We have no time for sport and meetings

The chief executive of Sportscotland, Ian Robson, has challenged the Scottish Executive to improve sport by increasing the provision of physical education in schools. Sportscotland's submission to the debate on Scottish education also proposes an earlier start to the school day and an extended school year to allow greater participation in sport.

Mr Robson's submission contains lots of sense. Schools' present PE arrangements have not lead to excellence in any sport and, more importantly, are quite inadequate for combating the inactive and unhealthy lifestyles of many of our children.

But it's not a question of tinkering with timetables. Many primary schools just don't have suitable facilities. If they date from the 1960s onwards, the PE hall probably doubles as a dining room - convenient for planners, economic for local councils but useless for PE teaching. Even with the advantage of a separate gym, our school is in trouble. We can just manage to provide our 400 children with two PE periods per week. At P6 and P7 each period lasts 55 minutes, with 45 minutes for the others. After that, there is no time left. We could only allocate more time if the school day was longer or if we had a second gym. Sharing our gym with a dining area would leave most classes with only one weekly PE lesson.

Move outside and you find those of the Ground Force persuasion hijacking the playground. They have a mission to deposit flower tubs, plant trees and decorate external walls in imitation of TV makeover shows. It has been suggested that we build decking in a corner of the playground.

"Improvements" are intended to make the playground more welcoming and less threatening but if the patch of concrete is the only outdoor play area in a town-centre school, trees and tubs make it useless for PE and even for running about at playtime.

Then there are my own deteriorating efforts. Once, I was an enthusiastic leader of extra-curricular activities. In any week there would be a science club, music, drama, football, badminton and athletics. Another teacher was taking netball. What's left now? Football struggles on, but at the last soccer tournament we attended I was the only teacher present. The other teams were taken by janitors. They did an excellent job but their presence told us that teachers, generally, are finding it difficult to support after-school activities.

My other extra-curricular activities have disappeared gradually. A few years ago we were able to win athletics competitions, including the national road relay championships, twice. Now we don't even attend because I don't give the time to preparing the children.

So what happened? I am no longer flexible at 3.30pm each day to work with children for another hour or so. My job has changed and I spend more time than previously on monitoring learning and teaching, conducting staff reviews, carrying out school evaluation and development and attending meetings. The time has to come from somewhere and I have been unable to protect my extra-curricular activities any longer. Post-McCrone, there is no possibility of extra-curricular activities making a comeback.

Our school PE has one big advantage, however: Our education authority continues to employ visiting specialist teachers. A PE teacher for one day per week provides an effective lead for teachers and pupils.

Fine words are spoken about the present state of PE. Grants have been awarded but little has changed. At most, the surface has been scratched. Scottish PE suffers from serious handicaps and only radical action can bring real change. A PE teacher in every primary school plus proper accommodation will make a clear change of direction. Lack of action will not only confirm Scotland's lowly sports status, it will also continue the decline of our young people's health.

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