My ability to predict future events is pretty poor. I tend to go with my gut instinct rather than work things through logically. However after this week at work, I feel something frightful and calamitous maybe brewing. A combination of different pieces of the puzzle have fallen in place to make me think that if we continue down our current path then we might end up in a disastrous situation which we may not come back from.
On Monday I had a chance to have a look at the baseline assessment of our Year 7 Pupils. I have written about my departments approach previously, and whilst it might not be the most scientifically sound process it has worked for us. Our main reasoning was to ensure we could give realistic targets for our pupils at KS 3 PE rather than those set by Maths and English SATs scores. However with level descriptors gone and a new ipsative approach to assessment in PE being trialled this year within my department, we will not be continuing with this baseline assessment protocol from 2016 as it is no longer fit for purpose.
However what it has shown me is a potential worrying downward trend in our Year 7 cohorts basic aerobic ability, locomotion, object manipulation and stability skill sets. In each cohort we have 124 boys and below is a table that shows the percentage of children classified as proficient in 6 locomotive and object manipulation skills:
I am aware that as teachers of PE, conducting these tests on our own, there will be a high level of variability with the results. That they are fraught with validity and reliability difficulties, mainly due to the inconsistency and lack of standardisation of testing procedures. However along with observations in our gymnastics, gaelic football and running tests my department feel there has been a year on year decrease in starting ability of our pupils within PE. Our traditional curriculum is no longer accessible for our pupils who struggle with it. Added to this is the increase in ability to not perform basic tasks. In the period from 2011 to 2014 we had only three pupils in Year 7 who had difficulty with tying shoelaces. This year I have twelve in just my class. Changing time has significantly increased as pupils need constant help to get themselves ready. So this is the Olympic Legacy?
Why does this all matter? Children who possess these basic skills to a competent level will have higher levels of physical activity. They are required to engage in a high proportion of purposeful physical activities. Children with these skills are also more also likely to become healthy and active adolescents and adults.
So what might be the cause of this decline in our Year 7 cohorts? I was offered a potential answer when I bumped into some primary school teachers who I used to work with when there was a School Sports Partnership in my area. They explained that the Primary PE and Sport Premium (PPSP) (£9000 a year ring fenced funding, which each Primary Head Teacher gets to choose how they spend) is being used to bring in outside youth coaches. At least 12 primary schools they know of in our vicinity have this model in place. It is used to give them all Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time, which they desperately needed as they are under huge amounts of pressure with constant reform and scrutiny with accountability measures. However due to the outside coaches the delivery of PE is now widely varied, with one of the teachers saying that only football is taught in her primary school, whereas another stated that the coaches in his school do a wide range of sporting activities. Looking at the cohorts coming into my school, the basics are not being taught well.
It seems the PPSP is being primarily used, at least in my area, to shift the responsibility of teaching physical education to outside coaches. Whilst I have an understanding why and have a great deal of sympathy about the workload my primary school colleagues have, this approach is going to have a negative impact on the future of our children’s physical development and therefore their later engagement in being active for life. The funding is currently ring fenced till 2020, but that doesn’t mean the government won’t change its mind, just like it did with the very successful school sports partnerships. A model which I felt would have become a significant driving force, through collaboration of primary, special and secondary schools in raising children’s participation in purposeful physical activity.
What happens if and when the money goes? The coaches will go. They will go where the money is and leave a huge black hole in the ability to teach PE in primary. Primary school teachers who already have limited training to teach PE, (about 4 to 10 hours and something I feel needs to be quickly rectified by the government), and then not having to teach it for a number of years will then be asked to come back into the gym or out into the sports fields. There will be a massive gap in skills and experience of those teachers. To ask them them to overcome that (on top of their already limited training) is unfair on them and disastrous for their pupils. The PPSP should be being used to up-skill current staff to improve their knowledge, confidence and competence in teaching PE to a good level not give PPA time. I have written recently about having PE Specialists in Primary, but perhaps it would be better to promote Primary PE Teachers with a specialism in PE. That the current funding from the government should be used to develop teachers already within the primary school to better deliver PE and teach the basics of movement and healthy and active lifestyles well to their children. There needs to be a model in place in primary schools that is self sustaining and not solely relying on outside help to be responsible for our children’s physical development.
I hope like most of my predictions this will be proved wrong. However we do need to be concerned of the poor use of the PPSP. This along with the increase of sedentary behaviours, lack of opportunities for children to physically play outside of school and organised sport, poor diet, parents who do not take any responsibility in their child’s’ physical development, a risk adverse society, lack of funding to secondary schools for PE and Sport, reduction in time for PE at KS 4 in order to offer extra Maths and English lessons could lead to a Perfect Storm of physical inactivity in the future.