accepted that smaller classes would be considered. Alan Clark, principal PE teacher at Inverness Royal Academy, told Mr Stephen: "We have class sizes of up to 33 in PE. We should be 20 as a practical class. That would make an enormous difference to children taking part in PE."

The minister rejected another appeal for "more bite" to the activity proposals in schools, including an element of compulsion. Mary Allison, the physical activity national co-ordinator, or activity czar, told the conference of similar tensions in the task force, which eventually ducked specific plans.

"It was pretty brave of the task force not to come up with programmes that we could roll out nationally," Ms Allison said.

Fending off questions about how to apply the national recommendation for one hour of activity a day in schools for all pupils, she said there were indications that more active children were more confident and better learners. However, there was no definitive evidence.

"You can increase the volume of physical education with no detrimental effect on other subject outcomes," Ms Allison said.

She told the conference there was clear evidence over the past five years of the strong link between health and activity. "Inactivity kills people and two-thirds of people in Scotland are living with the risk factor," she said.

With children, it was about laying the foundations of better health, establishing good habits and attitudes and creating the skill base for activity and sport. But the task force would be fortunate to meet its 20-year target of having 80 per cent of children active every day when strong societal forces were moving in the other direction.

"If we can hold things steady, that would be an achievement," Ms Allison admitted.

The consultation on the task force's draft report runs until September 13 with a final report going to ministers by December.

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