PERFORMANCE in S1 and S2 is so bad in Aberdeen that more than half the pupils are failing basic tests and coming nowhere near expected levels.
But this is not a literacy or numeracy story to fuel ministerial and HMI nightmares about the shortcomings of teaching and learning. Instead, it is the "alarming" reality of a lack of puff among 12 and 13-year-olds, most of whom cannot struggle round a 1,500-metre track in under 12 minutes.
Physical education teachers who pushed all S1 and S2 pupils through a basic running test - the Cooper Fitness Test - discovered that the city picture is significantly worse than the national statistics produced by the physical activity task force, which were based on a 1998 health survey.
Nearly 60 per cent of S1 boys, 64 per cent of S2 boys, 50 per cent of S1 girls and 57 per cent of S2 girls are rated as poor or very poor.
The city comments: "It is even more alarming when it is considered that these ratings are set against physical capacity norms and are regarded as a very reliable predictor of cardio-pulmonary fitness.
"There are direct and demonstrable health implications from these figures which have been highlighted as a growing and alarming trend in the report of the physical activity task force."
The task force suggested that 70 per cent of 12 and 13-year-old boys and 49 per cent of girls were at recommended levels of physical activity. By the age of 16, interest is said to drop off, leaving two in three girls and one in three boys below minimum activity levels.
But the Aberdeen figures suggest the true picture of fitness levels is far worse. The trend also appears to be accelerating with a sharp fall in fitness at an earlier age.
The findings have emerged ahead of next week's ministerial relaunch of plans to rejuvenate sport, including a revised target for physical education in schools.
Aberdeen's figures on PE time in secondaries are bound to alarm Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister and local MSP, who is chairing a national review of PE and school sport which is jogging along in the slow lane. The inquiry has been following up the task force's concern about PE.
Only four out of 12 secondaries in the city are hitting the national target of two hours of quality PE a week in S1 and S2. Three schools exceed that with two hours 40 minutes in S1 and one organises 160 minutes across both years. At the other end of the scale, one school manages only 50 minutes in S1.
In S3 and S4, the majority of schools offer 80 minutes a week.
City officials, however, set the figures in context. "Given the physical capacity analysis presented earlier, it is questioned whether such a variable pattern is desirable or advisable given there may not be any other opportunity presented or taken which enables young people to be physically active during the week," they state.
In primary, they describe the position as "even more variable". There are now only 15 visiting PE specialists, half the level of six years ago.
Officials point out: "In seven years a child's experience in physical education with a specialist teacher equates to approximately 19 days or 1.4 per cent of the time available."
They accept most young people will be active outwith PE lessons, but they are concerned many are not. Uptake of free vouchers for swimming lessons outside school hours has "not been extensive", the city admits.