Originally published March 4, 2019 in The Independent IE.

Only 19 percent are getting the recommended one hour of daily vigorous activity. So should we have more exercise on our school curriculum? Third level students Claire Sexton, Juliette Fortune, Roisin Kavanagh & Sarah Murphy make the case for PE.

According to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, physical education (PE) in schools contributes to children’s overall development by helping them to lead full, active and healthy lives. Here, Sports Science and Health students from DCU share some insights on the current state of PE.

1 PE can be inclusive…

Sporty or not, PE can be for everyone. Classes provide a great way for students to socialise with other students who they may have never talked to before. PE can be a great ice breaker and can lead to wonderful friendships. More interaction with other classmates and being part of a team can enable new friendships to flourish. It doesn’t matter who has the best forearm pass in volleyball, or jump shot, or free throw in basketball. Classes are there to be enjoyed and participated in.

2 It can encourage a healthy lifestyle outside school…

Exercise begets exercise and the benefits of being physically active and reaching the recommended daily allowance are huge. Studies show that engaging in regular exercise improves physical fitness and muscle mass, enhances bone health, reduces excessive adipose tissue/ body fat, decreases the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease development, decreases anxiety and depression, boosts energy levels and improves quality of sleep.

3 PE boosts well-being…

Those 45 minutes of PE class are more effective than you think! Even just 30 minutes of mindful movement each day can have significant effects on confidence and increase self-esteem. This triggers the release of chemicals called beta-endorphins that can decrease anxiety and stress levels. Students who take part in effective PE do better physically, mentally and emotionally, which is great for schools and even better for kids. The benefits of these endorphins can increase productivity, appetite and a healthy sleep cycle, while reducing tension and stress.

4 So how much are we doing?

At primary level, Irish school children have an average of 37 hours of PE a year, compared with 108 hours in France. This lack of exercise during in-school PE time is not being made up outside of school in after-school activities, as only 19 percent of Irish school children meet the recommended physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. This could be done by engaging in something organised like playing soccer with your local club, or something as unorganised as chasing your dog on the beach!

5 Secondary schools have even less PE…

In secondary school, less than 5 percent of the school year is given over to PE, with about 45 hours allocated to PE, compared with 76 in the UK and 90 in Portugal. In many post-primary schools, third, fifth and sixth-year students are getting no PE at all, with schools allocating the time to study or extra classes for the likes of maths and other heavily-weighted subjects. Provision is patchy across the nation and largely depends on the board of managements in schools to promote participation in PE.

6 The Leaving Cert to the rescue!

There is hope. The first Leaving Cert PE exams will take place in June 2020, and in the meantime, each pilot school has 180 hours allocated for the Leaving Cert course, which comprises PE classes four times a week, in addition to the current two classes. The Leaving Cert exam will come in three parts: a written exam counting for 50 percent; a coaching or choreographer project which counts for 20 percent; and a digital/video project counting for 30 percent.

7…And there is PEXPO

PEXPO is a showcase for students from across Ireland to display their research projects on the science behind sport. The main aim of this exhibition is to promote physical education as a subject in Ireland and to encourage students, both primary and secondary, to research PE-related topics. PE becomes a Leaving Cert exam subject in 2020, which makes this exhibition more relevant than ever.

Founded by Paddy O’Reilly and Gerry McDonnell (both PE teachers at Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun) and Chris Steele (PE teacher) in 2015, this national annual event took place in the Sports Complex of Dublin City University beginning March 6.

8 What is the Government doing?

The primary PE curriculum is divided into six strands, which are as follows – athletics, dances, gymnastics, games, outdoor activities, adventure activities and aquatics. Secondary schools curriculum differs from the primary as it also includes invasion games, net and fielding games and health-related activity.

When students and teachers were surveyed for a study about why the recommendations were not met, the number one reason was due to the lack of facilities such as gymnasiums and playing fields. To combat this, in September of 2018 the Government granted a further €12 billion to the Department of Education. This money is to increase school capital funding by 70 percent – to build state-of-the-art exercise facilities along with buying new equipment and modernising existing infrastructure.

9 Are there any lobby groups?

The Physical Education Association of Ireland (PEAI) was founded in 1968 at a time when there was growing concern that the future course of Irish Education should be redirected. One of the primary objectives of the PEAI is to improve standards and performance within physical education by providing members with opportunities and materials for professional growth, (through the exchange of information and knowledge in the field and related areas).

The Irish Primary PE Association (IPPEA) was founded in 2002 by and for primary teachers who were particularly interested in the subject of physical education. The IPPEA is an association dedicated to heightening awareness of PE issues in primary schools and it aims to promote physical activity in an educational context.

10 Teachers, we need you to get involved…

The quality of the physical education programme is of significant importance. A high quality and effective physical education programme is vital for the development of all children and most importantly helps them in maintaining their physical well-being. Teachers, we need you to instill lifelong healthy habits that will assist children to growing into healthier adults.

With global trends in rising obesity, it is no longer sufficient enough to just meet minimum levels recommended by health guidelines. PE classes need to be fun, diverse and challenging. To advance beneficial health results, schools need to be efficient and optimise the quantity of time allocated for PE.

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    Irish children rank amongst the most unfit in Europe - so should we have more PE in school?
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    Irish children rank amongst the most unfit in Europe - so should we have more PE in school?
    Students discuss the current lack of PE options in Ireland and offer suggestions to increase activity for the country's children/students.
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    The Independent
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