Not to give physical education a kicking, but is the subject really fit for purpose?

25th May 2012 at 01:00
If pupils want to shun science at Higher they can, but if they are not interested in sport.

Inline skater Jenna Downing's letter about the active promotion of exercise (TESS, 11 May) came at just the right time to lessen the chances that I would fall into the trap of commenting on a current issue in a manner hopelessly coloured by my own school experiences. Note the word "lessen". The chances are far from zero.

Let's start at primary school, where once a week we had gym. Someone, somewhere in the universe, might have developed a programme of activities that would have improved the coordination of the puppet-operated-by-a- drunk wee boy, but that someone was nowhere to be seen around Carluke Primary from 1965 to 1972.

It may have done the wee boy the world of good to discover something in school that, along with singing, he was rubbish at. What gym didn't do was reduce the probability of me becoming obese. This role was performed admirably by school dinners so honking that I walked a mile home at lunchtime to avoid them. It was in the days before packed lunches.

In secondary school, gym had been replaced by PE, which was sometimes physical and rarely educational. Perhaps the kindest thing that could be said of our teacher was that he was "of his time". In the years between attending school and becoming a teacher, I thought of plenty of unkind things, often involving the words "lazy" and, well, you can guess the other ones. Unfair, probably, as he doubtless stood at the side of a football pitch on many a rainswept Saturday, encouraging the boys who had distinguished themselves by not walking about with their arms folded as a 20-aside match went on around them during a scheduled lesson. The Scouts, Wishaw swimming baths, a succession of bicycles and, latterly, the school mountaineering club all played an infinitely more significant role in keeping me healthy than did anything formally timetabled.

So here's my problem. PE, like any kind of education, has its place. It was something I rarely experienced, particularly at high school, but that should not bias me. But physical activity. Is it the place of schools to set aside time for the sort of physical activity that arguably should be happening elsewhere? If so, the education part becomes even more important.

We don't shove every kid into Higher physics, regardless of personal interest or ability. The same should be true of physical education. Fortunately, Ms Downing seems to be just one of the people who are advocating finding the right sport at the right level for each pupil. While this may not be easy, if more time is to be devoted to physical activity in schools, it is surely essential to avoid counterproductive levels of demotivation.

Gregor Steele has just bought his first ever brand new bike.

Scottish Schools Education Research Centre.

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