THE battle against teenage obesity has taken a major leap forward with PE rates across city high schools soaring to their highest ever levels.
Nearly all Capital secondaries have seen pupils achieve at least two periods of physical activity a week, meeting lofty Scottish Government guidelines and turning the corner on decades of underachievement in school fitness.
One of the key tools helping achieve the target are iPad video reports of children’s sporting prowess or technique, which are analysed by experts to encourage the youngsters to strive for better results.
This hi-tech method – combined with a post-Olympic, pre-Commonwealth Games bounce – is a key driving factor helping get kids out of the starting blocks.
The new figures show that since June, 96 per cent of high schools have hit national PE targets, contrasting sharply with damning results in 2011 when less than half delivered the required level of training.
A report praised the “significant improvement” in fitness rates for S1 to S4 pupils but acknowledged there was still a major “challenge” to hurdle to reach the 100 per cent target.
It follows steady improvements to primary school PE rates which have recently risen to 84 per cent – still eight per cent below Holyrood guidelines – and studies showing Lothian children are in better shape than ever before with 85 per cent classified as being a healthy weight.
The news comes just months after a WeightWatchers report revealed that two-thirds of Edinburgh residents spend at least 20 hours a day on their backsides or lying down
Technology and TV was blamed for around 63 per cent of citizens being sedentary for more of the day and contributing to an “obesity epidemic”.
Education bosses have hailed the unprecedented spike in on-campus fitness and vowed to maintain the high rate of success into the future.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education convener, welcomed the “best ever figures” for PE as “great news” and emphasised the introduction of two PE development officers as well as PE forums as key to the ground-breaking results.
He said: “There is a clear focus on PE targets in our schools and the primary schools are also making great improvements, with 84 per cent of them delivering two hours a week.
“In secondary schools, the focus is on working together in their clusters and the development of PE forums where they share good practice.
“This is working well and we have also recently appointed two PE development officers to support the provision of quality PE.
“Continuing support from headteachers and staff with a clear focus on how PE is being delivered is vital to ensuring our children receive the required amount of hours and improved quality.
“However, we want to support our pupils to keep fit and healthy, and that’s wider than just PE.
“Our Sport & Outdoor Unit has delivered hugely successful events such as the Games @ The Hub event last year which saw over 800 primary school pupils take part.
“They have also recently supported the formation of a new athletics club at the Royal High, and are looking closely at how we celebrate, and provide a legacy, as Scotland hosts the Commonwealth Games next year.”
It is believed the huge 30 per cent rise in PE targets can be attributed to steady increases in the number of hours devoted to physical activity in schools rather than extra resources or a change in policy.
However, one key development that could be helping is the tablet computer.
Kevin Brown, PE development officer for Edinburgh, said funding grants from Education Scotland have helped to introduce technology to PE which is changing the way pupils engage with lessons.
He said: “Last year in Edinburgh around £40,000 of this funding was accessed across a number of schools.
“I put in a bid for St Thomas of Aquin’s High School to put an iPad into each of our feeder primary schools to track pupil progress before the transition to secondary. It is a tool for the better transfer of information on pupil progress between schools.
“You would normally receive a short, written report for each child when coming into secondary school and didn’t always talk about their level of attainment or progress in PE, but with the iPads you can see video clips or other methods of capturing their performance that can help their transition.”
Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, welcomed the statistics and highlighted the “positive impact” exercise has on health and wellbeing.
She said: “It is particularly important that children and young people have the opportunity to live and learn actively and healthily, to experience the benefits this brings and take these with them into adulthood.
“Children and young people aged between five and 18 should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
“It’s encouraging, and a move in the right direction, that more of Edinburgh’s young people are being given this opportunity at secondary school.”
Nutritionist Emma Conroy, of Edinburgh Nutrition, said the duel components of diet and exercise were central pillars to the health and development of Capital teenagers.
But despite the improvements, she said there was “still a long way to go”.
She said: “The figures are absolutely fantastic and, while it’s clear that this progress has been made, we can only hope this will go further.”
Green Education spokeswoman Cllr Melanie Main said PE can help set the “habits of a lifetime”.
“So school grounds, especially at primary school, need to be places which encourage all sorts of physical activity, regardless of the weather,” she said.
“It’s also about making physical activity at secondary schools engaging, especially for girls and young women, so that staying active becomes part of growing up.”
Chris Oliver, a consultant trauma orthopaedic surgeon at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, who lost 12-and-a-half stone six years ago, said exercise was equally important as nutrition but its benefits were “often underestimated”.
He said: “It’s fantastic schools have reached this level.”
‘We need to keep pushing the bar higher’
LOTHIANs Green MSP and athletics coach Alison Johnstone believes tougher targets, better facilities and more innovative thinking is needed to get schoolchildren to be more active and lead healthier lifestyles.
She said: “It’s good news that our schools meet this standard but the reality is that the physical education target is so modest that other northern European countries would laugh at it.
“Childhood obesity is an alarming problem in Scotland and schools have a vital role to play, but we need more of a whole-package approach. This means improving school grounds so that pupils have more opportunities to be active outside at break times if they want to be.
“It means making it easier for children to travel to school on foot or by bike, which requires good role models and well-funded, on-road cycle training.
“School active travel plans need revamped so that, where possible, children are as active getting to school as they are during the two hours of PE.
“Perhaps the biggest challenge is transforming school dinners to make them healthy and tasty and using fresh and local ingredients where possible. In some cases, school kitchens should be upgraded or brought back into use and less food ordered in from catering companies.
“If Edinburgh parents saw the incredibly high standards in Denmark’s schools they would certainly be demanding better.
“PE in schools must also be supported by high-quality community sports facilities and green spaces, and I want to see a legacy for grassroots sport as well from the Commonwealth Games as elite athletes.
“The formal time for PE is just one part of this package, and my plea is that we don’t see it in isolation.
“Let’s join up our plans to see positive outcomes for the lives of our young people.”
Technology proves a winner as pupils lap up hi-tech advances
ADVANCES in technology have helped to transform PE from jumpers for goalposts to a high-spec review of pupil performance that is crucially putting attainment in the hands of youngsters.
In recent years, several Capital schools have successfully employed iPads to chart performance following funding applications to the Scottish Government.
While never likely to replace skilled PE teachers, the technology offers would-be athletes ownership of their progress and can even help improve technique through video captures and playback.
The devices, which can also allow teachers to be more flexible in their approach to classes, could be rolled out for PE across city schools in the coming years, it is understood
Trailblazing teachers at St Thomas of Aquin’s High School have broken new ground with their endorsement of IT technology – and, in particular, iPads.
Following a successful funding application, a series of tablets were bought to assist with PE lessons and have been hailed for improving their quality.
Frankie Rizza, curricular leader of PE at St Thomas of Aquin’s High School, said the introduction of ICT to school fitness classes 18 months ago was a major boost and almost “inevitable”.
He said: “The kids are using apps outside school now and in PE it gives them ownership of their own learning which is crucial because you are involving them in the process.
“Kids that might be struggling with a activity, you can give them a task on the iPad which you can monitor as opposed to having to split yourself into three to deal with different levels of learning. The kids become much more engaged and physically active.
“We put in a bid to Education Scotland for the iPads and the headteacher had just put in more money to get another 30 that we are trialling.”
Mr Rizza said there are several elements to improving children’s fitness and encouraging sport.
He said: “It comes down to the headteacher’s viewpoint, facilities and departmental constraints. But it looks like we are now almost hitting all the targets which is fantastic and a big turnaround.”
And he added: “Obviously it’s not just about the number of lessons but the quality of PE that is being taught. That is what we are focusing on and ICT is helping us to deliver.”
“Digital technology is not going to allow us to put an extra 20 kids in each class but improves the quality of what we can deliver.
“It’s not going to replace the teacher but allows you to develop more kids at particular level.”
A first for secondaries
HITTING the secondary school target is the first time it has been achieved in Edinburgh.
Since June, a staggering 96 per cent of high schools achieved two periods physical fitness or more per week – a 30 per cent rise on previous levels.
In 2012-13, only 65 per cent of secondary schools (S1 to S4 pupils) succeeded in delivering two periods of PE. This figure stood at 48 per cent in 2011-12 and 61 per cent in 2010-11.
Primary schools have seen a steady rise in PE rates but only 84 per cent are meeting Scottish Government targets of 120 minutes per week.
In 2009-10, only 22 per cent of city schools had delivered two hours of PE.