PE teachers left confused after mixed messages

PHYSICAL Education teachers across the North have been left confused
following on from a number of mixed messages from the Stormont Executive
which saw Education Minister Peter Weir implement a number of COVID-19
restrictions on the school subject, before making a complete U-turn on
the matter just 24-hours after the first announcement.
Francis Shaw, a PE Teacher at St Michael’s College, believes that the
timing of the Minister’s first announcement of restrictions was not very
fair on schools in giving them time to get prepared and he ponders
exactly what was behind the decision to implement restrictions on
outdoor sporting activities and to allow in-school classes to continue
as normal.
“The chaos surrounding the limitations on PE numbers, the way it was
communicated to schools on the morning of re-opening, the sheer
impracticality of implementing the guidance on the ground, and the hasty
retreat and reissuing of different guidelines just 48 hours later, all
speak of a Department and Minister totally out of touch with the reality
of the situation in schools.”
“The sheer ludicrousness of 25 or 30 children being ok sitting in a
classroom all day, but having to split into groups of less than 15
outdoors, to say nothing of what schools were supposed to do with the
remaining students, or how they would select who could and couldn’t
participate in each class would be comedic if it wasn’t symptomatic of
the type of confused and often nonsensical guidance which schools have
had to cope with since the start of the Pandemic. Thankfully our senior
leadership and the leaders in other schools have taken a practical and
common sense approach to PE since September, and that is greatly to
their credit.”
Last Tuesday morning, the Department of Education announced the decision
that they had secured a ‘legal change’ with no cap on attendee numbers
and Shaw believes that while this is a good relief for both teachers and
students across the country, he fears that the blanket ban on some
grassroots sports could have a very damaging impact on the health and
well-being of young people in years to come.
“Thankfully the reissued guidance was more sensible and measured but
quite why this was not what schools received in the first place begs
many questions of our so called ‘decision makers’. There is also the
hugely important question of the resumption on grassroots and schools’
sports as soon as possible.
“Many young people have missed out hugely on their sports for what is
now bordering on a full year with no clear evidence of the risks of
outdoor sports in particular provided. To give a few examples, the vast
majority of our athletes have not raced since last February, the
Ballinamallard U16 Team I help coach have played two competitive games
in that period and a whole cohort of U15 GAA players have had their
season completely wiped out by Covid restrictions.”
“When the NI Executive announce their decision on current restrictions,
due this week, I sincerely hope that competitive grassroots support,
obviously with appropriate restrictions and safeguards, will be allowed
again, or a whole generation will be lost to healthy physical activity,
with all the problems that will bring to the NHS down the line.
“Everyone in sport understands the need to protect ourselves and society
from Covid, but the lack of logic and evidence based decision making in
many of the existing restrictions, actually serves to undermine the
entire message and has been hugely confusing and damaging.”

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