21st September 2001 at 01:00
What exactly do PE teachers do? I watch PE lessons in my capacity as deputy head of a comprehensive school. I have seen what goes on in all the schools in which I have worked. I am also a parent who has always ensured that my children participate in all their lessons. And I wonder what right some PE staff have to call themselves teachers.

As a subject it demands little marking. There are few, if any, written assignments, no projects, no drafts or redrafts. Of course, the commitment to teams requires long hours, but does this really equate with the pressure to deliver that core subject indicators bring?

They are paid as teachers, not as games organisers or managers. So what is it that teachers are supposed to do? What is it that defines the job? They are supposed to work with children to improve and develop their skills, to introduce new experiences, concepts and opportunities. Do PE teachers do this? Do they work with those who most need help? Do they have a strategy to "help every child to fulfil their potential"? Can they map out the improvement of the weakest and establish proper learning programmes for physical underachievers?

Or do they just throw them a ball and tell them to get on with it, while they have a laugh with the first XI? Is it true that PE teachers only ever want to work with those who can already do what they are supposed to teach? Is that why so many students forget their kit and prefer to stand shivering on the side?

It seems difficult to defend the accusation that they are ready to work only with children who have previously acquired sporting skills. It seems many believe that children can either do the subject or not - and that nothing can be done to change this. So there is no structured learning, and precious little differentiation, other than putting pupils at opposite ends of the swimming pool or watching as the same individuals are picked last in team selection every lesson. Where are the different activities for differently abled pupils? Who tries to teach them new skills?

My son has special needs which should be addressed through a targeted physical learning programme. But he is taught only as one of a group, his needs subsumed into those of the already competent. His duty is to stand around and watch, to be mocked and to fetch the ball. It worries me that some PE teachers still believe this is the way things should be.

An English or maths teacher would be sacked for teaching like this. So why are PE teachers different?

We need more individualised programmes based on individual need. Yes, it is difficult - but no more so than for any other teacher. A great deal of research shows how children with a range of disabilities can improve in all areas if they are given the right sort of activities to develop co-ordination and physical confidence. In this they need the support of dedicated teachers. They have a right to such support.

Perhaps, if PE teachers really are teachers, they should try their hardest with those who can't do the subject very well. That is what science teachers do, because they believe their subject is important and has vital skills to offer the developing young person. They don't only work with those pupils who have already mastered Newton's laws of motion. They see it as their role to teach the concept itself - in different ways to different levels of ability.

But if all this is too much to accept, perhaps we need to make an accommodation. Perhaps PE teachers are merely instructors or supervisors and should be paid as such. And if they do wish to be paid as professionals, they need to accept the consequences of professional status. And no one ever said that that was easy.

Geoff Brookes

Geoff Brookes is deputy head of a Swansea comprehensive

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