Given the recent worrying reports on the continuing decline in our children’s activity, is it not about time that the Scottish Government recognised that physical education is as much a specialism as every other subject?
Under this Scottish Government, since 2011, the number of PE teachers in Scotland has decreased dramatically, by 17 per cent. That is a major area of concern that was raised with me by teachers at the recent Scottish PE teachers conference. The commitment to provide two periods of PE in schools is hugely devalued if specialist teachers do not take the class. Will the cabinet secretary take the physical education of our schoolchildren seriously, recruit more primary school PE teachers and reverse that decline in teacher numbers?
This is not the first time that I have answered a question from Mr Whittle on the issue of physical education in schools, and I am genuinely perplexed about what he is trying to achieve, given the way in which he characterises the issue. If I can summarise what I have just heard—which is what I heard the last time that Mr Whittle questioned me on the subject—it was essentially a pretty negative assessment of the presence of physical education in our schools.
This morning, I have opened two primary schools—the fact that I opened two brand-new schools just this morning goes to show that the Government is building a lot of schools in our country. Both of those schools champion the use of the daily mile as part of the young people’s physical education activity. If the daily mile is not good enough for Mr Whittle, I do not understand his point, because the daily mile is part of the physical activity of young people in our schools and is part of their activity.
There is another question that the Conservatives need to wrestle with. Last week—it might have been the week before—Liz Smith came to the chamber to demand that we had specialist science teachers in our primary schools. At the same time, the Conservatives come here and demand that we have more of a focus on literacy and numeracy in primary schools.
Far be it from me to point out that the Conservatives seem to be all over the place in their approach to primary education in Scotland. Worse still, they are prepared to devalue and belittle the commitment of the teaching profession to encourage—
Well, they seem to be prepared to belittle and demean the amount of activity and the concentration on exercise in our schools. If Mr Whittle wants to influence the debate, he could take a more constructive approach to doing so.
The focus on the daily mile is an integral part of encouraging young people to become involved in daily and regular exercise and to take an interest in their wellbeing. Of course, it is an integral part of the broad general education to encourage young people to be more aware of their health and wellbeing. It also contributes directly to ensuring that young people exercise regularly, which we all know to be of significant benefit. The commitment that has been made to the daily mile initiative and the support that has been demonstrated for it are integral parts of advancing the agenda of encouraging young people to be active and benefit as a consequence.