I remember at primary school, we had a ‘gym’ teacher. Her name was Mrs Kidd and she taught us “gym” twice a week. We also had a gym hall, the centre hall which had two big areas, one on either side of the working area. This was curtained off from the hall and used as the boys and girls changing rooms respectively. But we had apparatus! – Two large A frames that could be connected by a horizontal bar that could be used for swinging and rotation. The A part could be used for climbing and jumping off – what joy. And what a challenge, because it seemed huge to us especially in P3 – P5. By P6 we were used to it.
We also had benches, bands, balls and lovely coconut mats that were heavy and jaggy but no-one ever complained. I really looked forward to our time in the gym especially when we got to use the frame. Perhaps this is when I decided I wanted to be a PE teacher! Pulling yourself along a bench, bunny jumping over benches, playing tig and school sports days down the local park – egg and spoon, three legged races and so on.
Did I understand the philosophy behind it? No! Did I enjoy it? Yes! Yes! Yes!
This is where we need to start. At the early stages where children can have fun and enjoy themselves and lots of individual learning takes place through play (structured play) but delivered by a specialist. Children in the early stages can learn to share, communicate, co-operate and many other of the Significant Aspects of Learning – but please, please, please – don’t formally assess them!
Fast forward a few years.
In Renfrewshire, primary pupils were given daily PE similar to the project run by Durham University. Findings were that “pupils were quicker to settle down to work, more enthusiastic and less likely to disrupt lessons.”
But what happened? Nothing! A missed opportunity!
Fast forward another few years and the school I taught in declared a surplus in the PE department. After a fight, it was decided that that the department would go out to the feeder primaries two half days a week – that meant each teacher would have one feeder primary and would visit them one morning and one afternoon a week, working with the P7’s and P6’s. Very good links were built up with the associated primaries and the teaching staff in these schools were delighted that they would not have to deliver PE (this alone speaks volumes about the quality of PE being delivered at this time!). And some of us were lucky enough to negotiate with the Headteacher and allow the P1’s to P5’s exposure to quality PE.
Within a couple of years, the department as a whole, noticed an improvement in the skill level of the new S1’s, resulting in a re-write of our S1 & S2 courses to further challenge and stretch the pupils which gave an added bonus to their motivation, determination and confidence.
Yet again, PE specialists teaching the primary sector had improved the overall quality of the pupil experience for the better. But as with everything else, the bean counters decided it was too expensive and the programme was stopped.
Now bring it up to date. Over the last several years there has been so many initiatives thrown at secondary pupils to get all pupils engaged in physical activity – Fit for Girls, No messin’ Scotrail. Even when buses were provided for after school clubs the uptake was poor.
I think these interventions in secondary schools is too little, too late.
It must start in the primary schools where PE specialists provide two hours of quality PE a week and capture the pupils enthusiasm allowing it to grow throughout the seven years of primary school and then feeding in to the secondary sector, hopefully for the majority of pupils to reap the benefits and recognise that PE can contribute to their lifelong learning. It might not be perfect – but let’s give it a try and the incidental benefits may help those in the lowest decile to follow a pathway that may increase their achievement and attainment.
Bottom line – grab them while they are young!