What distinguishes Physical Literacy from Physical Education?


I often get asked what is the difference between physical education and physical literacy? I also have people say that physical literacy is just ‘good’ physical education. These comments have inspired me to write this blog where I try and distinguish what the difference is between physical literacy and physical education, considering where physical activity fits in too. Here are just a few thoughts….


  1. Physical education is the name of a subject whereas physical literacy is an overarching concept that embraces principles that can guide physical education practice.


  1. Physical literacy is not confined to school aged people it is a lifecourse concept, whereas physical education is primarily concerned with school aged people.


  1. Physical literacy has a philosophical and conceptual foundation (monism, existentialism and phenomenology) whereas physical education has no clearly defined philosophical underpinning.


  1. There are many concepts and practices within physical education can be contested, are confusing and misunderstood, yet we rarely spend time resolving these and clarifying principles that we share. Physical literacy however tries to provide a clear message around the concepts that inform it.


  1. In England, the last physical education national curriculum served as only a minimal framework that hardly provided the subject with a sense of direction or a vision of what is possible. Physical literacy however tries to provide a robust framework and sense of direction to guide practice and the promotion of physical activity.


  1. Physical literacy aims to galvanise multiple sectors to work towards a common goal of physical activity, health and wellbeing promotion. Whereas physical education is often left to achieve this aim by itself without whole school or indeed governmental support.



Physical education does have a huge role to play in promoting and nurturing physical literacy. Physical education when underpinned by the aim of promoting physical literacy is more likely to nurture positive attitudes and dispositions towards engagement in physical activity for life. Physical literacy can also help physical education improve its state and status within the current education system by clearly articulating its value in promoting healthy and flourishing young people, that will hopefully take this forward throughout their lifetime.

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