The status of PE in schools needs a ‘radical shake up, and should be valued in the same way as core academic subjects’ says a recent All Party Parliamentary Group in a report on a fit and healthy childhood. The group recommends a personalised PE programme for each individual child and states 21st century PE should reflect different opportunities for the many ways children express themselves physically and should move away from ‘skill, drill lessons’.
The report says the way forward is to give children greater opportunities to explore the type of physical activity that best suits them. It says the way to do this is by increasing the number of specialist PE teachers in primary schools.
It calls for a radical shake-up to recognise the status, credibility and contribution PE and other performing arts can make to children and their learning.
A subject specific pathway cannot be seen as a shake-up – this route has been taken for many years in the secondary sector with minor forays into cross curricular connections and alignment –but we still see too many inactive, overweight and physically immature/disengaged children in our schools.
I believe that to be effective the shake-up needs to focus on how we see each child and their learning, with personal development, behaviour and wellbeing central to their achievement. Personalised supported outcomes of learning success can develop from this starting point.
Where there is a bias towards subject specialism, PE can be seen as separate to other learning areas. Decision making, understanding the implications of environment changes, team work, leadership, co-operation and having ‘body presence’ may be left back in the changing room. Outcomes of being ‘physical’ will still link to skill specific areas of catching quicker, kicking harder, throwing further and working with others or against them.
The physical domain is a prime area from which other learning dimensions can be driven. The Early Years curriculum has the child at the centre of learning with communication and language; physical development and personal social and emotional development as prime areas of learning – without which children will not be able to learn effectively the specific areas of mathematics, literacy, understanding the world and expressive arts and design.
If the primary curriculum was based on this whole school cross curriculum approach we would not need specialist staff delivering PE but staff who know about children and the key components of the prime areas of learning like nutrition, physical activity, health, sporting participation, sporting pathways and body movement. All these contribute to a child’s physical development and understanding about the need to be healthy and physically active.
I am passionate about physical education and everything it can offer a child and their learning but I am even more passionate about getting the curriculum and the people who deliver it right for the children and their physical development. Who delivers learning opportunities is a decision for school leaders and governors.
The solution may be to personalise the provision using staff from school, or to use external providers – people who can offer professional guidance and who have a wider view of schools, their curriculum, and an understanding of the learning needed to be ‘fit and healthy’.
Having a personalised programme for each individual child is about a 21st century curriculum offering different opportunities for the many ways children express themselves and learn.
We should move away from ‘skill, drill lessons’ and instead consider what are the prime critical areas of knowledge and understanding a child needs and be able to articulate clearly what this looks like for effective physical development and then consider the best strategy and people to deliver it.
Over the last decade millions of pounds have been given to primary schools to spend on improving PE - it is time for a radical shake up but this shake up needs more than one person in a school offering a solution.
It is time for that radical shake-up.