Guest Blog by Margaret Whitehead – Two hours of Physical Education no longer statutory and funding for Olympic athletes

I am shocked by the government move to give schools the responsibility to allocate time for physical education. The reason is extraordinary, being that in order to follow the two hour requirement, schools had been ‘filling’ physical education time with activities such as yoga and circus skills. While I feel that this relates to only a minority of schools, I see no reason why, if they increase leaner motivation, such activities should not be included. Many young people want to experience a wide range of physical challenges and may well be disillusioned by ‘more of the same’. Some of the most successful physical education programmes cover a wide variety of activities within and outside curriculum time to meet the interests and needs of all learners.

I can see no positive outcome for this change in policy – only that there will be less time for any sort of physical activity in school – and this at a time when we desperately need to promote activity to make a contribution to fighting the rise in obesity.

It was interesting to hear on the radio this morning that the reason why Australia has so few medals in the 2012 Olympics is that their Government is not investing money in elite sport. I find this revealing as Australia has strong physical education and should not, perhaps, need so much funding to produce top athletes. It all goes to show that government cannot point the finger at physical education when we do not win medals. Undoubtedly we play a major part in laying the foundation for elite sports performance, but, in my view it is not our job to train Olympians. Our job is surely to encourage every learner with whom we work to have the motivation, confidence, physical competence and knowledge and understanding to value physical activity and to continue with active participation after they leave school. In other words to be physically literate.

I return to my first point, I believe that to foster this commitment to activity, we need enough time in school and also we need to use that time imaginatively to motivate all our learners. There is much more that could be said on this topic. What do you think?

This post was contributed by Professor Margaret Whitehead.

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  1. Comment from the Association for Physical Education (afPE): Sadly we agree, however, 2hrs PE was never compulsory, only an aspiration which schools reported on in the school sport survey

  2. Although 2hrs of PE is only an aspiration, in Scotland many of our schools implement a twice a week PE timetable. I currently work in a school which works on 55 minute periods so the pupils have on average 80 minutes a week of physical activity. I believe this to be a good representation of our governments aspirations. With PE being the flagship of health and well-being under our curriculum we now have a major part to play with regard to health and social education alongside the encouragement to engage in sport. We also create an open and flexible timetable around this so that pupils engage with a number of sports competitive team and individual as they progress through the years at the school.

  3. Let’s hope Welsh Government put their money where their mouth is and invest in Physical Literacy says the outcome of Physical education. The only way to make this a priority is to give PE the same status as Literacy and numeracy which is as they state, is as important a developmental skill. Following the really successful school sport survey, we have the evidence now that ability, confidence and friendships are the most important factors to young people when participating in PE and activity. This is surely our goal as physical educators?

  4. Already it is evident that many schools are reducing hours of ‘core PE’ in KS4 to provide further interventions for English and Maths. I know of some schools doing 0 hours of PE in KS4 and some that employ cover supervisors for PE lessons whilst their PE teachers take science, English or Maths to help get the best league table results! Ofstead inspections I have experienced in my 20 year career show little interest in PE, emphasising their lack of value for the subject so you can see why many short sighted Headteachers would take a similar view to the value of PE in the curriculum. Our Olympic legacy and the health of our children has been completely ignored by all of the recent changes in Education policy since 2012.