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Strong growth for courses;Subject of the week;Sport and PE

Phil Revell looks at how PE has become a GCSE success story

Last year, 90,000 students took a GCSE in physical education - more than the totals for music, information technology or home economics. Results were also above average with 4.4 per cent gaining A*, compared with 2.1 per cent for maths and 2.2 per cent for humanities.

This is part of the sport and PE success story, which has been unfolding over the past 10 years. Now most boards offer two main syllabuses, with a short course and a less demanding certificate of achievement.

Most syllabuses involve a mixture of coursework and written papers with questions on physiology, health, safety, training and participation. Practical activities must encompass a variety of games.

Although there is an alarming drop-off in the number of girls participating in school sport, those that choose to do GCSE do well, with nearly three times as many A*s as boys.

At present, a school which has the national average of 100-plus minutes of PE per week is devoting at least 6 per cent of its key stage 4 curriculum to a subject which doesn't even show up in its league table.

Barking Abbey School in the east of London is one of the newly-designated sports colleges. It has offered GCSE PE for five years, running the standard GCSE plus the PE (games) option.

"It's certainly not an easy touch," says head of department Andy Tickner. Even so, PE is popular. There are 65 candidates entered for the exam this year. For the current Year 10s, however, there was no choice in the matter - the school decided to make GCSE PE compulsory for the whole year.

Two lessons total 140 minutes; the children also follow three activities, with an indoor and outdoor practical, plus a classroom lesson.

Most of Barking Abbey's pupils are switched on to PE anyway, says Mr Tickner. "But that's not the reason we've done it." The move is mainly a result of the school's sports college status, which requires evidence that sport is being developed inside the school and the wider community.

The classroom study required for the theory elements of the GCSE can cause some schools problems and Barking Abbey is no exception. Ideally, Mr Tickner would like a classroom next to the sports facilities where students could switch easily from studies to practical activities. Some schools solve this by adapting storage space, but Barking Abbey has plans for a new sports hall with a classroom attached.

Entering the whole year for the exam has given Barking Abbey's PE staff some kudos in the staffroom where colleagues are more ready to concede that PE is a real subject - now that it has real homework and real marking.

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