Wales steps up the pace in PE

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Sports expert says schools have made major strides in the quality of teaching.

Wales has raised its game in delivering more inspirational and cross-curricular PE lessons, according to a leading expert.

Richard Bailey, co-author of the 2004 Spin-Ed report into PE standards in 52 countries, said there was now more good practice than there was four years ago.

Speaking to TES Cymru after addressing teachers at the annual PE and School Sport (PESS) conference in Cardiff last week, he said there was growing recognition that the subject could no longer be taught in isolation.

The academic, professor of pedagogy at London's Roehampton University, had lamented poor PE teaching in British schools in his report, funded by the International Olympic Committee in the run-up to the 2004 Games in Athens.

The report highlighted good practice abroad, including a project in Colombia that encouraged poor children to take part in PE and a post-apartheid scheme in South Africa to end inequalities in the subject in "black schools".

But a pupil survey in Britain was not so encouraging. "What SpinEd showed in Wales - like the rest of the UK - is that the country is less likely than some other countries to improve health and fitness," said Professor Bailey.

"The problems were down to poor pedagogy, with some PE teachers just having a class marching for an hour, failing to interest or motivate the children."

But he said big strides had been made, including revisions to the PE curriculum in Wales and take-up of PESS, one of the main recommendations in his report.

Professor Bailey was joined at the conference by sprinter Darren Campbell, who clinched a gold medal when his team triumphed in the 4x100 metres relay in Athens. He hung up his spikes last season and is now helping youngsters with potential to achieve in the discipline.

Mr Campbell, 34, from Manchester, told teachers at the conference that it was the encouragement and guidance of his mother as well as two inspirational teachers at the Ashton-on-Mersey School in Sale that helped him to Olympic glory.

Professor Bailey said further improvement in PE teaching would help to nurture more Olympic champions but would also boost the health of young people in Wales.

One aim of the Assembly government's 2006 Food and Fitness Implementation Plan was to improve PE lessons. A progress report last September revealed that there are now 84 PESS, government and Sports Council for Wales partnerships providing outdoor activities and adventurous pilot projects in PE.

But there is criticism that more local authorities should sign up to the plan, although availability is said to be patchy and quality a "postcode lottery" for schools.

Last October Jane Hutt, Wales's education minister, announced revisions to the curriculum aimed at making PE more inspirational. The changes will be brought in to Years 3-5 and 7-8 from September. Years 6, 9 and 10 will begin in 2009, and Year 11 in 2010.

Judith Davies, a PESS consultant who led a workshop on the new curriculum at the conference, said some schools were already including PE, and general health and fitness in other subjects.

Science teachers are giving lessons about types of food needed for energy, and the importance of daily exercise is taught in personal and social education.

Mrs Davies said: "We cannot keep PE in a box. We must collaborate with other teachers and make it relevant across the curriculum."


Olympic champ Darren Campbell showed teachers a fun and motivating way to help pupils to pace themselves during exercise at one of the PESS conference workshops.

Using a stopwatch and bases similar to those used in a game of rounders, the teachers were asked to run for 90 seconds, but broken up by the bases. They timed themselves for most of the exercise, but on the third and final run they had to set the pace themselves. The aim was to find the right pace without them becoming breathless - good practice to pass on to pupils of different abilities in lessons.

Paula Mansfield, PE co-ordinator at St Helen's Catholic Primary in Caerphilly, said: "The idea is for the children to think about how fast they are running. The exercise can be built up so pupils can eventually run for longer without getting puffed out."

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