Out of puff on PE

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
John Cairney in last week's TES Scotland laments the wasted years for physical education, where an emphasis on certification has limited progress in the pursuit of the holy grail - two hours of compulsory PE for all every week.

The waste has not been the emphasis on certificate PE, rather it has been the paucity of imaginative thinking about what "PE for all" might actually mean. In this respect, the rather self-congratulatory tone adopted by Cairney is misplaced.

Not once does he even consider that moving from one to two hours of PE a week might compound problems. Some students are currently bored witless by their introductory sampling of a narrow range of activities. How more of the same could possibly help students or teachers is a mystery. Adding time is easy; adding quality requires much more.

Cairney fails to acknowledge that it is difficult to change policy and practice unless teachers consider innovations to be worth while. PE teachers in the main have embraced certificate PE because the "performance-based" nature of the courses has been appealing. Whisper it softly, but many teachers actually find such courses professionally invigorating, as you work with able and interested students and new demands are made on content knowledge and professional skills.

What's more, around 30 per cent of students choose to do PE at Standard grade and the number completing Higher Still courses is encouraging.

Certificate PE did deliver.

There are problems with certificate PE. It is more popular with boys than girls, the profile of attainment is skewed and the awards are rather one dimensional as they focus on performing and analysing performance rather than on anything more vocational, for example.

These problems are similar in many other subjects. Hence, the Scottish Executive's forthcoming curriculum review should critique what is currently on offer and consider how improvements in the attractiveness of courses can lead to increasing levels of attainment and to satisfying different student audiences. This is likely to require multiple solutions which work in different parts of Scotland and which move beyond the rather limited definition of unification and comprehensiveness which has operated for all subjects to date.

In this light, what can be done for PE? Should we consider new emerging models of professionalism, where PE teachers work closely in partnership with the communities they serve and where teachers work alongside other professionals during evenings, weekends and school holidays? Ask Cairney and "two hours a week" is your answer, whatever the question - and by the way make it smaller classes as well when you are at it.

Regrettably, unless Cairney can get on the front foot and address what change actually means in terms of high-quality PE and engage proactively in the policy construction process, then the number of teachers reckoning that we should have listened more to him will disappear more quickly than bored students from changing rooms.

Malcolm Thorburn

Physical education programme co-ordinator

Moray House School of Education

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