PE gets extra staff but no time slot

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Additional staff based in secondaries but working mainly in cluster primaries is the principal recommendation of the physical education review group.

The proposals avoid any moves towards two hours of compulsory PE in the primary and secondary curriculum and duck any reference to the difficulties in organising out of school sport. Persuasion and cajoling of teachers and pupils is the defining characteristic of a strategy that has taken two years to develop.

Ministers are expected next week to confirm that they will back the top priority of the group, chaired by Michael O'Neill, education director in North Lanarkshire, who has impressed Peter Peacock, Education Minister, with his promotion of three sports comprehensives. Extra staff in the specialist schools are making impressive advances in core PE and extra-curricular sport.

But the Scottish Executive will have to find around pound;11 million a year to fund one full-time equivalent teacher in each of the country's secondary school PE departments. The chief hurdle of staff shortages will force the programme to be phased in over several years.

The review group wants every primary cluster to have "adequate access to support from a physical education specialist", although it recognises that this will not happen in the short term.

It has therefore opted to base any extra staff in secondaries to provide "some more immediate support to schools", which will mean taking primary classes and running training courses on PE for primary teachers.

A further strand of the extra staffing is to "accommodate flexible class sizes in secondary". This may mean that the PE profession's long-standing plea for smaller, practical classes can be met in some instances.

The group's as yet unpublished report accepts that more teachers will be needed and opens up the prospect of different avenues into the profession to cope with the drain of experienced staff over the next five to 10 years.

"The extension and expansion of the physical education curriculum will necessitate greater diversity, background and range of experiences and skills required by physical education specialists.

"For example, appropriately qualified and experienced individuals from sport and exercise science, coaching health and physical activity could, with appropriate initial teacher education, become valuable members of the physical education profession," it states.

Mr O'Neill's report contends that Scotland is "breaking new ground" internationally in trying to reverse the decline in core PE and general activity levels. Evidence across the world shows similar trends.

Indeed, Mr Peacock saw first hand over Easter that compulsory PE and sport in Australian primaries and secondaries did not necessarily mean a nation of young people switched on to fitness, activity and good health.

He was told that what is planned in schools is almost unrelated to Australia's sporting successes. Clubs and communities were as important.

Mr O'Neill's group stresses that schools "should" increase quality PE for all children from 3-18 and work towards the nationally agreed minimum of two hours of PE a week for every child. Its report points out that most pupils drop it in senior school but decides against "rigid impositions of time for any subject".

Young people themselves will have to be convinced about taking up PE and activity before any progress is possible, it continues. "Pupils want more choice and they want more say in what is offered to them. Compulsion does not work - those who are disengaged from physical education will not participate, whether they attend the physical education session or not."

As expected, the group advocates a shift away from more traditional activities to martial arts, yoga, dance, skateboarding and flag football.

A further review of out of school hours learning is to look into the differences in organising extra-curricular sport and study support.

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