The minister said she wants to encourage students to be involved in physical activity right through their school years.
“I’ve asked for the curriculum to be looked at in terms of making PE a subject for the Leaving,” Ms O’Sullivan told the Herald. “That’s being worked on now.
“There is a whole issue around physical activity and ensuring that young people are active while they are in school.
“We have a lot of new measures in the primary sector – we have Active School Week, for example – and encouraging activity generally and PE has an allocation of time.
“But I wanted to value it in the senior cycle as well.”
Fergal Lyons, president of the Physical Education Association of Ireland, said the plan is a very welcome move.
“The big picture that PE as a subject for Leaving Cert is wonderful and it is a huge step forward,” he said. “But there is another side to it.
“The student who takes PE as a Leaving Cert subject is most likely a good athlete, a good sportsperson. The danger is that the rest of the students who aren’t interested in PE aren’t assessed.
“If PE comes in as an exam subject, the real focus should be on PE outside exams.
“It is our job to educate students about healthy living, being physically active.
“I’m sure those who developed it [for the curriculum] have developed a great deal of theory and it will be a challenging course.
“We need to look at what we are preparing our students for in life. It’s only half the battle.”
Mr Lyons said the Department of Education needs to introduce some form of physical activity as a mandatory subject throughout school-going years.
“They have started taking steps to make PE compulsory at junior cycle but not at senior cycle,” he said.
“The only way is to make physical education and health studies mandatory throughout school years.
“A huge amount of schools don’t offer any PE classes, they offer study time instead.
“The minimum recommended time of physical activity is two hours per week, but there is no pressure on schools to do this.
“Those hours should be for those students to improve activity levels.”
Mr Lyons said the minister’s proposal needs the full support of the unions.
“I would like to see it rolled out, but there needs to be a shift in how we assess our Leaving Cert,” he said.
“There is a thought that it might be using PE as the forerunner for continuous assessment, which is a minefield.”
Fitness consultant Pat Henry said that the move would be of huge benefit to children.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I think it’s great to bring it in as part of the curriculum, but it should have the support of parents.
“I think it will encourage everyone to get physically active if you get the points in PE.
“I do think that schools have an obligation to encourage physical activity and must ensure that it is under instruction.”
Although research suggests that girls traditionally drop out of physical activity in the senior cycle whereas boys continue in team sports, Mr Henry said schools are investing in gym facilities and classes for all students.
“We have a lot of girls’ schools that we give lectures to on healthy eating and exercise and there are aerobics and fitness classes that are huge for girls now,” he said.
“If the parents get behind this initiative and stop serving junk, if the schools stop serving junk food, it would make such a difference.”