PE and Sport Today talks to primary link teacher Lorraine Livingstone who, despite the inadequacies of PE training for primary teachers, has become something of a specialist

After being observed for the very first time, Lorraine Livingstone realised that it was possible to be a good PE teacher even if the PE part of her training had lasted only two hours and consisted entirely of the sort of activities more at home in a play centre or pantomime than on a playing field.

Trying not to fall off a bench as you arrange yourselves in alphabetical order with a beanbag on every head? Keeping your feet out of the way of the shark – or more to the point the overweight 45-year-old shark in a badly fitting jumpsuit – as it scrabbles about in the depths of an ocean looking suspiciously like a Day-Glo green parachute (pollution is really getting out of hand these days)? Then, of course, there’s the pièce de résistance, ‘la grande finale’ – bouncing up and down like a lunatic screaming ‘Look at me I’m a jumping bean’ at the top of your voice.  What else?

Although all of these activities might be ideal preparation if auditioning for the part of third Chuckle Brother, as a grounding for entry into the increasingly specialist world of high-quality PE and sport it’s like racing a certain world famous American athlete to the nearest chemists or trying to join a tennis club if you haven’t got much cash. One way or another you are bound to come up short.

Yet despite the inadequacies of her initial teacher training, Lorraine still managed to pass her NQT observation with flying colours. In fact, her teacher-mentor said it was one of the best PE lessons she had ever seen and even scribbled down a few pointers with which to improve her own lessons. Six years later and Lorraine is still at Bierton Church of England Combined School, Buckinghamshire, teaching nothing but PE. For three days a week she covers PPA time for both Key Stage 1 and 2 teachers – taking 75 per cent of the children’s PE entitlement. Headteacher Irene Corns is delighted: “Standards in physical education have never been higher and there is more interest in extra-curricular sport than ever before.”

Before she started teaching, Lorraine was already a netball coach, working on the active sports programme with local nine- and 10-year-olds. Not only did this give her an insight into basic throwing, catching and spatial awareness – which are the bedrock of early sporting development – but it meant that she was already used to organising and leading physical activity sessions for large groups of young children. There was potential for development, and, before long, Lorraine was applying her netball expertise to other areas. Sir Clive Woodward might be having as many problems convincing the entrenched attitudes within certain sports that an elite development programme for an 18-year-old female golfer can be adapted to form the basis of widespread success across the Olympic sports – just as he did convincing stalwarts such as Harry Redknapp and George Burley that there really wasn’t that much difference between games played with the oval and the round ball. But at grassroots level, ideas about generic underlying physical imperatives common to all forms of activity are well established.

Lorraine used this to her advantage as she taught herself how to be a primary PE specialist.  With some input along the way from her school sport coordinator – who modelled and team-taught lessons in her least confident area, gymnastics – Lorraine was able to build up comprehensive schemes of work for all areas of the PE curriculum. “One area we wanted to improve upon was assessment,” she said. “It is important that children realise they are not just having an extra hour’s playtime and so I constantly remind them that they are being assessed at the end of every unit and insist that children regularly analyse their own and each other’s work.”

The school even has level descriptors on the hall wall to remind the children of what they are aiming for. There are also 18 different extra-curricular sporting clubs for children to choose from and among them there is not the slightest sign of any sharks, jumpsuits or beanbag balancing. Rumour does have it, however, that from time to time the occasional jumping bean has been known to rear its head.