Minister urges councils to raise their game on PE provision

2nd April 2010 at 01:00
Two hours a week is not an unrealistic target, he claims

Skills and lifelong learning minister Keith Brown has criticised councils for dragging their heels on a national PE target.

He blamed recalcitrant authorities for putting the subject in the "firing line", by failing to provide two hours a week of high-quality PE to every school child.

One education director, himself a former PE teacher, responded with a warning against the dangers of becoming fixated with the two-hour target.

Mr Brown bemoaned varied rates of progress when addressing a national PE conference in Edinburgh last week.

All primary schools in Dundee, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Perth and Kinross were delivering the two hours, he said; all East Renfrewshire secondary schools managed to do so, from S1 to S6.

"Good progress" was being made by many authorities, which demanded the question: "If they can give this a degree of priority and secure commitment across their schools to making this level of provision a reality, then why can't all local authorities and schools do likewise?"

He conceded that the target was more difficult for some schools, but stressed: "I am expecting schools to be taking strident steps towards its achievement as part of full implementation of the new curriculum from August this year. I do not believe this to be unrealistic."

In January, the Scottish Conservatives released figures showing that only 35 per cent of primary schools and 17 per cent of secondaries were achieving the target, six years after it became national policy.

Mr Brown said he found it "depressing" that the issue had attracted negative publicity through the media and rival politicians.

"Surely none of us wants to see our shared commitment to PE being continually in the firing line, detracting from all the positive work which is going on to improve our young people's health and wellbeing?" he asked.

But there was a warning against "complacency" from Don Ledingham, East Lothian director of education and children's services and a former PE teacher.

He had become concerned by a "really dangerous" assumption that providing two hours of PE a week to every child was enough in itself, since focusing primarily on the time requirement could detract from quality.

Mr Ledingham added that he still saw many core PE programmes that were "incredibly shallow", in which children "don't necessarily gain any mastery".

But several speakers at the conference painted a picture of a subject in increasingly rude health.

Edinburgh University senior PE lecturer Mike Jess recalled that, below Higher level, PE was "moribund" little more than a decade ago, when lack of interest meant it was a struggle to organise conferences.

In contrast, last week's event saw around 300 delegates squeeze into Edinburgh University's Moray House School of Education.

Other countries cast admiring glances at PE in Scotland, thanks to developments such as the two-hour target, the national review of the subject published in 2004, and postgraduate courses at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, which 1,100 teachers will have completed by 2011.

Mr Brown's optimism was echoed by Doug Folan, chair of the Association for Physical Education Scotland, who launched a position paper setting out PE's "distinctive role", another move which has drawn admiration from beyond Scotland's shores.

But Donnie Macleod, HMIE inspector for PE, said there was room for improvement in primary schools, where there could be weak links between teachers and primary specialists, and sessions taken by non-specialists might involve only a game of pirates, tig or dodgeball.

He predicted that mental health would overtake obesity as the "big issue" among young people, making PE - with its capacity for building up resilience - increasingly important.

Whether touching the side of the pool at the end of a swimming race or smashing a badminton shot past an opponent, PE could provide "that glow inside", he said.

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