t has taken deeply worrying health statistics to move ministers on physical education. Without the outcry about rising obesity among young people and shock stories about the couch-potato generation, there would have been little pressure for action on the physical dimension of education. This really is overdue. Over the past 20 years, we have let PE slip from the core curriculum during the national obsession with rising attainment and academic achievement. Most independent schools have not and neither have they lost extra-curricular sport.
Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, is to be congratulated for aiming to recruit 400 more PE teachers and going further than the recommendations of the PE review group. There will be no new money as such, since funds will be drawn from the existing post-election agreement to find 53,000 teachers by 2007. Mr Peacock and fellow ministers are also to be congratulated on placing muscle behind their initiative by ensuring that schools will be inspected on their progress. A carrot and stick approach if ever there was one.
To make anything work, of course, schools need additional staff, as the North Lanarkshire sports comprehensives have shown, and more schools will have a better chance of enticing more young people into activities. But here is the rub. The rest of the country is unlikely to enjoy the level of staffing of the three existing sports comprehensives, which themselves have far less support than similar initiatives south of the border.
Extra staff based in secondary PE departments amounting to something like 1.5 full-time equivalents will raise activity levels, but is unlikely to deliver the full programme of primary cluster PE, training of primary staff and more core PE in secondary. Indeed, it may not amount to much in some schools despite the threats of monitoring. Some also challenge the principle of basing staff in secondaries when the focus is on primaries.
But this is an excellent start to countering the complex health and activity profiles of young people and securing for core PE the place it once had.