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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February, 2005, 12:34 GMT
Pupils set to learn cheerleading
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter

US cheerleaders
Cheerleading is popular in US high schools and colleges
A head teacher is hoping to offer US-style cheerleader training to get teenage girls more interested in PE.

Georgiana Sale, who runs Blakeston School, Stockton-on-Tees, already puts on salsa and trampolining classes.

She told BBC News that "pom-pom teachers" would encourage more pupils to take up health-improving exercise.

A survey of 508 pupils and parents by a supermarket chain has found that most think having more variety in PE lessons would promote enthusiasm for sport.


Of the parents interviewed by Sainsbury's, 79% thought martial arts classes, traditionally seen as an after-school activity, would be popular.

Many said the same of aerobic activities "disguised" as trampoline classes or dance classes.

At Blakeston School, which has been a specialist sports college since September, the latter two are already on offer.

Salsa dancers
Salsa has already encouraged more girls to take exercise

Ms Sale said: "As girls get older, many become less interested in competitive sport.

"Trampolining and dancing have proved very popular and we've tried stuff like orienteering and canoeing.

"With each little activity we get a few more children interested. Cheerleading would definitely help our efforts."

Health benefits

Among children aged six to 15 in England, obesity rates trebled from 5% in 1990 to 16% in 2001.

Health experts blame this on falling levels of exercise.

To fight the trend, Blakeston has installed a 100,000 multi-gym, open to adults in the evening.

A male PE teacher who specialises in dance has also been taken on, in the hope more boys will take up the activity.

Ms Sale is hoping to offer martial arts classes, as soon as a qualified trainer can be found.

She said: "I'm the least sporty person you could imagine but I'm very much into dance.

"I went to Cuba on holiday when I was 30 and discovered Salsa and I've loved doing it ever since."

Improving results

Ms Sale pushed for Blakeston to become a sports college, raising the 50,000 in sponsorship needed to become a specialist school.

Set in an economically deprived area, where the once-dominant petro-chemical industry has largely disappeared, the school saw it as a way to enthuse disaffected pupils.

Last year, just 23% of final-year pupils got five or more A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent. The national average was 53.7%.

However, the results in the latest mock exams suggest the figure will be nearer 40% this year.

Ms Sale is sure the boost to self-esteem and mental wellbeing which physical activity provides will further improve academic performance.

She said: "This is about raising standards across the curriculum. I'm using the extra money we get for specialist school status to ensure that.

"That's how I sold the idea to staff. Any physical activity and the self-esteem it produces - be it from football, dancing or cheerleading - will help."

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