Fit bodies, agile minds
The gym seems to be fixing more than children's fitness in Renfrew. It is also easing the often difficult transition from primary to secondary school.
Under a scheme that targets PE in primaries in the town, specialised PE teachers from the local secondary, Renfrew High, visit five of the six primary schools. They take classes in tandem with primary teachers.
The scheme, initiated by the Argyll and Clyde Health Board, has been going for seven years. It is now backed by the Scottish Sports Council, under its new "Start Young, Stay Active" campaign. The health board will continue to evaluate its progress.
Though the scheme is based more on recreational sport than on skills, pupils benefit from learning good habits at an early age.
Renfrew High has found that its fifth and sixth-year pupils, who were involved in the primary school scheme when it was launched, help out with coaching S1 and P6 classes.
With seven PE staff and a school roll of 1,000 pupils, Renfrew High places a heavy importance on sport, with lunch-time and after-school sessions.
Vivienne Inglis, the senior teacher who oversees the scheme, is enthusiastic about how it is progressing. "As well as the health benefits of sport, this has cross-curricular benefits with orienteering linked close with geography and there are obvious links with biology and science," she said.
"We are finding that by the time the primary school children go to secondary, they know the PE staff and the PE staff know them by their first names. That helps the transition to secondary school."
She stressed that gifted pupils can be identified at an early age, as young as P5. "A lot of partnerships have been formed. Partnerships with local sports clubs and leisure services and we have links with the likes of Paisley Volleyball Club and Kelburne Hockey Club," she said.
"We can spot talented children from an early age and, if we feel they will benefit from more specialised coaching in clubs, then we can create pathways for them there."
However, it is not only the pupils who are benefiting. Primary teachers learn from the specialised PE staff and are able to do follow-up classes on their own. P1 children are included and primary teachers find the gym lessons are a good way of settling classes.
Newmains Primary is one school that has been impressed by the scheme. With the gym now the focal point of the school, Newmains has been converted to the health and social benefits.
Evelyn McAskill, Newmains P7 teacher, believes the scheme has many merits. "It has given us a lot more confidence in taking children for gym. The one thing we can see is the progression of skills," she explained.
"Before, we would just play a game with the children. Now we are learning a game and how to develop skills. It is a terrific scheme and it has helped us as teachers appreciate our own health and fitness more.
"It is also cross-curricular. It makes children much more aware of how muscle systems work. We can use such things as counting pulse rates to help in maths and look at the whole physiology.
"I now realise the importance of warming-up before exercise and of easing off at the end and I think the scheme teaches the value to children of co-operating with one another. There are awards for working together and I think the children are enjoying PE. The children are fitter and fitter bodies lead to fitter brains."