Curriculum PE Teaching and Learning

UNESCO QPE Guidelines

UNESCO QPE GUIDELINES – How Teachers and Policy Makers can Invest in Quality Physical Education for All

This post is a summary of Dr. Dean Dudley’s excellent (free) webinar on the UNESCO Quality Physical Education Guidelines via Thompson Education. Dean was explaining about the QPE – Guidelines for Policy Makers document that he has been an advisor on. Although specifically produced for government level officials, Dean is advocating that teachers should not only be aware of policy and research, but also should be the driving force behind it. He calls this the ‘Nexus Deficit‘ where there is a disconnect in understanding between what PE can achieve and what it should achieve. His examples are of PE solving the obesity crisis or increasing academic achievement, which he feels is politically driven. If teachers were more aware of current research, then as practitioners we can be the driving force behind QPE.

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Here is the link to the webinar (along with many other free webinars) which I highly recommend you watch.

UNESCO and the development of its guidelines

UNESCO, which is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, was set up half a century ago and exists to bring creative intelligence to life; for it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace and the conditions for sustainable development must be built. United Nations have had a charter for delivering PE since 1978 – the Charter declares that the practice of physical education and sport is a fundamental right for all and forms an essential element of the education system

UNESCO, with the assistance of expert bodies and researchers, undertook a worldwide survey of School Physical Education to generate evidence-based data to inform the development of benchmark indicators on Quality Physical Education. This was then used to the QPE Guidelines.

So how do UNESCO define QPE? – Quality PE is the planned, progressive, inclusive learning experience that forms part of the curriculum in early years, primary and secondary education. In this respect, QPE acts as the foundation for lifelong engagement in physical activity and sport. The learning experience offered to children and young people though physical education lessons should be developmentally appropriate to help them acquire the psychomotor skills, cognitive understanding, and social and emotional skills they need to lead a physically active life.

Dean in his webinar unpicks the non-negotiables of the definition for us:

– inclusivity

– progressive (he believes the one size fits all model is failing our students)

– it has to occur across the schooling life (from early years to secondary)

– lifelong engagement must be the outcome – physical activity beyond the organisational structure of school

– holy trinity of learning in PE – cognitive, affective and pyschomotor aspects should all hold equal weight in QPE provision

Inclusion is the dominant theme of why we need to invest QPE:

Gender equality – PE has traditionally celebrated masculine traits such as aggressiveness and competitiveness – we as teachers must try to overcome this. Male and Female achievement must be equal in PE.

Disability – that PE can create empathy and also empower those with disabilities within their school and wider communities. We as teachers must seek ways to do this.

Minority groups – PE does allow us to break through language and cultural difference through the common values that are apparent in PE and Sport.

That as teachers of PE we must respond to inclusion immediately, that ‘physical education and sport can be used as a vehicle to promote the social inclusion of marginalised populations’

We must also try to move away from health and fitness driven exercise. The literature is creating a dichotomy that you can either have fun PE or you can have health orientated exercise. This no longer seems to hold true. A games or inquiry based Physical Education is probably the way forward (watch Dr. James Mandigo’s excellent webinar on Rethinking the Role of PE). The criticism of this constructivist approach in the past was that it didn’t increase physical activity, however a significant body of evidence is emerging that isn’t the case.

The next point made really does challenge my held beliefs that fun should be the driving force of PE at School. Actually what research seems to show is that competence in PE is miles ahead of enjoyment. Enjoyment in PE doesn’t track well to physical activity later in life, but perceived physical competence does. The child is motivated to interact with their environment because they know what they can and can’t do. Giving students the feeling that they can be successful and are aware of their own capabilities is a key driving force for activity beyond school and as teachers surely this must be our ultimate aim. However with regards to lack of enjoyment and therefore impediment in participating in PE, the 3 main areas are changing (and sanctions involved in changing), who the students work with in a group and the teacher persona for expectations within class. The good news is we as PE Teachers have the power to change them.

Common Conversations to promote inclusive QPE

Dean suggests that to ensure QPE is delivered that we need to be singing from the same hymn sheet and have common conversations. We need to advocate for education the ‘whole child’ or as Dean puts it ‘Educating the Renaissance’. Physical Literacy is a key part of this.

Physical Literacy is about developing Self confidence, Coordination, Control, Relationships, Health and Wellbeing. PL is a unique journey for every student which is based on monism, that the body and mind are not two separate entities and we need to educate both to achieve true potential. We can learn through our body as well as our mind. Improved Physical Literacy should be the outcome of a PE programme. This is a message I need to take on board as an advocate of PL. PL has the potential to be a game changer in delivering QPE.

There are two difficult aspects of PL that we need to be aware of. Firstly the competing definition of literacy. We use it to try to legitimise the academic nature of our subject. We need to be aware when we talk about PL that we mean:

  • Literacy as autonomous set of skills, (independent of context)
  • Applied, practised and situated (what is the social and cultural context and how does that progress)
  • As a learning process (not a defined state – continuum – forward and back) it is more about the process rather than the outcome
  • As text. (How do we give language and capacity so it overcomes the barrier in participation? We want to develop informed performers)

The second difficult aspect is measurement of PL as we can’t measure what we can’t see. Dean believes that current practice of measuring in PE is limited to existing narrow instruments or limited contexts such as FMS, skill criteria, PA, Fitness. However Dean believes that there are legitimate and observable manifestations of physical literacy that occur in your PE programmes.

Through building relationships, engaging in dialogue and developing deep understanding of your pupils a manifestation of PL will be observable. We can observe belief and not mastery. Belief is behavioural dependent and therefore we can observe it. He will explore this concept in more detail in his upcoming paper.

Another area that Dean feels we need to have common conversations on is linking physical activity with academic achievement. This is one I have stayed away having from my own school, as I believe it devalues the intellectualism you can gain within PE itself. He thinks that we are having the wrong conversations linked with physical activity. The only things we can be sure of with research at the moment is:

  • Daily PE programs have no negative effect on standardised tests scores
  • Improvement in concentration
  • Improvement in behaviour

He feels Hillman’s research is being used poorly to advocate for PE in the curriculum. It is not helpful to have pictures of brain scans to help us win the debate.

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Walking, which is a dynamic activity, occupies a lot of real estate of the brain. We should be concerned if our brains didn’t light up when exercising. There isn’t a robot that could beat a 6 year old in a dynamic environment, but there are calculators which can or chess software which can perform better than us. As Hattie points out nearly everything we do in schools has a positive effect on achievement. So the real question is ‘how’ much of a positive effect does PA? PA is well below what other things could offer so don’t base your argument on this. The argument that taking PE away helps standardised tests scores would probably beat us.

Areas QPE we should be advocating, that have greater benefit of students are:

  • the great capacity in improving social skills
  • decreasing student anxiety at school.
  • improve their motivation to attend school and their motivation to learn
  • we use play based learning – social and behavioural dynamics

Current research shows that School based PA programmes is a key to driver to improve attendance as it creates belonging and a sense of connectedness. It brings back students that are truanting and this links to benefits of attendance in schooling:

– life expectancy

– decrease NCD

– later pregnancy

– decreased risk taking behaviour

– increase work productivity

– investment to the economy

That is before we factor in the potential gains of a QPE programme

What can we as teachers do to make QPE happen?

  1. Promote high levels of PA during PE time
  2. Use active learning strategies with an emphasis on improving perceived physical competence – more than their enjoyment.
  3. Develop a broad range of movement skills/ patterns/activities
  4. Promote and assess social and personal skills/responsibility through inclusive teaching and learning practices
  5. Broaden the discussion and evidence base on the contribution QPE makes to health and learning Nexus Deficit

I think it important that we as teachers share the benchmarks of QPE of 120 mins a week for EYFS and Primary School and 180 mins a week at Secondary school with those in charge and policy makers. As PE teachers we need to have concentrated conversations with all stakeholders to ensure we combine our efforts to build a common vision of QPE.

By @ImSporticus

Lecturer in PE, Sport and Physical Activity. Helping others to flourish through movement.

3 replies on “UNESCO QPE Guidelines”

Thank you for summarizing the info. You have piqued my curiosity to go deeper. I am in agreement that we should stand true to OUR purpose and not capitulate to what others want to hear. I have no problem if what QPE delivers meets other stakeholders objectives as long as QPE objectives are met first. Thank you for continuing the conversation that is most important to our profession.


Hi Ron,

Thanks for your comments. We are faced daily with 100s of choices to make at school, when teaching, when interacting with students. We need to stand true to our purpose to help us make decisions that we value. I look forward to hearing from you and where your curiosity takes you.


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