Raise your game

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
Inspectors and authorities are given the red card for poor PE monitoring

Every primary pupil should be tested for "physical literacy" and school report cards should refer to such skills, a parliamentary report has recommended.

MSPs last week launched a stinging attack on the state of physical education in Scottish schools and blamed "half-hearted" authorities and HMIE for the "wholly unsatisfactory manner" in which it had monitored progress towards the two-hours of quality PE per week target.

Members of the parliamentary health and sport committee, who have spent over a year investigating youngsters' pathways into sport and physical activity, called for the two-hour target to be given "the prominence that it deserves" as a national performance measure. Every single outcome agreement should feature the target unless the Scottish Government was confident the authority was on track or already there.

Headteachers of schools unable to meet the target by August 2010 should be required to provide a statement explaining why, recommended the report.

The committee also called for physical activity targets to be introduced in nursery schools.

PE gave children the "knowledge and skills" for a life of physical activity and sport, but in Scotland the subject had "not been accorded the status it should have enjoyed" and had been "devalued", said the MSPs.

The committee described as "lamentable" Scotland's failure to hit its target of two hours' quality PE each week for every child - one which should have been considered an "absolute minimum".

Only East Renfrewshire Council had managed to achieve the goal in the four years since it had been set, said the report. "At a local authority level (and with honourable exceptions), the committee agrees with the evidence from Colin Thomson of the Scottish Rugby Union that decision-makers (in particular, some directors of education and individual headteachers) have not had the will to make it happen," it said.

There was a disconnect between the views of the "educational establishment" - HMIE and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland - and "the reality on the ground" experienced by teachers, sports governing bodies and community clubs, said the MSPs.

While Bruce Robertson, past president of ADES, reported that "good progress" was being made towards the two-hour target, the Scottish Sports Association said poor fitness levels and lack of basic physical literacy skills among children were "a major concern".

The committee also noted evidence from one PE teacher, who felt physical literacy among S1 pupils was at its lowest level in 20 to 30 years. It recommended that, in nursery and the early years of primary, children's physical literacy skills must be built up - "the `ABCs' of athleticism, balance, co-ordination and speed" - allowing specialisation in specific sports to take place in late primary and early secondary.

Every primary pupil should, therefore, receive a physical literacy assessment, the MSPs argue, and report cards should refer to a pupil's physical literacy skills.

"Some primary school teachers do not appear to have the confidence to deliver quality PE," said the report.

Graham Donaldson, head of the inspectorate, has already reacted to the committee's concerns by guaranteeing future inspections "will report on each school's progress towards the two hours target". As well as quantitative aspects, the inspectorate would also consider the quality of the provision.

The committee, however, maintained it was "still not persuaded that HMIE has truly grasped that PE should have an equal status to other curricular subjects".

Convener Christine Grahame, SNP MSP for the South of Scotland, said: "We believe the Scottish Government, directors of education and individual headteachers all need to raise their game to ensure that the target can be met by the new date of August 2010."

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