Fitness grows one step at a time

30th June 2006 at 01:00
A secondary school is using setting by sporting ability to encourage healthier lifestyles, reports Elizabeth Buie

A radical approach to improving pupils' fitness is being adopted by a South Lanarkshire secondary.

PE teachers at Stonelaw High in Rutherglen have chosen to set their S2 pupils according to their sporting ability, then tracked them by using pedometers.

This has allowed teachers to stretch their most talented pupils - named the T section - whom they felt did not always benefit from mixed-ability classes.

And the initiative has also allowed the staff to devise a specific curriculum for the least fit, avoiding activities such as gymnastics which they knew were a turn-off: instead they were offered time in the fitness suite, trampolining, or runs through the local heritage park, not just the usual circuit of the school grounds.

Stonelaw's PE department also invited a dietician to speak to the "fitness"

group, as the least fit group is known, to explore healthy eating issues.

The experiment appears to have increased motivation and to have been popular among the least fit pupils. The school's most talented volleyball players and athletes are also enjoying great success.

Alan Byrne, the principal teacher of PE, said: "This philosophy of grouping the best sports pupils into one class may be disputed by some, but are we really getting any better at sport at the top level? Perhaps we need to start thinking along these lines nationally."

He added: "If we want them to lead a healthy lifestyle, then we needed to change our approach for them."

Mr Byrne said he had to weigh up the potential problem of the "fitness"

group being stigmatised and the middle group losing out on the stimulus and inspiration of being in the same class as the most talented. In the end, he felt the advantages of grouping the pupils outweighed the disadvantages.

He admits that, in the first few weeks, the fitness pupils would come up and say: "We are getting called the fat section." The teachers therefore went out of their way to explain their aims clearly to all the pupils and to warn them about verbal bullying.

Mr Byrne said he would have abandoned the programme if the name-calling had continued. It did stop, however, and he says the fitness group started to enjoy their new lessons, which included some form of aerobic exercise each time.

All pupils receive two periods of PE a week, the fitness class getting one period based solely on fitness and the other involving a sport which they most enjoy, such as football, basketball, swimming, hockey or badminton.

"Most schools are probably like ourselves in that, despite the best of intentions, we do not actually have enough vigorous exercise in our lessons," Mr Byrne said. He also insisted that the pupils do a five-minute run at the beginning of every badminton and basketball lesson, as these sports did not give sufficient sustained exercise.

After each five-minute run, the pupils had to mark on an incentive card how many laps of the games hall they had done. Pupils also marked their cards with the number of steps taken in the lesson, measured by a pedometer.

Apart from improving fitness, another objective was to make sure that the curriculum had a positive ethos which would improve the pupils' confidence and self-esteem. Fun elements were introduced, such as primary school games, including dodge-ball, and assault courses.

"The other good point of these activities was that none of the really talented sports stars was in the fitness group and, as a result, everyone felt they were making a contribution to the team effort," Mr Byrne said.

BEST FOOT FORWARDS

Amy Forsyth, S2

"I feel a lot fitter. After school, I go to a badminton club and I wouldn't have done that before. Using the pedometer made you try to improve your score.

"I liked the running - actually I quite liked all of it. I used to feel a bit embarrassed doing PE before, but I feel happy about it now.

"In S3, I'll be doing badminton, trampolining, basketball and more badminton."

Ryan Tibbetts, S2 "It was better than normal - we wouldn't have to do gymnastics and all that. Since we started in the fitness section, it's been fun and we get to do extra stuff that some of the other classes don't, like going to the fitness suite and basketball.

"I knew before I started that I was quite fat, but now I'm a bit fitter.

It's made me more conscious of health and fitness.

"Some people called us names at the beginning, but then it stopped. It was just because I was the quiet one and I started speaking back, so it stopped. It was just teenagers being teenagers.

"In S3, I'll be doing football, hockey and two blocks of the fitness suite."

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