More than half the children entering secondaries do not have enough puff nor basic skills, such as catching, throwing or kicking, to tackle physical education activities, a PE teachers' conference heard last week.
Russell Muir, principal teacher of PE at Larbert High, told the Scottish Physical Education Association that staff were doing little more than "remedial education" in the first two years because of the difficulties in primaries.
In a speech that drew warm applause, Mr Muir estimated 60 per cent of children at the age of 11 had difficulties with movement and generic skills. "No disrespect to primary colleagues, but if you have specialists going into a school once a fortnight and expect them to deliver the 5 to 14 curriculum, that's unrealistic," he said.
Mr Muir believed standards in secondary schools would never be raised if the current pattern continued in primary. "Unless we get generic action sorted out at an early time, then we're doing remedial physical education in Years 1 and 2. Our PE programmes with the appropriate staffing and facilities could be delivered in the primary school context."
Mr Muir said primary staff were struggling with short blocks of time for PE, often carried out in dining halls. A focus on PE in primary, backed by a qualification and specialism in primary work for physical education teachers would be a start.
Bob McGowan, a development officer with Stirling Council and former PE adviser, said early intervention in primary should also include physical education. "If it's not addressed there, it's catch up," he said.
Visiting specialists in primary schools were facing an almost impossible task - some saw 1,000 children in a fortnight, while staff often felt isolated and lacked a coherent career structure. PE facilities in primary were also "desperate".
Mr McGowan said the political focus on sport was welcome but poor generic skills in physical education had to be tackled first. "What's the point of having a sports development officer visiting primary schools, if 65 or 80 per cent of the kids don't have the generic skills, coordination or development to access any kind of sport?" he asked.
Pupils would develop negative attitudes to PE and sport that would be reinforced in secondary. But Mr McGowan believed between 5 and 15 per cent of non-recorded pupils, or two or three in every PE class, had coordination disorders that could be improved dramatically through a programme of simple activities.
"Their shoes are always loose, shirts hanging out, ties askew. They're last in the changing room and last out. There's a lot of them," he said.
Mr McGowan added: "If these kids end up in secondary with the same problems, their chance of accessing sport are zero."
* Mr Muir called for investment in PE facilities if it was to attract pupils. They needed to be modern, bright and clean. "We'll not get anywhere if there is mould on walls, if there is not enough showers, no lockers for children. My vision is that schools should be governed by new regulations. The Scottish Office in 1975 talked about walk-through showers for boys - dream on," he said.