Introducing PE as a Leaving Certificate exam subject this year will have “no effect” on schoolchildren’s fitness levels because it will only attract those who are good at it.
That’s according to Niall Moyna, head of the School of Health and Human Performance, Dublin City University, who said: “It will be taken up by those who are good at it, the people who are really physically active. But how do you engage those who aren’t?”
Instead, a health science subject combining elements of home economics, human biology and PE should be introduced to teach young people the reasons why longterm fitness is so important to future health.
Prof Moyna said children “even at the age of six” who are physically inactive are at risk of developing a chronic condition later in life.
He was commenting in the wake of the publication of the results of the Irish Life School’s Fitness Challenge 2017 where, for the first time, girls participating outnumbered the boys.
The survey, involving 30,000 school children including 17,393 girls and 13,458 boys, found girls improved their fitness levels by 16% over a six-week period, while boys improved by 6% — boys overall fitness levels were better to begin with.
Fitness levels were measured by analysing “shuttle run” performance. This involves running between two cones 20m apart to the sound of an audio bleep which gets faster as the student tries to keep pace. The participant’s score is then recorded as the last point at which they can keep up with the bleeps. The average number of shuttle runs for girls over six weeks was 46 and 67 for boys. Both scores are categorised as “good” in terms of cardiovascular fitness levels.
Prof Moyna, who oversees the Schools Fitness Challenge, said he believes there should be mandatory monitoring of cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) in schools given CRF is proven to significantly lower the risk of chronic disease. He said children’s height, weight, blood pressure, and CFR should be continuously assessed as it was “probably the best indicator of their health”.
However, Prof Moyna expressed some concern at the level of drop off among senior cycle students when it comes to PE. He said the “points race” was to blame and that parents needed to “ask themselves some hard questions”, given the importance of physical activity to both physical and mental health.
He said schools who fared best in the Schools Fitness Challenge were those who had “initiated a school policy and where it is being pushed at principal level”.
Gort Community School was the overall winner of Ireland’s Fittest school in 2017. Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig, Cork, took second and third place (two different classes) for fittest school (mixed) and Hamilton High School in Bandon, Cork, took third place (boys) for Ireland’s Fittest School and Most Improved School.
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