Friday 24 November 2017

Should pupils get points for playing football and lifting weights?

Kim Bielenberg visits a Dublin school, where students do British GCSE exams in PE

Paddy O'Reilly is in no doubt that his students should be allowed to do physical education as an exam subject for the Leaving Cert.

"If they are interested in it as a subject, why should they not be able to get points for it?" said the PE teacher at Trinity Comprehensive in Ballymun.

Demands for the upgrade of PE as a subject have been growing, and Ruairi Quinn recently suggested that schools will be able to have it assessed as one of the short courses in the revamped Junior Cert.

Curriculum planners have also been considering whether to include physical education as an assessed subject on a par with others in the Leaving Cert.

A draft syllabus for Leaving Cert PE published last year proposed that pupils could choose from a range of activities that included rock climbing and synchronised swimming as well as mainstream sports.

Half the exam would be based on a "personal performance project", and the other half on a written exam.

Trinity Comprehensive in Ballymun has not wasted time waiting around until a PE exam is introduced.

The school on the Northside of Dublin already offers its students a British GCSE exam in the subject. Eight Trinity Comprehensive students are doing the exam this year.

When I visited, the students were being assessed on their practical performance.

They were doing fitness exercises, which were being filmed, and these will be assessed by examiners in England. One was riding an exercise bike, a second student was lifting a dumb-bell, a third was doing a gymnastic exercise.

Paddy O'Reilly said: "In Britain, the students can choose from a wide range of activities for the GCSE, even karate and yoga. Even though the exam authority is British, you could do it in Gaelic football if you wanted."

As well as the performance element, the students have to do an interview where they analyse an activity. It might be analysing a soccer match. Could these candidates be our up and coming Eamon Dunphys?

There is also a general physical education exam.

At the moment the GCSE course in PE is not recognised for CAO points in Ireland, but Paddy O'Reilly says it brings the students many benefits.

"Both the students and the teachers volunteer to do it in their own free time, so it does not interfere with their other subjects.

"They are interested in sport. Their self-esteem -- their physical and mental well-being -- are helped by doing a subject that they like."

One of the students, Scott Harbey, does the PE course three days a week.

"I am very interested in it and I hope eventually to become a gym instructor."

The Education Minister Ruairi Quinn proposed a limited form of PE assessment in the revamped Junior Cert when the subject was raised in the Dáil recently.

Mr Quinn said: "As part of the revised Junior Cycle framework, there are 24 statements of learning which set out what students should learn. One of the statements provides that, at the end of Junior Cycle, students should be able to participate in physical activity confidently and competently.

'There will be an opportunity for schools to provide short courses which can be assessed as part of the Junior Cert. Short courses will generally be locally developed, of 100 hours duration and will be assessed by portfolio."

Limerick Fine Gael TD Patrick O'Donovan has campaigned for the upgrading of PE in schools since he entered the Dáil last year.

The former primary teacher says: "The important thing is that PE is not just about rewarding those who are good at sport.

"There are all sorts of skills that can be learned. If you take something like orienteering, there is problem-solving involved and they are working as a team.

"PE is also a good way of teaching self-discipline and leadership skills, as well as tackling health issues," says Patrick O'Donovan.

While a PE exam may suit those who are interested in sport, planners will also have to consider how to develop the subject for the entire school population.

Department of Education guidelines specify that second-level students should spend two hours a week -- the equivalent of three class periods -- doing PE.

Recent inspectors' reports indicate that many schools are ignoring this requirement, as physical activity is sacrificed for exam subjects.

Some students were found to be doing no PE at all.

• Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun is holding a workshop about the GCSE physical education curriculum on May 12. Contact: Paddy O'Reilly, 0861743836, oreillype@yahoo.co.uk.

Irish Independent

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