Physical education - Holyrood

20th March 2009 at 00:00
Keith Brown, the new Minister for Schools and Skills, had his evidence-giving cherry well and truly popped by the the health and sport committee ladies last week, with Labour MSP Helen Eadie even succeeding in making the former Marine blush, writes Emma Seith

Mr Brown has sat on committees in the past, famously convening Holyrood's standards committee when it decided to suspend Wendy Alexander from Parliament for a day over the campaign donations affair (leading to her resignation). Last Wednesday, however, was his first time in the role of witness.

Welcoming Mr Brown to his new post, Ms Eadie said that a "former lady friend" from Dalgety Bay (her chiropodist, no less) sent her best wishes. Cue much laughter from the committee and a request from highly-amused Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, that the official record show the minister was blushing. Convener Christine Grahame joked that a scandal was imminent.

It was not all crimson cheeks and cringeing for Mr Brown, however. There was the serious question of physical activity, whether children were getting enough of it and if not, what the Government was doing about it, to be answered.

Lib Dem MSP Ross Finnie was concerned about the "tremendous disconnect" between those operating at a higher level in local authorities - "directors of education and others" - and those working on the ground. Directors and their ilk seemed to think everything was fine when it came to primary pupils' physical literacy, he said. Yet teachers were telling the committee pupils were lucky if they could catch a ball by the time they reached high school.

Directors of education were aware of the problems, such as curriculum pressures, Mr Brown reassured the committee. They were probably just trying to be positive, he ventured.

Michael Matheson SNP MSP did not share their optimism. He told Mr Brown "it was - to put it bluntly - unacceptable" that five years on, the two hours of PE per week target had not been met.

Mr Brown could have been forgiven for barking back: "Aren't you meant to be on my side!" Instead, he rolled out a version of the line that served him well throughout the meeting: all councils had signed up to A Curriculum for Excellence and, by doing so, to the two-hour target. This was the first time a "real process" had been put in place to achieve two hours of PE, he said.

The TESS is convinced Mr Brown will prefer attending the education committee. The SNP backbenchers there tend to conduct themselves in a more fawning manner when presented with a promoted colleague.

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