From Xbox to leapfrog

The Assembly's sports initiative is one of the most successful ever, but training is still weak

MOST HEADTEACHERS and teachers signed up to the PE and School Sport initiative (PESS) claim it has made their pupils more active, better behaved and more focused on academic achievement.

And in its latest progress report for 2006-7, inspectors confirm that in some schools it has encouraged the computer generation away from their Xboxes and into activities ranging from high-hurdling to yoga and dance - especially at primary level.

But fears that the scheme is not reaching enough schools threatened to cast a shadow on an almost glowing report by Welsh inspectorate Estyn this week.

Currently, only 540 primary schools and 90 secondaries are signed up to PESS out of 1,876 schools across Wales.

Inspectors also acknowledge in their report that one of PESS's original remits - to get all their schools to provide enough curriculum time to teach the two-hour requirement of the national curriculum for PE - is not happening in a minority of schools already practising the programme.

Figures from the Sports Council for Wales (SCW), in a separate survey conducted two years ago, revealed then that only one in four primary schools, mostly those not tied to PESS, provided only half of the two hours of PE required in the national curriculum.

Updated SCW figures, out this autumn, will be looked at in relation to the scheme to see if the growth of the initiative has had an effect.

Inspectors lauded PESS as one of the most successful and sustainable initiatives ever by the Assembly government, five years after its launch, in the report. It also said the scheme has been well-managed by the SCW.

But a letter sent by Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, to teacher-training colleges last year, urging them to fall in line with recommendations made in last year's Estyn report to increase time spent on PE, has also failed to have an effect, it was found.

Since then, three more institutions have cut back on training for non-specialist PE trainees, claiming it necessary to cut costs.

There is also concern that seven local authorities do not have a specialist physical education adviser.

"Inexperienced teachers need to identify physical education as one of their priorities for development in the early stages of their careers," says the report.

The PESS project was introduced with the primary aim of improving standards in PE using a cross-curricular approach in 2001.

Development centres - partnerships between secondary schools and their feeder primaries - were set up in selected areas across Wales. Inspectors found only a small minority of teachers, mostly from secondary schools, saw no benefits in the scheme.

The report recommends that PESS should be included in school improvement plans, schools involved should investigate alternative funding, and more non-expertise PE teachers should have more support in the early years.

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