My 100th post slipped me by unnoticed, so for my 101st I thought I would touch upon and bring together some of my previous thoughts:
Introducing myself to the head of French on my first day of school I say, “I’m the new PE teacher”. Her response is to point to the other side of the staff room and reply, “the shallow end is over there”.
I feel as though I always have to justify myself, and the value of my subject, to my academic colleagues. This has led to practices I see being implemented that are suitable in other subjects but not for PE. This awareness is only recent, so I keep working to ensure that the main thing in PE is the main thing. That is children learning in, through and about movement and enjoying being physically active so that they will then continue beyond the classroom.
There is always staff room ‘banter’. Geography is about colouring maps. Chemistry is about blowing stuff up. PE you just kick balls. Of course this is always playful and respectful, but when it comes to results, it changes. When the pressure is on, the real reasons why we have to justify our subject come out. As soon as students are struggling in academic subjects, behind in controlled assessments or that they need to deliver a whole school assembly on British Values it is always PE that suffers. PE is an easy target. We usually have the whole year together at the same time and they are doing a subject where there are no examination results. This is happening more and more in schools as the purpose of education seems to be driven by improving results year on year. What seems to be misunderstood is the message this sends out to children. Being active isn’t as important as exam results. Your health is not as important as league tables. The mind is more important that the body.
When I joined the teaching profession, the national curriculum for PE was focused on knowledge, skills and understanding in four activity areas one of which had to be dance or gymnastics. However is was still very much sports driven, through years of Public School dominance in this area and the role they had in developing sport not just in this country but worldwide. In 2007 we moved away from teaching activity areas to key concepts including things like competency and creativity. Rather than teaching rugby, for example, we focused on outwitting opponents and no longer had a compulsory duty to teach gymnastics or dance. This was in place until the new changes to the current curriculum introduced in 2013-14.
The focus has now shifted in my mind to fitness, tackling obesity and once again back to competitive sport. In 2013 Ofsted decided that PE was not “physical” enough and the new curriculum was developed. Changes in the National Curriculum have never worried me. The worry I have is of student’s lack of basic physical literacy, confidence and competence when they join secondary from primary school. Over the course of the last decade I personally feel it has reduced. It is becoming harder and harder to teach our traditional variety of sports such as rugby, football and cricket. In the last two years we have had to introduce multiskills, conditioning and coordination units to try to rectify our students under developed movement skills which had always been an expectation, but now sadly no longer. For the first time since I started teaching I have had students in Year 7 who do not have the control, balance or strength to stand on one leg and kick a ball without falling over.
There seems to be a need now for teachers to evidence progress within core PE. Where as before my judgement, although subjective in a subject like PE, was always trusted, this no longer seems to be the case. Within my school, without lesson observations to judge my own and my students progression there has become much more of a focus on marking and feedback. Work scrutinies seem to now be commonplace. This is where SLT will take in the books of a class, subject or year group and compare the quality of marking. When I was called to one recently in my school for PE I assumed it was just for GCSE and A-Level PE. However I was wrong, they wanted to see evidence of progress in all PE. The fact that we have no books was not something they cared about. They demanded evidence of the grades I gave to the students. Where has the trust gone? I am wary of gaining evidence that does not support my teaching or students learning more than that actual time they could be practising and moving.
There is always change in education, but in the next few years there will be a period of great change and reform for all examination subjects and due to 6th Form funding cuts. Proposed changes to examination PE means only 40% of a student’s grade at GSCE will be from practical performance. While rigor of examination qualifications is important, I worry about losing the essence of what PE is about. In our subject procedural knowledge is just as important as propositional knowledge (or more so); therefore it should be a 50:50 weighting at least. 6th Form funding cuts may see many schools reducing their offer of four A-levels to three. This could marginalise subjects like PE, which already have small numbers and narrow an already shrinking curriculum in favour of STEM. As a PE profession what are we doing to ensure that learning in, through and about movement continues to be a focus of a pupils education through to end of 6th Form?
In the last decade we’ve also seen funding changes to PE and Sport. In 2006 schools were part of a School Sport Partnership (SSP), essentially a family of secondary, primary and special schools working together to increase PE and sports opportunities for young people. My school regularly ran a tag rugby, cricket, football and athletics festivals for students at 12 local primary schools. Primary schools in the area used our facilities when preparing for these competitions. But in 2011 this was scrapped and schools were no longer required to be part of these partnerships. They could if they wanted to but would have to find funding from other sources. This was all happening in the build to up to when London was going to be hosting the Olympics and the decision was condemned by sports personalities including runner Mo Farah. The government redressed this, giving £150m a year as part of the PE and sport premium for primary schools. The money is used for equipment, to bring in specialist coaching or help run after school clubs and a recent review of this funding shows it is having a positive effect.
Despite this positive review, secondary schools now have little contact with their previous primary clusters. for me at least a network of trained secondary school PE teachers no longer supports them and if they do it is on a very adhoc basis. I miss the connections and relationships that I built up with my Primary school colleagues and their students. I thought it helped a great deal with the children’s transition from Year 6 into Year 7, already knowing staff and other pupils at the secondary school they might be attending in the future. Primary school head teachers now decide what is best for their school. But what if they don’t have a clear vision of physical education and sport and how it fits with their educational philosophy? Worryingly it becomes an add-on rather than an essential part of a child’s education at school.
The last decade has seen a technological explosion. Cheap laptops, overhead projectors, Interactive whiteboards, YouTube, affordable tablets and the advancement of wireless have had a big impact on the world of education and my teaching. Where I haven’t fully embraced technology yet, however, is in my teaching of core physical education. At my current school we use Edmodo for all students. This has changed how I assess and share information with students regarding their progress. I can now post videos and lesson information in advance, ask for feedback and get them thinking about my subject outside of the classroom which I feel has had a positive impact.
Twitter has had the biggest impact on my teaching. Through social media I have developed a Personal Learning Network, connecting to other teachers around the world. I can pick and choose when and where I want to engage in areas I may want to develop. Being at one school for a long time, you can start to work in a school bubble. Opening up your network can be really effective but you must be open to criticism, and share as well as take. There are pioneers such as Jarrod Robinson, the PE Geek, who has fully integrated technology into lessons and regularly shares his ideas via podcasts. James Simms of My PE Exam is recording all his lessons for GCSE and A-Level PE and creating a flipped classroom and is embracing the concept of blended learning. Researchers such as Dr Ash Casey and Vicky Goodyear are using social media platforms to bridge the deficit between current educational research in PE and actual classroom practice. It has rapidly developed in the last few years and will be a key area to get right in the future.
The puzzle in education is how to become more knowledgeable and implement technology to support our teaching and our pupils learning. I am wary that the rapid development in this area is not necessarily supporting this though, but it can be a way for companies to make money out of the education sector. I have been caught out in the past when new examination specifications have been brought out and publishing companies have promised bespoke resources. This promise to solve the terror of preparing my department for these changes have meant that I have succumbed to very expensive resources. Now they clog up my bookshelves and computer drives, as they were ultimately useless, because of the radically changing and shifting world of education.
Perhaps some of the most disappointing changes in PE are concerned with the fact that the government, public health authorities and senior leadership teams still don’t all share the message with parents that physical education is vital to a child’s education, development and wellbeing. After the successes of the national rugby team in 2003 (mens) and 2014 (women) and the incredible effort of team Great Britain in the Olympics, there was always a boost in the numbers of children who wanted to play sport. After each of these occasions, politicians called for a “legacy” but nothing seems to have materialised other than empty words. I loved the 2012 Olympics as a spectacle and how it brought the country together for a few short weeks that summer. I understand the boost that it have to the economy. However I continue to wonder if the money spent on the olympics was put into grass roots sport, increasing green areas for play, ensuring quality facilities in all primary schools and secondary schools for PE and sport that could be used for community use and a programme of artificial pitches around the country how much legacy we really would have now? In 2012 Gove and the coalition government did away with the minimum recommendation for 2 hours of quality physical education a week. I know that some schools have had their core PE time at KS 4 reduced to accommodate an extra lesson of maths or English. So much for a legacy. High numbers of children aged 14 to 16, especially girls, are still dropping out of physical activity for sport. In a decade of changes within my job, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In 2014 Ofsted head Michael Wilshaw said that there is a significant difference between private and state educated elite athletes, making the point that state schools should be doing better. He said that the school that wins on the pitch wins in the exam hall and called for state schools to go the extra mile. What Wilshaw doesn’t appreciate is that teacher workload has increased significantly. For state schools to offer what private schools do, we need teachers outside of the PE department to contribute to provision. How do you expect teachers to go the extra mile, when they already run a marathon daily? Talk is cheap and if workloads are not reduced and staff are not remunerated or valued for their provision of extra-curricular rather than intervention then we could see opportunities for state school sport reducing further.
We need to ensure that PE is a subject that is promoted, not just by words, but by funding and facilities as well. We need to make healthy and active lifestyles a priority message, not just in our schools, but also in our society. We need to reduce teacher workload and encourage teacher participation in extracurricular activities. We need make sure every primary school in the country has a PE trained specialist. We need all significant parties who have a vested interested in the education and development of children in this country; parents, teachers, schools, public health authorities and the government to sing from the same hymn sheet. Then and only then may the next decade be one of real meaningful change for the subject.