Welsh Government accused of not taking school PE seriously enough

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Yesterday, AMs discussed the Health Committee’s damning report on physical activity amongst young people. The Welsh Government’s response has already been criticised by physical activity experts and AMs were no less critical.

A national crisis

Committee Chair, Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West), said we needed to face up to the scale of the crisis. The Committee heard compelling evidence that fundamental motor skills need to be actively taught from an early age, not simply left to natural development.

The Welsh Government rejected or glossed over a number of the inquiry’s recommendations, particularly ensuring motor skills are included in the curriculum and that 120 minutes of PE becomes a statutory requirement.

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) said aspirations to live healthy lifestyles need to be grounded in habits and it doesn’t necessarily have to be competitive sports or gender-stereotyped pursuits. The most important thing to do was to listen to pupils.

“….if you’re going to truly engage with girls and young women and kids who live very disadvantaged lives, with carers, with children in rural environments who cannot get back in to play sport at the end of the day, you’ve got to really ask them and really listen to them.”
– Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) criticised the decision of some schools to cut break times and reduce opportunities for play.

Well-being for the whole family

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) raised her previous proposal for an Inclusive Play Bill, stressing the need for children to spend more time outdoors with play activities fully accessible to all (including disabled children). Family-friendly activities were also important to improve exercise rates not only amongst children but parents too so exercise habits are maintained.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) cited a programme in Leeds where parents of children who were obese when starting reception are given one-to-one support, resulting in falls in childhood obesity.

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) suggested the Welsh Government were dragging their feet on improving skills amongst teachers by demanding more case studies; the evidence of lack of skills/training was already there. She also said local authorities weren’t investing enough in exercise facilities at schools outside the 21st Century Schools programme.

Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) believes the potential for walking and cycling to and from school wasn’t being properly realised, but there were examples of good practice that the rest of the country can learn from. This includes the development of personal transport plans which involve parents and tell them precisely how their children can get to/from school without using the car.

“….120 minutes a week (of exercise in schools) isn’t ambitious enough….and to reject even guaranteeing that is a major failure on the part of the Government to take this issue seriously enough.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

Progress won’t be made by evangelising

Deputy Minister for Culture, Media & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd), said the issue shouldn’t be confined to schools or the curriculum and had to be part of a much broader set of measures that are less top-down and target led.

“I believe that there is a misunderstanding here about the nature of the changes to the curriculum…. I’m old enough to have been involved with the National Curriculum back in the 1980s, and I’m very pleased to see that concept disappearing. That’s why we rejected the recommendation for 120 minutes of PE. Because what we want to see happening is the kind of thing that I had the pleasure of seeing in Llansanffraid Glan Conwy….namely the way in which pupils take part in the daily mile on the school grounds….”
– Deputy Minister for Culture, Media & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas

He accepted the scale of the challenge, but it wouldn’t be met by “evangelising by individual”, but by working at a community level.

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