School reports at Wallace Hall Academy assess fitness alongside English, maths and science. Henry Hepburn finds out how
there are grimaces for one last sit-up, crimson cheeks for a dash to the line, and brows furrowed in preparation for the final attempt at a gravity-defying leap. But these are not elite athletes just ordinary pupils at a Dumfries and Galloway school where physical fitness is fast assuming the same importance as traditional mental disciplines.
Since 2005, fitness tests are carried out twice a year on pupils who started first year at Wallace Hall Academy in Thornhill. Eventually, all pupils will be tested twice a year during their time at the school.
After testing, each pupil receives an individualised "fitness profile" showing his or her results against the yearly average. Parents can read about their child's fitness in school reports, next to the assessments of progress in traditional subjects.
"We noticed that pupils were becoming less fit, more were finding it difficult to cope with the basic demands of PE, and there was disillusionment with sport," says Steven Rae, the PE teacher who came up with the idea.
Despite grumbles, pupils have responded well and most are showing improvements when tested a second time towards the end of the year. The profiles provide them with tips to improve their fitness, which parents are asked to help with. These tend not to require special facilities. They could include flexibility exercises done while watching television, or strenuous jogging, cycling or swimming.
Teachers of other subjects have noticed improved concentration since the fitness tests started, while Mr Rae uses the example of one overweight girl who benefited greatly from the attention paid to her fitness. "I could see her flourish," Mr Rae says. "She was performing better in other subjects there was a definite change noticed by her teachers. It helps produce a more rounded child and gives them a better education."
Trisha McCurrach, the depute head, has been impressed with the "camaraderie" several children from the same year or year group tend to be tested at the same time, and a healthy competitiveness has emerged. "We try not to make it as if the pupils are sitting an exam we try to make it as much fun as possible," she says.
There are plans to develop the idea further. Mr Rae would like to see diet monitored at school and at home while he hopes to build links with other subjects. Home economics teachers, for example, could be called on to draw up healthy eating plans.
So far, the reaction from parents has been good. Teachers have seen them become more enthused about their children's health; increased participation at local football and rugby clubs appears to reflect that.
"Some are saying that their children are accompanying them when they walk the dog," he says. "Before, the parents would struggle to get them away from the telly."
Different parts of the test
A "bleep test". Pupils sprint to a line before the sound of the bleep, as the time between bleeps shortens.
A "sit and reach test". Pupils must keep their legs straight and reach forward on a measuring board. They get three attempts and their furthest reach is recorded.
Local muscular endurance
As many sit-ups as possible in one minute.
A standing vertical jump. The highest of three attempts is recorded.
A "grip-strength" test. Each pupil has one attempt with each hand, squeezing as hard as possible on an electronic device that records their score.