Pupils buck child obesity trend with exercise

Stephanie Sinclair and her P2 class at St John's Primary School celebrate hitting their exercise target. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Stephanie Sinclair and her P2 class at St John's Primary School celebrate hitting their exercise target. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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Parents often feel berated about “couch potato” kids, especially since Scottish children were rated among the least active in the world.

But pupils in the Capital are bucking the trend thanks to high schools making big leaps forward in delivering national targets for games lessons.

All but one of the city’s secondary schools met a Scottish Government commitment that every S1-4 pupil will benefit from at least two periods of “quality” PE each week – a 13 per cent jump on last year.

At primary school level – where teachers are tasked with offering two hours of PE a week – the success rate has climbed from 89 to 95 per cent. As worries grow over exercise levels in the wake of research showing Scots youngsters are among the world’s least active, the boom has been welcomed as evidence that a corner is being turned in Edinburgh.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “I’m delighted that our primary, secondary and special schools are achieving their best ever figures for PE.

“There’s been a clear focus on these targets in our schools, and staff have been working really hard to improve our ­figures.”

The data also indicates about four primaries and one high school – Portobello – are not making the grade, as teaching staff said the age of some school buildings makes challenges tough to overcome.

Kevin Brown, one of two lead officers for the PE roll-out, said much of the city-wide increase was due to ­headteachers’ willingness to ensure pupils do not lose out.

He said: “Secondary schools are heavily reliant on the time-tabling of subjects. Headteachers taking the target into account is something that has raised the figures to where they are now.”

Fellow officer Jan McIntyre, who is based at St John’s Primary, also paid tribute to the support of heads and class teachers, and said schools were successfully thinking outside the box in the drive to increase children’s activity levels.

She said: “In Edinburgh there’s been a complete change in culture. With the two hours target we had to look more strategically at the timetable – one that enabled all of the classes in school to have two hours of PE.

“As with lots of primary schools in Edinburgh, we work with restricted space, and we have had to be quite creative.”

But parents at schools hit by particularly acute accommodation pressures have voiced concerns as education chiefs prepare to implement new government policies, including the roll-out of free lunches for all P1-3s.

Fiona Kenny, parent council member at East Craigs ­Primary, where a tiny hall doubles as a dining room and gym, said: “The only way they’re hitting it here is by kids doing gym in the classroom, and that has health and safety ­implications.

“There’s no way they’ll be able to hit it once free school meals are introduced in ­January.”

City leaders, however, have pledged to work tirelessly towards 100 per cent PE participation.

Mr Godzik said: “It’s really encouraging to see these statistics, especially in such an important year with the Commonwealth Games taking place in Scotland.”

Gymnastics vs running

ST John’s Primary 2 pupils Kirsten Pester and Jakob Stephens, both six, said they really enjoyed their weekly PE sessions and would like to continue doing sport when they are older.

Kirsten said: “My favourite thing is the gymnastics – we have two monkey bars and you can go upside down. You can do balancing as well.

“In future, I would like to play tennis. It’s because there’s a ball and you can throw it and hit it.”

Jakob said he enjoyed sprinting the most.

He said: “I like running. I can run 100 metres. I like jumping as well. I give it the thumbs up.”

PORTY FAILS

PORTOBELLO is the only city high school failing to give all its pupils two full periods of PE each week due to the restrictions of its 1960s towerblock campus.

School campaigner Sean Watters, whose daughter is in S1, said: “She has to be bussed to the Jack Kane Centre and gets maybe about 20 minutes of PE. It would make a huge difference having the new school.”