Why movement?

…where before movement was valued simply as a tool that promoted health and enjoyment, it must now be respected as a fundamental human tradition, a site for meaningful living.” Kretchmar (2000)

What is unique about Physical Education? Not just the uniqueness of its content but also its medium for learning (Griggs and Randall, 2022)? These question should be front and centre of any conversation about the subject. The current focus on curriculum in England and the freedom afforded by government policy (and inspection mandate) means these questions are being asked in PE Departments the length and breadth of the country. Being part of some of them I get to listen to PE Teachers grappling with coherent answers; sport, health, wellbeing, life skills, physical literacy, character and fitness to name but a few. Cases could be made for all of them, so I try to keep my opinions (and bias) to myself as its the responsibility of a PE Department to be clear and coherent about this. Sometimes though I am asked directly “what do you think should be the underpinning concept of a PE curriculum?“. My answer is movement. But why movement?

Movement is a broad and encompassing umbrella concept in which sport, dance, exercise and physical activity all can be included.

Movement is a concept which promotes pluralism in terms of meanings, learning intentions, outcomes and ways of being somebody in the world (Larsson and Quennerstedt, 2012).

Movement is a more inclusive concept where everybody can learn about, in and through movement.

Movement as a concept encourages us to see the human as a complete system, rather than a dualistic entity of body and mind. Movement doesn’t tend to make this distinction like the prefix ‘physical’ can do.

Movement is a concept that is understandable by all, especially with children and young people.

Movement is a porous concept as it can flow out of the boundaries of a PE class into people’s lives beyond and back again.

Movement is a way we can better understand ourselves and world we dwell in. We move to perceive and we perceive to move.

Movement can create new opportunities for learning and can instigate ‘cascades’ of other behavioural developments (Adolph, 2019).

Movement can have both instrumental and inherent worth, it can contribute both to our being and our becoming. It can provide us important outcomes such as health and wellbeing but it is also plays an important part of what it means to be human.

Movement in all its forms can enrich our lives and contribute to a life worth living (Kretchmar 2000; Ronkainen and Nesti 2018).

The idea that movement should be the central concept of PE is not a new one. The Ministry of Education (1952) remind that the time a child stands up and walks is a significant landmark in their lives and movement, growth and development go hand in hand. This was followed up twenty years later by the Department for Education (1972) stating that movement as a mode of expression provides PE a clear justification for being on the curriculum. Arnold (1979;1988) highlights that PE should look to educate people around three dimensions of movement (about, in and through), whilst Crum (1993;2017) proposes that PE should be a planned introduction to ‘movement culture’ which encompasses all leisure actions in which the act of human movement is the ‘essence’ where a individual or group involves themselves in that is ‘beyond labour or maintaining life’. Rather than physical literacy Standal (2015) develops the phenomenological concept and model of movement literacy, which has two central learning outcomes of moving with poise and to be perceptive in reading and writing the environment.

A central concept for PE is important. It provides a shared and coherent reason why PE should be included in the curriculum and what children will be learning. There is a tendency to justify PE’s place based on purely prudential and instrumental grounds – what it can contribute to other important ends such as behaviour, academic achievement and combatting obesity. Morgan (2006) offers a warning of taking this path:

“For instrumental justifications of physical education programs not only relegate them to second class status and importance but also open them to the objection that there might well be better ways to accomplish the ends they supposedly help to realise.”

Arnold (1988) suggested that there is an ambivalence to the term ‘physical education’ and we should forsake it for the term of movement. I’m undecided on that but I’m clear that movement should be our field of study and our keystone concept. We can explore it from multiple perspectives – for example an academic perspective, an instrumental perspective, a culturally relevant form of activity perspective, and a perspective of how engagement in movement can enrich the quality of lives. The concept of movement explored through multiple perspectives is in my mind fundamental to ensuring that PE can contribute to nurturing the physically educated person.


Adolph, K. E. (2019). An ecological approach to learning in (not and) development. Human Development63(3-4), 180-201.

Arnold, P. J. (1979). Meaning in movement, sport, and physical education. Heinemann.

Arnold, P. J. (1988). Education, movement, and the curriculum. Falmer Press.

Crum, B. J. (1993). Conventional thought and practice in physical education: Problems of teaching and implications for change. Quest45(3), 339-356.

Crum, B. (2017). How to win the battle for survival as a school subject?: Reflections on justification, objectives, methods and organization of PE in schools of the 21st century. Retos: nuevas tendencias en educación física, deporte y recreación, (31), 238-244.

Department for Education (DES) (1972) Movement – Physical Education in the Primary Years. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Griggs, G., & Randall, V. (Eds.). (2022). An Introduction to Primary Physical Education. Routledge.

Kretchmar, R. S. (2000). Movement subcultures: Sites for meaning. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance71(5), 19-25.

Larsson, H., & Quennerstedt, M. (2012). Understanding movement: A sociocultural approach to exploring moving humans. Quest64(4), 283-298

Ministry of Education (1952) Moving and Growing. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Morgan, W. J. (2006). Philosophy and physical education. In D. Kirk, D. Macdonald, & M. O’Sullivan (Eds.), Handbook of physical education (pp. 97–108). London: Sage.

Ronkainen, N. J., & Nesti, M. S. (2018). Meaning and Spirituality in Sport and Exercise. London, UK: Routledge.

Standal, Ø. F. (2016). Phenomenology and pedagogy in physical education. Routledge.

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