Advocate. A person who publicly supports, champions and recommends a particular cause.
In the last few months I have increasingly seen and heard that we should be an advocate for PE. Both in the online and the real world space that I exist in. In a recent twilight CPD session we were encouraged to actively promote our subject and the many benefits it offers. I had assumed, perhaps wrongly, that all subject teachers do this on behalf of their subjects. It is right and proper to advocate for our subject, day in and day out.
In a school system with ever decreasing funding, ever increasing focus on examination results and an ever shrinking curriculum we do need to advocate for PE to ensure it doesn’t become a marginalised, unwanted and unloved subject. Since the 2 hour minimum expectation for curriculum PE was removed Key Stage 4 PE time has begun to reduce. Based on the logic that the expectation was creating a ceiling of provision and without it schools would be free to put in as much PE as they want, the opposite has begun to happen. It is a worrying trend and one that needs to be halted and reversed.
So how should we advocate for our subject? Well it appears that our subject is the Superman of all curriculum subjects. There is nothing it can’t do. Improve exam results? Check. Make better British Citizens? Check. Cure obesity? Check. Bring about world peace? Maybe. Perhaps you can sense a touch of cynicism in my words? Let’s take improving exam results as an example. There is no doubting from evidence that is continually being produced on a monthly basis that active, healthy and fit children tend to do better in examinations. However nearly everything we do in schools has a positive effect on achievement. So the real question is ‘how’ much of a positive effect it has?
Physical activity in John Hattie’s effect sizes for student achievement does not rank highly. Neither does Sports Particpation in the EEF Toolkit’s list of interventions, although I am very interested in what evidence the ‘Fit to Study‘ research will find. Advocating our subject on behalf of improving academic achievement is, for me, built on quick sand. The current evidence is far from conclusive, although I do concede there are issues using Hattie’s effect sizes and the EFF Toolkit as our sole arbitrar of evidence. However a clued up Senior Leadership Team could just as easily use this evidence to justify their reduction of PE curriculum time to be replaced with an alternative intervention that could provide a greater impact on results. The only thing we can be sure about with increasing PE time in the curriculum is there is no evidence that it has a negative impact on academic achievement. If we use the improvement of exam results as a means of advocating our subject, are we saying that is what is most important in a child’s education?
I personally feel that with all this advocacy going on for PE, we are having the wrong conversations. There is a growing disconnect of what people want our subject to offer and what it can actually offer. PE isn’t a solution to all of societies ills no matter how much we might think it is. Perhaps I do our subject a disservice but complex problems require solutions that PE just can’t provide. Daily movement, especially outside, has many powerful benefits to bring into a individuals life. The true power of PE as a subject, if it is well delivered, lies in empowering children to access those benefits on their own terms. Education of the physical so they can move. Education through movement so they can deepen their understanding, find meaning and hopefully take responsibility. If this isn’t enough to ensure a strong place in a child’s education and the school curriculum, then perhaps PE shouldn’t be there? However, I feel empowering children to move is a realistic, achievable and deeply profound enough reason for which to be an advocate.
We really need to think carefully about what type of PE we advocate for, because we might just end up with that kind of PE.