Using specialist teachers just to reduce contact time is a misuse of their skills, says Chris Wood
lmost five years ago, Mike Jess wrote in The TES Scotland on the potential impact of the teachers' agreement and the opportunities for specialist teachers of physical education in primary schools (October 5, 2001). It is especially pertinent now as schools move towards implementing the recommendations of the physical education review group. Local authorities can implement these recommendations in their own way, as they have done with the reduction of class teachers' contact time.
In implementing the national agreement, several authorities and schools have decided to use specialist teachers of art and design, music and PE to cover the reduced contact hours of class teachers. Clackmannanshire has taken a unique approach by using specialist PE teachers to cover every class teacher's reduced contact time, giving them sole responsibility for delivering 90 minutes of PE for every child every week.
However, it appears that in other authorities and schools where specialist teachers are used for reduced contact time the provision is only 45 minutes. This practice has implications for schools as they work towards delivering two hours of quality PE, a key recommendation of the review group.
Traditionally the specialist teacher has had a dual role: first, teaching children, demonstrating good practice of the whole learning and teaching process; and second, using the lesson to provide ongoing staff development for the class teacher.
In this way, there is a model to help the class teacher deliver follow-up lessons which are crucial to children's learning, and for practising and refining their movement and physical skills. Quite simply, one lesson from the specialist teacher every week, or indeed every two weeks, is not enough.
The PE component in initial teacher education is very small and, historically, there have been very few PE-related staff development opportunities for class teachers. By working with the specialist, class teachers have the opportunity to increase their knowledge, skills and confidence to teach PE. It is widely recognised that class teachers appreciate the specialist's support in helping them to deliver physical education. However, when the specialist teacher is used to cover reduced contact time, the class teacher misses out on staff development and the opportunity for continuity is compromised. The class teacher doesn't experience the content of the lesson, its delivery, or the process of the children's learning.
Effective follow-up lessons become more difficult to achieve, even when the specialist gives the class teacher a lesson plan, or meets up with the class teacher at the end of the school day to discuss the children's progress. This in itself can prove difficult when class teachers and specialists are committed to extra-curricular activities and working parties. Unless authorities and schools are following the "Clackmannanshire model", the practice of using specialist teachers to cover reduced contact time is in effect contributing to a decrease in quality PE, when schools should be working towards two hours of provision.
The review group was instigated as a result of the findings of two key reports: the inspectorate's Improving Physical Education in Primary Schools in 2001 and the Scottish Executive's physical activity task force in 2002.
These reports indicated inadequate provision in many primary schools, with HMIE identifying significant areas for development: quality programmes in learning and teaching; assessment; monitoring and evaluation; and staff development opportunities.
Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, accepted the review group's recommendations in their entirety, and pledged 400 additional PE teachers.
These additional specialists cannot be delivered overnight, but progress is being made with teacher education institutions now developing a variety of flexible courses.
Covering for reduced contact time makes for difficult decisions. But if we are serious about the health and well-being of our children, quality physical education delivered by trained teachers is an essential ingredient of the curriculum. Evidence suggests that, if children lead active lives, they are more likely to lead active lives in adulthood. Mike Jess made a powerful statement when he argued that schools provide the only opportunity for all children to experience quality physical education and, as the review group's report points out, it is important that physical education meets "the needs and talents of all children".
Furthermore, the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000 defines the purpose of education as "the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child to their fullest potential".
Class teachers have a vital role in all this. They know their children, they know their children's preferred learning styles and they have a wide range of teaching strategies which they use to great effect. They are an essential resource in moving towards two hours of PE for all children.
At present, there are insufficient specialist teachers to allow authorities and schools to adopt the "Clackmannanshire model" - even if they wanted to.
The optimum way to take forward the review group's recommendations is to have the specialist teacher and the class teacher work together. Until the additional resources are available, it is questionable whether PE specialists should be used to cover reduced contact time, unless these specialists have total responsibility for delivering at least 90 minutes of quality PE to every child every week.
Chris Wood is a PE teacher in Stirling.
CpD Supplement page 4