I was driving towards Cramond when the radio reported OFSTED’s findings that one third of English primary schools have unsatisfactory PE arrangements.
That is, through personnel, facilities or time, the pupils don’t receive enough Physical Education to affect their fitness.
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Through the window, I could see, sweeping down to the Forth, a large area of ground, partly filled by high end housing, and partly vacant.
In the middle of my teaching career, this had been the site of Dunfermline College of Physical Education. Most of Scotland’s female PE teachers trained there, whilst their male counterparts were at Jordanhill College.
“Dunf” was a great facility. I attended many inspirational meetings there, worked with some superb teachers who trained there, took my son to holiday courses there and even watched Hibs train there.
It had a special place in Scottish Education, as did Jordanhill, and reflected a crucial transformation – from post war ‘drillies’ to top rate professional teachers.
Then Jordanhill and Dunf merged, then the new college became part of Moray House, which was incorporated into Edinburgh University. The rolling sports fields and facilities by the Forth were replaced by the less expansive surroundings of Holyrood Rd and the Pleasance in Edinburgh. Stirling University is now also a centre for sporting excellence and PE teacher training, but something has been lost.
There are around 1500 PE teachers in Scotland, for a pupil population of 670,000, and, with the demands of national examinations, added to new areas such as Dance and Aerobics, and contact time requirements, they are under increasing pressure. However, a significant number of trained PE teachers have to find work in gyms or leisure centres, not making full use of their hard earned qualifications and talents.
I wondered why there isn’t a PE teacher for every primary school. Currently, primary pupils receive their PE via varied ‘arrangements’: visiting specialists, collaboration with secondary PE staff, from minimally trained primary staff and with the support of Active Schools staff and parent volunteers. Facilities can range from decent sports fields to a hurriedly cleared dining hall.
It’s a strange situation for a country prioritising health and fitness and reading each day about Olympic and Commonwealth Games ‘legacies’. For primary pupils, PE can’t look like a priority.
The age of entry into PE is crucial. Small wonder many pupils arrive at secondary believing PE is for the gifted and ‘not for them’. No matter how talented PE staff are– and I’ve worked with some real heroes – it is difficult to overcome youngsters’ initial impressions.
Providing a PE teacher for every primary school may be a financial step too far– though I still fail to understand why it is not a core aspiration, especially under A Curriculum for Excellence. However, an additional PE teacher to each secondary, with a remit to work with the associated primaries, would give a flexibility to PE departments.
One teacher, or a range of secondary PE department staff with different specialisms, could be allocated to the primaries’ timetables, making pupils’ experience more meaningful and good preparation for ongoing participation.
This partial solution would cost, roughly, around £12 million, and would affect every primary aged pupil in Scotland.
If you think that sounds like a lot of money, check how much financial support we are giving to elite athletes for Glasgow 2014, or the money being spent by its major corporate sponsors.
It’s all about priorities!