Letters: Tough exercise regimes don't always deliver results

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TARGETING FITNESS

I was heartened to read about the steps being taken by St Paul's Primary in Camden to improve the fitness of its pupils ("The running battle to boost fitness", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 3 April). However, I would like to point out that a tough exercise regime does not deliver results with all children, particularly those who are older and have become disengaged with physical activity.

At Fit For Sport, we provide activity programmes for over 10,000 children of all ages and abilities, and run the Fitter Schools UK Challenge, which, last year, saw over a million children improve their fitness by 14.5 per cent. Our approach is to set children a series of simple, achievable targets to get them to make real and lasting changes to their activity levels. Being able to meet targets improves a child's confidence and encourages them to set gradually more ambitious goals.

As a former PE teacher, I would also like to back up Roger Black's comments on the problem of quantifying school PE activity. The two-hour target set by the Government can, in practice, mean anything as low as 30 minutes, as many schools need to travel to specific sites to take part in activities, set up equipment and explain the lesson. All this could be broadly described as physical education but is not physical activity.

I would urge the Government to take steps towards making the assessment of PE targets clearer and independently judged so that we have a real picture of children's activity levels and can act to combat those areas where children are not getting enough exercise. Anything less than this undermines the Government's commitment to reducing childhood obesity and improving the health of our children.

Dean Horridge, managing director, Fit For Sport, London, W14

The next generation already has low levels of fitness. There is now an increasing obesity problem and next, physical illiteracy will be the new crisis to be faced. Eventually, the vicious circle created by all three will bankrupt the National Health Service.

There have been enormous changes in society since I taught in the late Seventies and Eighties that have not been dealt with effectively by those responsible. There have been some promising reforms recently under the stewardship of Sue Campbell [chair of UK Sport], but there is still a problem with the training for and delivery of PE, sport and dance in schools.

There is a definite skills gap between a qualified teacher's ability to teach PE and the lower-qualified NGB coach to teach a full class of pupils rather than coach a smaller squad of motivated players.

Too many schools are no longer able to solve by themselves the challenges of teaching PE, sport and dance. The time has come for them and their policy-makers to embrace more positively the support of outside providers.

Graham Morgan, director, Evolve Education, Bingley, West Yorkshire

STUDENT FUNDING

Like most university tutors, I have met plenty of students whose worries about debt seriously affect their academic work, and some who have withdrawn from courses as a result. As Bahram Bekhradnia says (Comment, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 3 April), the present system of giving maintenance loans to students and charging them tuition fees hits those from poor families much harder than others. He gives moral support to proposals to modify the present arrangements in a way that, he acknowledges, will lead to further "major losers".

Instead, he should be arguing for a truly progressive system whereby tuition is free at the point of delivery to all students, and maintenance grants are available for those students whose parents do not have adequate resources to maintain them.

Of course, in such a system the tuition – and maintenance – would not really be "free" because it would be paid for through enhanced tax on higher rates of income. It would be fair because graduates who choose highly remunerative careers, such as the top echelons of the Civil Service, say, or merchant banking, would (rightly) pay back more than those who served society in less well-paid jobs, perhaps as social workers or teachers.

Would it be fair to apply this increased income tax to all higher-rate earners, including to those who had not themselves received a university education? Yes, of course! Graduates and non-graduates alike, we all depend daily on the skills of university graduates – providing electricity at the flick of a switch, designing and maintaining our computers, engineering our transport systems, teaching our children, healing us when sick...

The arrangements would be similar to those from which I benefited as a student and which I guess Bekhradnia similarly enjoyed. Politicians and economists tell us that we are much richer now than we were then, so let's invest more of this wealth in the education of young people.

David Packham, Materials Research Centre, University of Bath

I dispute the statement that the funding of UK higher education is "among the most progressive in the world". "Progressive" implies that the better-off pay proportionately more of their incomes, and the less well-off proportionately less. Only in the first years after graduation will this be true of tuition-fees repayment. Thereafter, the system becomes sharply regressive: less well-off graduates will repay proportionately more of their lifetime incomes.

Contrast the fortunes of two groups of graduates. The first, no more than 20 per cent, likely to be children of the better-off, will graduate from universities that are targeted by employers offering top salaries, golden hellos, generous annual increments and bonuses. Helped by their parents in many cases, they will probably repay their debts in a few years, and these repayments will be a tiny proportion of their lifetime earnings.

The second group, many from less-privileged backgrounds, having attended mostly "local" universities, will start on significantly lower salaries, and can expect modest real salary growth. They will be penalised for decades, 25 years in many cases, paying effectively a 40 per cent tax rate on lower earnings. This will hit hardest when, aged around 30, they cannot get on the housing market and will be heavily taxed to finance health and pensions for the extended lifespans of their elders.

This is regressive, unfair taxation, taking a higher proportion of lifetime earnings from lower-paid graduates. Let us reconsider the alternative originally favoured, we are told, by the former Chancellor, now Prime Minister: uncouple student tuition from personal debt, and introduce a graduate tax instead.

Lawrence Lockhart, Bath

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