Physical education, physical activity and school sport

This briefing provides information on policies and practice relating to physical education, physical activity and school sport in England.

PE in the National Curriculum

PE is a compulsory subject under the National Curriculum at all key stages; National Curriculum programmes of study outline what should be taught at each key stage. Local authority maintained schools are required to follow the National Curriculum; academies and free schools do not have to follow it but are required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the physical development of pupils.

Funding for PE and school sport

Funding for school PE and sport forms part of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), which is not broken down by subject or curriculum area.

Since 2013-14, ring-fenced funding outside of DSG has also been provided to primary schools through the Primary PE and Sport Premium. From 2017-18, revenue from the soft drinks industry levy has been used to double the value of the premium from £160 million to £320 million. The Government has committed to providing the funding up to 2020. Funding after this will be determined by the Spending Review.

In February 2017, the Government announced that that £415 million of funding from the soft drinks industry levy would be allocated to schools in 2018-19 to “pay for facilities to support physical education, after-school activities and healthy eating.” The funding was referred to as the Healthy Schools Capital Programme. In July 2017, the Education Secretary announced that the funding available for the Programme would be reduced from £415 million to £100 million to part fund an additional £1.3 billion for the core schools budget in 2018-19 and 2019-20. The £100 million has been allocated through the current arrangements for schools capital funding for 2018-19.

School playing fields

From October 2012, new regulations have applied to the provision of outdoor space by schools. These require that suitable outdoor space must be provided to enable “pupils to play outside” and “physical education to be provided to pupils in accordance with the school curriculum”.

Local authorities and schools must seek the consent of the Secretary of State when seeking to dispose of publicly funded school land, including playing fields. Guidance on the disposal of school playing fields, which was updated in March 2019, sets out the relevant legislation and procedure relating to the disposal of school land.

2015 Sport Strategy

In December 2015, the Government published a new sport strategy, Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation. Regarding school sport, the strategy emphasised the importance of linking together the different stages of education and “more clearly join[ing] up the overall approach”. The strategy also contained a number of specific commitments relating to sport in schools.

School Sport Action Plan

In July 2019, the Government published a School Sport and Activity Action Plan. The Plan sets out an ambition that all children should have access to 60 minutes of physical activity every day, with at least 30 minutes taking place in schools and the remaining 30 minutes taking place outside school.

The Plan outlines a number of actions and commitments relevant to schools, including (but not limited to):

  • In September 2020, the Government will launch a series of regional pilots to trial innovative approaches to increasing activity levels within and outside school.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) will provide £500,000 to “test new approaches to improve the strategic direction and delivery of PE and school sport through the use of teaching schools.”
  • Sport England will provide £1 million of National Lottery funding to develop a new digital resource for use in schools, to be launched in 2020, with the aim of empowering girls and building their confidence.
  • The DfE will look at how to provide schools with a toolkit to support effective use of the PE and Sport Premium.
  • The DfE will look at how Initial Teacher Training equips PE teachers to deliver high quality lessons.

The Government stated that an updated version of the Plan will be published later in 2019, after the Spending Review.

Data on children’s physical activity levels

In December 2018 Sport England published the first set of data from its Active Lives Children and Young People Survey. The report summarised the activity levels of 5-16 year olds in England in the 2017-18 academic year.

Among other things, the report found that 17.5% of children are achieving the recommended 60 minutes of sport and physical activity a day, with 32.9% doing less than an average of 30 minutes a day. Activity levels were also found to vary by sex, family affluence, and ethnicity.