Study warns that large classes allow too many lazy pupils to avoid physical work. Julie Henry reports
PHYSICAL education classes need to be smaller if schools are going to tackle the growing problem of couch-potato children.
A study by De Montfort University's sports department found that class size had a direct effect on the heart rate - and therefore fitness - of 11-year-old boys during games lessons.
Pupils in a class of 16 spent nearly double the amount of time, more than 11 minutes, taking part in vigorous activity than pupils in a class of 30. In larger classes, children could escape teacher scrutiny and time was wasted organising participants into groups.
John Sproule, principal lecturer at de Montfort, said: "It is evident that changes in class size do affect student involvement.
"Recent findings suggest that when pupils were in view of the teacher, which is more likely to occur in smaller classes, they were more active in PE.
"When teachers were closer to students they were less inactive."
Mr Sproule said staff-pupil ratios should be reduced to below 20 to one for physical education to be effective.
A report published by Sport England earlier this year found that the proportion of six to ight-year-olds spending two hours or more per week taking part in PE has dropped to 11 per cent from 32 per cent five years ago.
Paul Gately, the director of the country's first "fat camp", said many of the 70 children who were attending his camp during this summer had past negative experiences with sport and exercise at school.
At the camp, based at Woodhouse Grove, a private school in Leeds, young people are taught in groups of 14 supervised by three members of staff.
Mr Gately said: "Their problems start in primary school where there are not enough resources to support and engage the kids. Some of these kids are moving on not knowing how to throw, catch or jump.
"Secondary school PE teachers do not have the time and the classes are too big to differentiate between the superfit kid and the overweight kid who needs extra help."
Curriculum advisers have carried out a national consultation to find out how some schools have been successful in encouraging more pupils to play sport. The results are expected in January.
Last month, the Government announced pound;120 million to be ploughed into sports programmes in the next three years, with one in four schools benefiting from a new army of sports coaches.