Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Borders must up its game on PE provision

This week I watched with considerable pride as my ten-year-old grandson claimed the championship for boys at his primary school sports on a gloriously sunny afternoon.

I'm hopeful he'll follow in the footsteps of previous generations of sporting Borderers whose names are writ large in national and even international record books, particularly in rugby and athletics, although he appears more interested in association football right now.

The achievements of Borders competitors in many forms of sport are there for all to see and read about. And the future provision of Physical Education (PE) in schools seemed assured in 2011 when the Scottish Borders Physical Activity, Sport and Physical Education Strategy declared: "By 2014 we will have ensured that all pupils have access to two hours quality PE and that through widening choice and activities, young people will become more active in engaging in PE and activity through planned participation, coaching and leadership."

That laudable statement of intent was a virtual carbon copy of the Scottish Government's PE targets of 120 minutes of activity per week for every primary age pupil and 100 minutes per week for secondary school students.

So it was worrying to learn this week that a government Healthy Living Survey showed the Scottish Borders at the bottom of Scotland's performance table of PE provision in primary schools when measured in percentage terms.

Far from ensuring that all primaries would be providing two hours of PE by this year, only 49 out of 63 schools in the sector (77.8 per cent) are meeting the target. And the 14 schools which fall short of the 120 minute mark have a combined roll of 2,349 or 29 per cent of the total Borders primary school population of 8,064.

The next "worst" achievers are West Lothian on 86 per cent while the Scottish average improved from 88 per cent in 2013 to 97 per cent this year. Fourteen of the country's 32 local authorities achieved a 100 per cent score.

The 2014 performance in Scottish Borders is slightly worse than last year, and considerably down on 2012 when 57 out of 64 schools (89.1 per cent) were hitting the target.

All nine secondary schools in Borders region met the Government's demand for 100 minutes of PE in 2012 and 2013, but the number has fallen to six this year with Galashiels Academy, Hawick High School and Jedburgh Grammar School failing the PE time test.

It means a third of all secondary pupils in the Borders (2,152) attend schools which are not able to provide adequate PE time as laid down in Government guidelines.

According to the Healthy Living Survey: "PE must be during curriculum time and either taught or led by a registered class or PE specialist teacher. It includes dance, but does not include walking to school or drama."

The main reasons given by schools failing to reach the target were lack of facilities and problems with timetabling (e.g. some schools operate a 45 minute period system).

The introduction of the asymmetric school week in August, which will result in lessons being spread over four and a half days instead of five may make it even more difficult to fit in extra PE periods.

No doubt a solution will be found to get more Borders school up to scratch, but the pledge to have all pupils participating in up to 120 minutes of healthy exercise each week has not been delivered.

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