The Eurydice Report published on March 23rd 2013 which looked at physical education (PE) in 28 European Countries, found that Irish primary school pupils in Europe receive less time on physical education (PE) than other schoolchildren in Europe. Whilst at secondary level only three countries spend less time than is made available in Irish schools.
The report finds that the time dedicated to taught PE varies significantly from country to country highlighting that for example, whilst Irish primary schools in 2011/2012 were recommended to provide 37 hours compared to 108 hours in France. The study makes the point that across Europe the time allocated to PE is considerably less than that prescribed for other subjects particularly, at primary level – a fact it says reveals the subject is generally perceived as less important.
This is despite the fact, as highlighted by the report, that physical education at school not only contributes to the immediate fitness and good health of pupils but also helps young people to perform and understand physical activity better with positive lifelong repercussions.
The study details that in some countries mandatory activities are prescribed whereas in others it is entirely at the school’s discretion. Ireland falls in this latter category and is amongst only six countries where this is the case. Where activities are mandatory, prescribed games (usually ball games) and gymnastics are the most popular.
These findings are interesting in the context of the Government’s stated intention to provide for assessment of PE at Junior Cert level as an optional short course. Currently Ireland is the only country not to assess PE at either primary or secondary school. Neither Malta nor Norway has formal assessment for PE at primary level only.
One third of the countries that took part in the survey are currently planning reforms to PE. Finland and Portugal are intending to raise the profile of PE by increasing the minimum taught time. Greece and Hungry are working to improve the diversity of the offering during PE whilst, reforms in many countries are seeking to improve the conditions in which PE is delivered and promote the training of those who teach it.
The findings would seem to support the findings of the 2010 Irish Sports Council sponsored research carried out by DCU, UCC and UL which looked at children’s participation in sport and physical activity. This report found that only 35% of primary and 10% of secondary school students were obtaining the recommended minimum levels of PE as set out by the Department of Education with girls receiving less PE time than boys.