Stabbed in the back

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
Glasgow teachers have been betrayed by a decision to axe facilities that are crucial to the city's PE departments

ON JANUARY 20, principal teachers of physical education in Glasgow were addressed by an education official, Ian McDonald, and presented with an outline of the public private partnership (PPP) proposals for the city and their implications for PE. Here is a response to Mr McDonald's presentation prepared by a number of principals. Sadly we cannot divulge our names. A number of us have already been under pressure from headteachers for openly criticising the PPP proposals.

At the meeting Mr McDonald spoke for 30 minutes in general terms of the overall ethos of the council's education policy and its new proposals. There was concern that some statements appeared to be paradoxical and others were later contradicted under questioning.

"Success for all" and "equalisation of resources" were later tempered with "there will be winners and losers". Frequent references to "best value" indicated to us that finance was the driving force and that quality of education was a secondary consideration.

The encouraging thing about the meeting was that the teachers present took a wider view of the effects of the proposals on the children of Glasgow rather than the narrow view of provision in individual schools.

Mr McDonald seemed to think that the experienced body of practitioners he was addressing had not wholly grasped the concept of the scheme and expressed surprise that there was no support from staff who stood to benefit from the plans. When specifics were mentioned, his responses consisted of presenting his alternatives as all being better than or comparable to the status quo. This really does beggar belief.

He reasoned that shutting school pools would not affect the quality or quantity of swimming lessons offered to pupils, claiming in the case of one school that transporting children to a public pool would make no difference whatsoever. Factors such as travelling time, the multiplicity of distractions in a public pool and the effect on activities like canoeing, water polo and certain aspects of life-saving were cast aside.

As if this were not bad enough, the leader of the council later reported to the full council that as far as swimming was concerned "education officials are telling me that children will get better physical education from the qualified coaches in our ublic pools".

The reduction in the number of indoor teaching areas means that schools will have to timetable classes outdoors in all weathers, hardly compatible with a considered approach to making PE more attractive to young people. Synthetic pitches are seen as a major new asset, though we believe that their main asset will be as revenue earners for the council in after-school time. These pitches will also make it increasingly difficult to provide athletics areas in the summer.

A major concern is the plan for games halls. Currently all games halls are a one-class teaching area. In future they will be seen as a two, or in one case, a three-class teaching area. Many will also double as examination rooms. We were told that it was up to school management teams and timetablers to decide on this. The implications are drastic for both the curriculum and health and safety.

Badminton is immediately removed from the programme of a large number of schools, and any PE teacher can tell you how popular it is. The same applies to volleyball and basketball.

The total numbers using the hall and changing areas could easily become unmanageable and will certainly produce added strains on teachers. It seems there is now little regard for teaching and learning, and we are entering an era of "stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap", a marketing strategy that is incompatible with physical education, or any other subject.

The reduction in gymnasia, conditioning suites and outdoor facilities will have serious repercussions and most schools will lose any area they currently have for tutorial and theory sessions. Perhaps it has escaped the notice of Glasgow councillors, but there have been major changes in physical education over the past few years which require specialised teaching areas, access to audio-

visual and theory rooms and teaching environments free from external interference. Standard grade and Higher Still courses will have to be rewritten and in some cases deleted completely, and exam results, already well below national averages, will fall even further.

The prognosis for physical education in Glasgow under the PPP plans is not healthy. It might have helped if the person delivering the medicine had been able look us in the eye during his presentation instead of staring at the carpet. But then it is difficult to look people in the eye when you are stabbing them in the back.

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