All-girl classes to tackle schools PE problem

Kirsty Hamilton, front, with dance pupils at Liberton High. Picture: Scott Louden
Kirsty Hamilton, front, with dance pupils at Liberton High. Picture: Scott Louden
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IT brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “girl power”.

A pioneering fitness project that champions female-only PE classes has attracted a swathe of Capital schools which are keen to improve the fitness and strength of pupils.

The move comes amid claims three-quarters of girls at city schools admit to “forgetting” gym kit to avoid workouts.

Studies suggest mixed PE classes are turning many off fitness training with teen angst, self-consciousness and poor body image among the key factors behind plummeting participation rates for young women.

Research conducted last year showed the number of 11-year-old girls enjoying sports in S1 topped 33,000 but plummeted to just 3400 for 17-year-olds.

Now city leaders are striving to reverse the trend by doubling the number of secondaries involved in an innovative project offering female-friendly activities in the classroom.

Ten high schools – Portobello, Firrhill, Royal, James Gillespie’s, Boroughmuir, Queensferry, Currie, Balerno, Holyrood and St Thomas of Aquin – have signed up for the Health 4 U programme, which sees S3 girls engage in activities such as yoga, body balance and combat fitness sessions instead of swimming, basketball and cross-country runs.

They will also take special classes – exploring topics such as crash diets and women in the media – aimed at addressing mental and emotional barriers to full participation in sport.

Mel Coutts, Edinburgh’s principal officer for sport and outdoor learning, said the new sessions, which build on existing work at the city’s other high schools, would ensure girls are able to access a far broader range of exercise options.

She said: “The reasons for girls’ lower participation in sport are internationally reported and researched, and it’s learned social factors – that they’re body-conscious, have low self-esteem or do not want to seem uncool. It’s not in our culture at this point in time for girls to be active in sport.

“What we’re trying to do is link it with activities outwith school as well, so girls understand the importance of being healthy and so we can 
address those social factors.” While in-depth analysis of Health 4 U’s impact on girls’ enthusiasm for core PE has still to be carried out, Ms Coutts said early research suggested there had been a positive impact.

And she said moves were being made to ensure the new sessions become a permanent fixture at city schools, with both sexes benefiting.

“The next stage is to create resources that the schools can use so they’re able to do this every year,” she said.

“And we want to look at doing this for boys because we recognise that there are boys dropping out of sport and PE as well. This is about widening access as much as possible.”

Education chiefs have welcomed a recent upswing of girls taking part in sport but admitted there was still much to do to tackle the drop in participation among older year groups.

Councillor Paul Godzik, 
education leader, said: “It’s very encouraging that there’s been a significant increase in girls taking part in sport.

“Projects like Health 4 U and sportscotland’s Active Girls initiative are also helpful interventions to support and promote girls getting more physically active.”

He added: “It is also important that girls not only participate but actually succeed in sport as they can inspire other girls and possibly become role models for the next generation.”