Saturday, January 07, 2012

Want your children to perform better at school and be happier? Then get them out on the playing field

The wider benefits of sport were once traditional wisdom

Schoolchildren may be able to boost their classroom performance by getting out on the playing field, a study suggests. A review of previous research found evidence that physical activity can improve academic achievement in children and teenagers.

Scientists in the Netherlands pooled data from 14 studies with sample sizes ranging from 53 to 12,000 participants aged between six and 18.

The authors, led by Dr Amika Singh, from Vrije University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, wrote in the journal Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine: 'According to the best-evidence synthesis, we found strong evidence of a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance.

'The findings of one high-quality intervention study and one high-quality observational study suggest that being more physically active is positively related to improved academic performance in children.'

Exercise may help mental faculties by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain, reducing stress and improving mood, said the researchers.

Physical activity could also boost levels of growth factors that help generate new nerve cells and assist the 'rewiring' of neurons.

The researchers added: 'Relatively few studies of high methodological quality have explored the relationship between physical activity and academic performance.

'More high-quality studies are needed on the dose-response relationship between physical activity and academic performance and on the explanatory mechanisms, using reliable and valid measurement instruments to assess this relationship accurately.'


British education boss blasts education authorities who are 'happy with failure' as he pushes for weakest primary schools to become academies (charters)

Education Secretary Michael Gove yesterday accused critics of the Government’s academy programme of being ‘happy with failure’. He revealed ministers are pressing ahead with converting the country’s 200 worst performing primary schools into academies.

Hundreds more are being threatened with similar intervention because they are failing to ensure pupils reach a high enough standard in the three Rs.

Mr Gove warned opponents – including local authorities, Labour MPs and teaching unions – who want to ‘get in the way’ of his reforms to keep their ‘hands off’. In a blistering attack, Mr Gove labelled opponents as ‘enemies of promise’ who are damaging children’s prospects by putting ‘doctrine ahead of children’s interests’.

His speech at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in south-east London, an ‘all-through’ academy for children aged three to 18, infuriated teaching unions which insist academy conversion does not raise standards in itself.

Mr Gove went on the offensive as new figures show that 45 per cent of all maintained secondary schools are now academies or about to convert. There are 1,529 academies in England, compared with 200 in May 2010 when the Coalition came to power.

Academies are state schools that are free of local authority control and can govern themselves. The previous Labour government introduced academies as a secondary-only programme but the Coalition has extended the freedoms to primaries.

Ministers can also use powers under the Academies Act 2010 to require schools to convert to academies if they are consistently failing. Around 1,310 state primary schools in England fail minimum ‘floor standards’.

They have fewer than 60 per cent of pupils reaching a basic level in English and maths at age 11 and children making below average progress between seven and 11.

Mr Gove said most local authorities on the Government’s hit list were being ‘co-operative and constructive’. He added: ‘Some, however, are being obstructive. They are putting the ideology of central control ahead of the interests of children. ‘They are more concerned with protecting the old ways of working than helping the most disadvantaged children succeed.’

Mr Gove said academy conversion was only a ‘threat to the complacent, to those who have been complicit in failure’. He added: ‘Defenders of the status quo say these schools shouldn’t be judged in this way because they have a different approach – they are creative or inclusive. ‘But you can’t be creative if you can’t read properly and speak fluently – you can’t be included in the world of work if you aren’t numerate.’

Mr Gove said educating pupils to level four – the standard expected of their age – wasn’t ‘that big an ask’.

But Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was not the ‘act of academy conversion’ that raised standards in schools.

He added: ‘There are many highly successful schools working with their local authority and partner schools; they are not the “enemies of promise” but professionals dedicated to improving the lives of young people.’


£100 to play truant! British schools accused of bribing worst pupils to stay away when Ofsted inspectors call

Disruptive pupils are being bribed up to £100 each to stay away from lessons during Ofsted inspections, it has been claimed. Despite having good attendance records, poorly behaved students are being paid to truant to prevent their schools getting bad ratings. Such underhand tactics are being increasingly used to trick inspectors, according to teachers.

Other methods include headteachers ‘borrowing’ outstanding staff from neighbouring schools to take lessons while telling their own weak teachers to go off sick. Some also take brilliant artwork on loan from other schools to impress inspectors. The stunts have been revealed in evidence collected by the Times Educational Supplement.

In one example, a teacher described how he was worried about taking three of the worst classes in his ‘hell hole’ school during an inspection. But, the day before, the deputy headteacher arrived and reeled off the names of more than a dozen of the most challenging pupils from the ‘worst’ three classes.

He told the teacher: ‘None of these little **** will be in tomorrow, you have my word.’

The teacher asked how he could be sure as the pupils had ‘excellent’ attendance records and the senior teacher showed him an ‘inch-thick wad of £20 notes’. The teacher said: ‘I learned later that some of those kids had received up to £100 or so not to attend school that day. ‘It seemed he [the deputy] had, in total, paid the equivalent of a whole class to truant for the day.’

Meanwhile an advanced skills teacher (AST) told the TES he was expected to ‘guest’ at another school and pretend to be the acting head of science during an inspection. Another AST claimed that several teachers were ‘on standby’ to pose as staff for an inspection of a partner school at ‘45 minutes’ notice’.

The TES said: ‘Then there is the school artwork, highly praised by Ofsted, that is loaned to neighbouring schools and proudly displayed every time inspectors visit.

‘There are the schools where certain teachers are told to go off sick when Ofsted is due, and others where highly experienced professionals suddenly appear.

‘There are schools where the most disruptive pupils disappear for a trip and those where lessons are rehearsed by pupils so they can be performed during an Ofsted visit.

‘These stories, and many more like them, are not unusual, according to the teachers who tell them. They claim they are symptomatic of an inspection system that is “broken” and full of “cover-ups”.’

The TES received almost 200 examples of schools conning inspectors.

Schools are usually given two or three days’ notice of visits but Ofsted has been carrying out some no-notice ‘dawn raids’.

Yesterday Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education and an Ofsted inspector, said: ‘It is utterly deplorable. Any school that gets caught cheating should go straight into special measures.’

Ofsted said it received 38 complaints about a school’s ‘conduct or activities’ during inspections carried out from last April to November.

A spokesman said attendance records would show if schools were excluding large numbers of pupils while stand-in teachers would be exposed by their ‘limited knowledge of the school during feedback’.


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