Is PE ‘Fit’ for Purpose?

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is pe fit for purpose

Is PE ‘Fit’ for Purpose?

After many years of teaching PE and realising my ambition as a Head of Department, I recently found myself questioning my own future within education. I had lessons taken away and given to more ‘academic subjects’, I was seeing the same students at every extra-curricular club and our own student voice surveys told us that a proportion of students were either not enjoying PE or did not see the value in it.

My feelings and experiences were being echoed nationally with…

  • Only 51% of students strongly agreed to enjoying sport (Sport England, 2019).
  • 1 in 10 children suffer with a mental health disorder (MHF, 2019).
  • 7% of young people met the Chief Medical Officers recommendation of 60 minutes’ physical activity per day (Sport England, 2019).
  • 38% of secondary schools had cut PE lesson time to allow more time for more ‘academic’ subjects like English and Maths. (YST, 2018).
  • Only 10% of students are considered to be ‘Sports Enthusiasts’ (Sport England, 2017). The remaining 90% are not solely motivated by competitive sport.

Like much of the UK, my sport-driven curriculum was failing to meet the needs of my students, nurture physical literacy and more selfishly meet my own personal ‘why’.

Looking forwards

Following extensive research, conversations with many other physical educators and numerous hours spent reflecting I realised that the future of PE could in fact be very different. I was inspired by the work of Julie Stern (Stern, J., et. al., 2021) around conceptual learning, Margaret Whitehead and Liz Durden-Myers’ work on physical literacy and practitioners including Alan Dunn, Lewis Keens (The Infinite Leaders) and Will Swaithes. I now understood that PE has an opportunity like never before to re-examine what our subject has to offer.

33% of students have poor body confidence (Youth Sport Trust, 2019), so let’s teach self-esteem and self-worth. 92% of students suffer from exam stress, so coping skills, resilience and mental health units are a must. Inactivity and childhood obesity are higher than ever, so planning and delivering units of work on diet and long-term benefits of physical activity are essential. Competition for jobs is tougher now so why not teach employability skills, leadership, communication and interpersonal skills?  All of this could be achieved through PE and conceptual learning.

I knew I either had to leave physical education or I had to try and change it. So, that’s what I did, I set out to change the future of PE in my school, forever. I wanted to prepare every student for life through with a renewed approach to my PE curriculum design, and so I set about creating a concept curriculum with some colleagues who shared my passion for creating a more meaningful PE offer, and I haven’t looked back.

About the author

Lee Sullivan – @Lee_Sullivan85

Head of Physical Education
Upton Court Grammar School

Preparing students for life through physical education is Lee’s ‘why’ and this value was the main motivation for creating this concept-driven curriculum. Currently a Head of Department and formerly a pastoral Leader, Lee grew frustrated with a PE curriculum focused on sport and performance. Lee realised that a curriculum obsessed with sporting ability was not only failing to meet the needs of most students, it was putting them off physical activity altogether. He knew PE had the power to be so much more. By shifting the learning in a PE lesson to focus on concepts rather than sport specific skills, Lee has created a positive and meaningful PE environment that better nurtures physical literacy and develops positive attitudes towards physical activity.

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