Physical Education

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 2 December 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour 12:00, 2 December 2010

To ask the First Minister when the Scottish Government will meet the Scottish National Party's manifesto pledge to ensure two hours of PE in schools. (S3F-2757)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I know that Bill Butler would be the first to acknowledge that the number of schools delivering two hours of physical education in primary has gone up from 5 per cent under Labour to 55 per cent now. What is more, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education reports that about 60 per cent of secondaries are delivering two periods of physical education, generally of 50 or 55 minutes each. That is a significant improvement, but we want to do even better. That is why we have embedded the physical education pledge within the new curriculum and made delivery of the curriculum part of the budget deal that we have struck—apart from with Labour—with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour

The First Minister might recall that the SNP's 2007 manifesto stated:

"we will ensure that every pupil has 2 hours of quality PE each week delivered by specialist PE teachers."

In reality, all that the SNP has ensured over the past three and a half years is that fewer children have two hours of PE than when it took office. In 2006-07, it was 43 per cent, which declined to 37 per cent in 2009-10. That decline applies across the school system with an especially deplorable fall in special school provision from 14 per cent to 10 per cent last year.

Given that, in his own back yard, Aberdeenshire Council stands 25th out of the 32 local authorities at primary level and is bottom of the league in respect of secondary provision, will the First Minister do the decent thing and apologise to parents and children throughout Scotland for yet another broken SNP promise?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

First, I remind Bill Butler of the real figures and just a little bit of history. I was not in this Parliament, although Bill Butler was, when Labour's Peter Peacock, the then Minister for Education and Young People, made the pledge in 2004. The Labour Party then surveyed schools in 2005, which resulted in the finding that 5 per cent of primaries were allocating two hours to PE. Even by Bill Butler's arithmetic, he will surely come to the conclusion that 55 per cent now is 50 per cent greater than 5 per cent under the Labour Party. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I forgot to mention another important point. In response to the 5 per cent finding, the Labour Party's dramatic action was to cease having any surveys.

I will mention just one more little bit of counting. In Labour's last year—2006—there were 1,963 physical education teachers in Scotland. Under the Scottish National Party, there are now 2,017, which is more than 1,963.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Notwithstanding and certainly not understating the serious consequences arising from the prevailing wintry conditions referred to earlier, does the First Minister share my delight at seeing Scotland's schoolchildren enjoying fresh air and vigorous exercise in the snow? Does he agree that winter sports should be on the school curriculum and that that would undermine the resistance of some children to compulsory exercise?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

May I always agree with Christine Grahame whenever I am able to, which is surprisingly often. Like me, she agrees that one of the key things happening now is that the active schools programme is continuing in Scotland, which is an extraordinary contrast with the attempt to abolish the schools sports partnership in England. Yet again, we see in that contrast real commitment to deal with these difficult times and to prioritise physical education in Scotland, whereas south of the border, the Con-Dem coalition seems to be in considerable difficulty on that and many other issues.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Does the First Minister agree that, as well as getting enough PE in schools, it is important that children are able to get it in their local communities? Does he further agree that it is important that decision makers such as Edinburgh Leisure, which is currently considering the future of Kirkliston leisure centre in my constituency, have regard to the medium and long-term health benefits of sport and resist the temptation to accept closures as a short-term fix? Will the First Minister support the work being undertaken across the community to try to secure that important sports facility for an ever-expanding village?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I agree with some of the tenor of that question, but I know that the member would be the first to recognise that public services in Scotland—this Government, local authorities and every public service—are under extraordinary budget pressure at present. As I recall, the source of that budget pressure comes from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in London, which is handing down severe public sector cuts to Scotland that are a third greater even than the extraordinary cuts suggested by Alistair Darling when he was in office. Although I agree with the tenor of the member's question, let us recognise that every public authority is under severe budgetary pressure at present.