Today 15th September, MummyPages.ie Ireland’s largest community of mums, launches an online petition to put pressure on the Irish Government to invest in our physical fitness education syllabus within the school curriculum.
This week marks the first week of PE classes for primary school children all over the country, despite the fact that most children have already been back at school for almost two full weeks. Secondary school students will have started their school timetable straight off the bat with a dedicated PE teacher position in each school. However, most primary schools do not have this luxury, with many class teachers doubling up on their role to deliver both curriculum.
The issue of obesity is one of national concern to parents, medical professionals and policymakers. However very little notable progress has been made in tackling this issue, with one in four children currently classified as overweight or obese and Ireland set to be the fattest nation in Europe by 2030 according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
MummyPages parents now want their voices heard ahead of the unveiling of the National Obesity Policy due at the end of this month and Finance Budget announcements to be made next month. We are asking parents to come together and sign our petition to introduce a mandatory 30 minutes of structured PE class EVERY DAY into the school curriculum as opposed to EVERY WEEK as is currently the case.
MummyPages Research Highlights:
- 91% of parents think schools need to devote more time to formal physical education
- 82% of parents would like to see a minimum of 30 minutes per day assigned to physical education within the school curriculum
- 68% of parents are not in favour of proposals for children to be weighed in school
- 73% of parents believe their children aren’t participating in enough physical activity per day
- 77% of parents underestimated the amount of daily physical activity their child should be doing to stay healthy
- 2-hours is the reported average amount of ‘out of school’ exercise parents say their children engage in each week
- Cost is the biggest barrier for 61% of parents who want their children to get involved in more structured exercise outside of school
Surprisingly, highlights from a separate study seen by media sources last week, commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and incorporating consultation with primary and secondary school children, unveiled significant resistance by older students to PE as it is currently taught in school.
The theme from consultation with groups of secondary school students revealed that many felt body conscious when changing for PE class and didn’t appreciate being ‘forced’ into participating in PE class as part of the school curriculum. Lack of choice in different types of team and individual sports together with poor facilities were also cited.
Investment is clearly required in the second-level PE syllabus, with our current policymakers considering introducing a new Leaving Certificate PE syllabus as a full optional subject. This kind of commitment by the Department of Education would facilitate proper investment in school facilities, critical review of the syllabus and the specialised teaching required to encompass different preferences, abilities and skills.
Ireland is one of the few countries with no formal assessment of PE at either primary or secondary level. In fact, a Leaving Cert PE curriculum was devised in 2004, but is still sitting on a shelf awaiting implementation along with the recommendations in our National Obesity Strategy 2005.
According to Laura Erskine, Mum-in-Residence for MummyPages.ie, Ireland’s largest online parenting community:
“With one in four Irish schoolchildren overweight or obese, our MummyPages mums are calling on the Ministers for Education, for Health and for Children to extend the minimum mandatory time dedicated to Physical Education within the school week.”
“As it stands, Ireland ranks lowest in Europe for the amount of time given to formal physical education within the national curriculum, while at the same time we are set to be the fattest nation in Europe by 2030. We should take the lead from France who insists on a weekly minimum of 180 minutes dedicated to PE taught by specialists, compared to our mandatory minimum of just 30 minutes taught by generalists.”
“Research has shown that even an extra 15 minutes per day of moderate physical activity can actually half the risk of obesity in school-going children. In fact, more than ten-years ago the National Taskforce on Obesity recommended that school-going children should be involved in a daily at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. In the absence of any Government action and investment in PE some ten-years later, schools and parents need to work together to foster healthy bodies and minds. Some advocate it physical exercise should be added to a child’s daily homework as well as increasing its prevalence in the school curriculum.”
“It’s a no-brainer. Not only do children who exercise daily, actually perform better academically in school, they are also better behaved and are less likely to develop mental health issues during childhood. These children will also live longer, have a lower risk of being overweight and of developing serious long term health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease as they get older. They will have a better lifetime earning potential and ultimately cost the Government less in social welfare and health expenses.”
*Research cited in quote:
- Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (Alspac) which using data from the ‘Children of the 90s’ project, suggested that an extra 15 minutes a day of moderate or vigorous physical activity halved the risk of obesity in 12-year-old children.
- The Report of the National Taskforce on Obesity (2005) stated that a balance of food intake and physical activity is necessary for a healthy weight. The Report indicated that children should be involved in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day in order to prevent excess weight gain. Among the Report’s recommendations to primary schools were that every child should achieve a minimum of 30 minutes physical activity per day andthat all schools should meet the minimum requirement of two hours of physical education per week delivered by appropriately-qualified staff.
- The Joint Oireachtas Report on the Status of Physical Education in schools (2005) in response to the World Health Organisations warning of a ‘global epidemic’ of obesity was the serious investment in physical education at schools of all levels. In particular, it was cited that the long-term, investment in physical education resources and facilities within schools in Ireland, made sound financial sense in the light of the looming healthcare bill from an increasingly unhealthy and inactive population.
- The European Union’s education information network Eurydice reports that Ireland has fewer hours of compulsory PE classes than any other EU member or developed European country, in both absolute and proportionate terms. Irish primary pupils are bottom of the pile with about 37 hours of PE classes throughout a school year while other countries demand a minimum of 45 hours a year. Ireland ranks third from bottom at second level where Irish pupils spend an average of 45 hours a year in physical activity. The report also comments that Ireland is the only EU member state not to have some sort of national PE grading system at either primary or second level.