This post has come off the back of reading some shared research by @DrAshCasey on his website PEPRN. Dr Casey is reviewing academic thinking about and around physical education, from a new title in the Routledge series, Major Themes in Education, which is edited by David Kirk of the Institute for Sport and Physical Activity Research at the University of Bedfordshire. Through sharing and giving his own reflections he invites all practitioners to share comments. The most recent post was about whether health was a major driver within Physical Education, or is doing more important than knowing and understanding. I recommend this website for any PE teacher really wanting to think about their practice and challenge the norms and stereotypes that seem to have developed within Physical Education.
It struck a real cord with me as it’s been something of a hot topic of debate within our department, as being an academy, we have the chance to develop a curriculum we feel is right for our students.
What is our main purpose?
A few days ago the Head of PE and myself spent a long afternoon thrashing out what we thought was our ultimate purpose in PE was. We agreed that the main purpose we would want from our curriculum is to ensure ‘that every students has the theoretical knowledge and practical understanding on why and how they should live an active and healthy lifestyle.’ Our desire is that that any student who leaves our school in Year 11 or Year 13 knows how to stay fit and healthy in a variety and a combination of ways; skill related exercise, health related exercise and a healthy and balance diet. We also want them to know the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle and also the potential and associated risks if the don’t follow one and those associated with smoking, drinking and drug taking. We do not want them to leave school ignorant. We do not want them to say 20 years down the line ‘nobody told me this would happen if i didn’t live a healthy and active lifestyle.’ It isn’t enough for children to do the exercise, they need to understand the reasons behind it and what are the positives and negatives of doing it. School shouldn’t be the place where children exercise, it should be the place where they learn how and why they should exercise. The doing is an added bonus!
Other hopeful outcomes
I’d hope our approach with students over the course of their education would encourage them to lead an active life after school, but sometimes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t get them to exercise. There are obviously other outcomes we would like to provide students involved in Physical Education at our school, but we feel they must come secondary to basic knowledge and understanding of a healthy and lifestyle. However some must be addressed to achieve our main purpose. They are:
1. Develop Physical Literacy. This is a term that has been derided by other staff outside of the PE Dept, but we think it suits our needs and the students understanding of what we are trying to achieve. We see Physical Literacy as a way of developing the competence in a range of movements. Those basic fundamental movements are what deeper technical skills are based on, and without them children lack the confidence to move and to try new things or to put them in an environment of competition. This is incredibly important for our school. When I took over the department 5 years ago I brought in baseline assessment, to give us a rough idea of where primary school has got them. We test aerobic fitness and resilience in the Coopers Test (this is explained to them as a test of aerobic fitness, a strong indicator of health. The result isn’t what matters, but the improvements they make over their time at school do. We shall also teach them many ways of how they can improve this aspect of health as well as the others). A strength test, a creativity test through gymnastics, basic fundamental skills tests of passing, catching, throwing, kicking and striking and to see what they are like in an invasion game (Gaelic Football so it is new to all students). In the 5 years our average intake scores have gone down across the board in the tests. The average Coopers Test has dropped. Over 50% of an intake year cannot hold their own body weight or perform a forward roll. Throwing, catching and kicking test results have gone down and finally the number of non-swimmers has increased on average from 1 per class to 6 per class. This year I was amazed when I found out only 4 out of 112 boys had ever touched a rugby ball in their life.
2. Find an activity they enjoy and engage with it in someway outside of the classroom. This links very much to what we think is the main outcome of PE should be. It will encourage participation and an active lifestyle and all the health benefits associated (and social and academic benefits if the research is right). However it will ensure that pupils understand what options they have outside of school to keep active and healthy. In a time of PRP, leaving GCSE, BTEC and A-Level results aside, I think PE teachers should be judged on the number of students who leave them and are active throughout their lives. Therefore we think a curriculum should be much more focused on breadth, flexibility and choice then depth and mastery in one sport. We need to give students a range of activities, not just the traditional British sports of rugby, football and cricket (which I personally love). Wrestling, lacrosse, dance (yes Ken Robinson, Dance!), gymnastics, swimming, waterpolo, athletics, yoga, pilates, judo, circuit training, basketball, badminton, tennis, korfball, dodgeball. I still believe that having a full range of activities will develop these fundamental motor skills that are important for confidence and competence. I will continue to believe that, until someone can show me evidence that specialising in a chosen sport ensures participation in a long, healthy and active lifestyle beyond school. We also need to ensure that they get the chance to experience these sports in a range of roles, not just as a performer, which is why Sport Education and Sports Leaders need to be considered. One area we don’t do very well is the link between school and club, especially for the activities we don’t offer outside of the curriculum. We’ve had success with one or two students joining a gymnastics, swimming or table tennis club, but through feedback from questionnaires there are still a lot of students who do nothing outside of lessons. I’d be interested to hear how other schools have built up an excellent school/club link in a variety of activities.
3. Develop ‘soft skills’, ‘Building Learning Power’, ’emotional intelligence’, ‘the other half’ or whatever the latest initiative wants to call it. Leadership, communication, resilience; both mental and physical, observation, feedback, analysis, working as an individual, working as a team, planning and reflection. The list can go on. Without doubt, that if approached in the right way, Physical Education can help develop some or all of these skills. For our students who are cerebral, highly academic and live most of the time in their heads, development of these skills needs to be an essential part of their whole educational experience. Don’t get me wrong. I believe the main purpose of education is to develop the intellect, however I also believe the brain and the body are not two separate entities. They work best together as one and we need to look after both them as one in education.
The next stage is to develop a curriculum that allows the delivery of all those outcomes for our students. We would also like to develop a curriculum that allows some choice and flexibility as our students get older. That thought process will be the next step.