PE - Inspectors told to flex their muscles

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Two-hours of PE a week has been a target of Scottish schools for eight years, but only one council has been able to achieve it

Education secretary Fiona Hyslop has ordered HMIE to measure progress towards a national physical education target in every school it visits, after the inspectorate was accused of dismissing PE as a "lowly subject".

But the Scottish Government has itself been accused of ditching a manifesto promise, after playing down the chances of achieving the target of two hours' high-quality PE a week for every child.

The Scottish Parliament's health and sports committee was left "disturbed" earlier this year after HMIE presented evidence to the Pathways into Sport inquiry, when it revealed that if a school's report did not mention PE, it should be assumed the provision was satisfactory.

That stance was widely condemned and, in the subsequent report, described as "symptomatic of the lowly status that PE has enjoyed over a number of years". It was deemed "imperative that PE is inspected to the same level as all other curricular subjects".

In a parliamentary debate last week, Schools and Skills Minister Keith Brown said Ms Hyslop had asked HMIE for progress updates in "every single report that it produces". He added: "As a result, the inspectorate has rewritten the procedures that it applies in relation to the target."

The Government, in its official response to the report, stated that HMIE was expected to gather evidence about the "quality of experience for learners" in PE, and to discuss the school's attempts to meet the target. HMIE will also maintain "a clear overview" of national progress online.

But the Government was less clear-cut in its own commitment to the target, after the report called for it to be met by the "challenging but realistic" date of August 2010.

The Government said it would look only for "clear evidence of schools making progress" by August next year. Mr Brown had cited that date in the past, but it had been "slightly misinterpreted" as an absolute deadline, the Government told the committee by letter.

Liz Smith, his Conservative counterpart, said it was "disgraceful" that only three local authorities had mentioned the target in their 2009-10 single outcome agreements.

Labour MSP Richard Simpson, during last week's debate, said it had been achieved by East Renfrewshire Council because it "showed leadership at every level and it reorganised the entire curriculum". But other authorities were "building failure into their proposals".

Labour sports spokesman Frank McAveety interpreted one passage of the Government response - it had "moved away from trying to micro-manage service delivery" - as tacit admission of defeat. The PE target was "just one of a succession of abandoned commitments", alongside free access to swimming pools and pound;1million for outdoor education.

Health and sports minister Shona Robison stressed that a two-hour target had existed for eight years before the SNP came to power, which showed "what a challenge" it was.

The Government, meanwhile, rejected a recommendation for a "physical literacy test" - of basic skills such as jumping and throwing - undergone by all pupils before secondary school. Ms Robison said work already taking place through A Curriculum for Excellence would bring a "more in-depth approach".

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