Scheme proves very fit

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Physical education initiative hailed as success but funding fears overshadow expansion plans. Nic Barnard reports

A pound;5 million scheme to boost physical education and sport in Welsh schools has already had a big impact just one year into its rollout, inspectors say.

But fears were voiced this week that plans to extend the PE and school sports (PESS) initiative to every school in the country could be jeopardised by uncertainty over funding.

A report from inspection agency Estyn said standards in gymnastics and dance in primary schools in the programme had "improved significantly" - to the extent that many secondary schools were having to rewrite their PE schemes to adapt. It also found more secondary pupils taking part in a wider range of out-of-school sports.

Some 34 secondaries and their feeder junior and infant schools are already part of the PESS scheme, which is run by the Sports Council for Wales and funded by the Welsh Assembly government. Another nine clusters are due to join in September and 66 more are planned, covering all 22 local education authorities. Most were set up last year, following the creation of 16 pilots in 2002.

But Estyn raises concerns that funding per cluster has already been reduced as the programme has spread. And it urges the Assembly to continue funding after the initial three years so that the benefits can spread to all schools.

Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, has supported the initiative. But a spokesperson for the Assembly government said nothing could be guaranteed beyond the 200405 financial year.

"As for 200506, support will be dependent on the outcome of the current spending review," she said. Department for Training and Education officials would campaign for continued funding.

Steve Lloyd, PE adviser to Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire education authorities, which have been involved with PESS from the beginning, said:

"These cuts would be disastrous. We're just getting this off the ground and it's starting to grow in success and popularity."

The scheme sees clusters of schools designated as "development centres" - two per local authority, each with its own administrator and a PESS manager who supports teachers, organises training, works with pupils and spreads good practice.

The first centres received pound;18,000-22,000 per year, but subsequent centres receive only pound;15,000. Estyn said some did not have enough cash for video equipment, and allocations for supply cover also fell short, limiting the effectiveness of larger development centres.

But Allison Hanbury, PESS manager at the sports council, said the lower grant reflected actual spending. Centres had also been able to attract outside funds. The introduction of administrators also meant newer centres were pushing ahead faster, putting pressure on resources, while some LEAs had cut training budgets.

"These are teething troubles. I'm sure we'll be able to work through them," she said.

The scheme aims to give pupils extra opportunities and improve the quality and range of PE teaching, particularly in primary schools where many non-specialist staff feel they lack confidence. Some newly-qualified teachers join with only eight hours' training in PE under their belts.

It has concentrated on gymnastics and dance, two areas where teachers said they needed more support, and on health and fitness. Another strand looked at using information and communications technology to help plan lessons.

More than 400 teachers have received training and Estyn says the quality of teaching has improved appreciably.

Activities have included specialist coaching, collaborations with dance companies and the introduction of sports such as hockey and tri-golf. Most schools now do the recommended two hours' PE per week and most are working towards accreditation as healthy schools, Estyn said.

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