Good sports! Postgraduates 'transform' PE in primaries

9th April 2010 at 01:00
Number of teachers taking `world leading' courses at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities `massively exceeds' expectations

Teachers are flocking to "world-leading" postgraduate PE courses at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities in higher-than-expected numbers and, by so doing, transforming primary pupils' experience of the subject.

Graduates from the courses have increased confidence among colleagues and have moved primary PE away from mass, low-skill games of tig, pirates and dodgeball, according to the universities.

They are also compensating to some degree for the well-publicised shortage of PE specialists, although course organisers stress their graduates do not bring the same type of expertise and that, ideally, pupils should have access to both.

Ongoing internal evaluation shows that 873 people have started or completed one of the two postgraduate certificates, a number predicted to reach 1,100 by next year.

Course organisers say those figures have "massively exceeded" expectations: a target was set for 400 teachers to sign up during the initial phase of funding, from 2006 to 2008.

Participants have included primary, nursery, and secondary teachers, as well as heads and existing PE specialists.

Mike Jess, programme director at Edinburgh University, said the courses derived strength from close collaboration with local authorities and national government. The universities also keep in close contact with students after they complete the courses, and there is an ongoing continuing professional development programme.

"I don't think you would be wrong to say this is leading the world," said Mr Jess, who added that an increasing number of students from abroad were seeking to sign up.

Mr Jess said the experience of PE in many primary schools, compared to a decade ago, was like "night and day".

Graduates from the Edinburgh and Glasgow courses have been largely responsible for the step-change, said Mr Jess, although he also cited the impact of other initiatives such as the Active Schools Programme.

Case studies compiled by the universities illustrated the impact of the programme, he added.

"We are moving away from the `big games' mentality," said Lesley Robertson of Inverkeithing Primary. Staff had commented that children were much more engaged in PE, particularly "those who would normally have participated on the periphery due to lack of competence", she added.

Katie Finch, a P3 teacher at Torphins Primary in Aberdeenshire, has set up "PE surgeries" to support staff. Ms Finch works with P1 pupils and their teachers while her own class is at ICT. Torphins' headteacher wants her to work with this class throughout its time at primary school, and monitor the impact on pupils.

Rona Young, of Lochgilphead Primary in Argyll, helped integrate two severely autistic boys into mainstream PE. They responded well to a "consistent and disciplined approach" and subsequently built up relationships with pupils outside the classroom, as well as later integrating into mainstream secondary PE.

Scott Hardie, of Smithton Primary in Inverness, is carrying out research into the potential impact of letting P7 pupils lead PE for infant classes, while Edinburgh-based John Mowbray, a former class teacher, became a PE specialist after his postgraduate studies uncovered a passion for the subject.

A common trend was identified by, among others, Lyn Rodger of Girvan Primary, South Ayrshire, in the course of her final research project: "The children now view PE as a much more important subject than they did before."

The Scottish Government has contributed pound;5 million to the courses. That meets students' fees and, in theory, allows local authorities to cover travel and subsistence.

The government funding runs out in March 2011 and - although the courses will continue in any case - the universities will seek talks about a fresh injection of cash after next year's parliamentary elections.

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