Education Quandary: 'I'm a PE teacher in an inner-city school. How do I get reluctant teenage girls exercising?'

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Hilary's advice

I was going to say: keep looking for something new. If jazz dance hasn't enthused them, why not try some American cheerleader routines? A number of schools in the UK are enthusiastic about these, and maybe their novelty value – and the pompoms – would get your girls going.

But then I went to the supermarket and stood behind two girls who were so fat it seemed they wouldn't squeeze through the check-out. And when I started to pay more attention, I found so many others heading the same way. Not tubby or plump girls, not even ones who were quite seriously overweight, but ones who looked as if they were blown up with a bicycle pump and whose pretty features were disappearing into mounds of facial dough.

So I would say this: you have to be a drill sergeant and make your girls move, whether it's with circuits, brisk walking, dance or whatever. Encouragement won't do it. If they are sluggish and lethargic, and their bodies full of sugar and fat, they won't ever want to exercise. And teenage girls have always loathed school games. It's a tradition.

Yet these days it is a life and death issue. So make sure your girls have PE kit they feel comfortable with, explain to them why you are doing it and give them masses of feedback and encouragement – but be on their case until they can't hold out any longer. They won't thank you, but one day their bodies might.

Readers' advice

Children who are not good at games often hate PE lessons, and teachers make it worse by making them feel left out and inadequate. Are your lessons really inclusive? You could ask the less active ones to help put out the equipment. And you could ask their advice about getting everyone involved.

You could work with them on individual exercise targets. If there are competitive games with other schools, try putting them in charge of leading the cheering squad. I have seen these things work in a number of schools, for boys and girls alike. A lot of it is about breaking down barriers.

Jerry Overstaith, Leicestershire

My children's school does morning exercises in the playground three times a week – including the teachers, the caretaker and some dinner helpers. Why don't secondary schools do this? Your pupils would be used to moving around and you wouldn't be doing your job from a standing start.

Lila Torvell, Kent

I hid in the cloakroom during PE for years. My friends and I forged excuse notes for each other, and had our periods almost every week. The teachers turned a blind eye. We hated everything they tried to make us do. Now, most of us have small children and run around all day. I'm fitter than I've ever been. I even go to an exercise class. You will never make teenage girls do what they don't want to. It's a waste of effort.

Lara Larris, Surrey

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary, Has anyone ever seen a good film about teachers? If there were such a thing, what would be in it? I have just been to see Happy-Go-Lucky, and I could not believe what a false picture of teaching it painted. The girl who played the lead role was just not believable as a primary school teacher, despite all the rave reviews the film got.

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