Currently, all primary and second-level schools provide PE as part of the curriculum and there are approved syllabuses for the subject. The new Framework for Junior Cycle which I published last October will, inter alia, aim to increase the importance of physical wellbeing in several ways:
- The Framework is based on eight Principles. The Principle of "Wellbeing" undertakes to ensure that "the student experience contributes directly to their physical wellbeing."
- In addition, eight Key Skills are required for successful learning across the curriculum and beyond the school. This is in recognition of the fact that learning takes place both inside and outside of the formal school environment. One of these Key Skills is "Staying Well", which adopts a holistic approach to wellbeing and includes "Being healthy, physical and active".
- Contained in the Junior Cycle's Statements of Learning is the stated aim that the student is "confident and competent in physical activity and is motivated to be physically active", and that he/she "understands the importance of food and diet in making healthy lifestyle choices".
- Perhaps most importantly in this respect, the new junior cycle will enable schools to offer Physical Education as a short course, which means that, for the first time, it can be certified. The issue of obesity is addressed in schools not only in the teaching of Physical Education, but also in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and Home Economics. As part of the revised Junior Cycle, short courses are being prepared by the NCCA not only in PE but also in SPHE and will be available for schools from September2014. These courses may be assessed as a part of the School Certificate in the new Junior Cycle.
The Active School Flag, funded by my Department, was officially launched in 2009 to motivate and award schools which strive to achieve a physically active and physically educated school community. The funding provided to the ASF was €116,000 per year for the past 3 years, and €80,000 in 2012. Since September 2009, just over 1000 primary schools and 128 post-primary schools have registered for the programme. Some 180 schools have already been awarded their flags. The ASF rewards schools in their efforts in this area and the Department sees it as its initiative to enhance a student's healthy lifestyle. More schools are registering to participate each year.
In 2009 my Department carried out a Lifeskills Survey in primary and post primary schools. They found that in addition to formal PE provision that some 90% of schools encourage not only physical activity and regular exercise during school breaks but they also encourage the young people to participate in sport outside school time. The work in the school has to be complimented and reinforced by the families and the communities of our young people if the spread of childhood obesity is to be reduced.