Stop focusing on ‘sport’

If we want to make a real difference to PE in our schools, we need to stop focusing on ‘sport’ and being distracted by fads!

Now that has got your attention, let me explain. I am not saying sport is bad, more like it has been the master of PE for too long, dominating and driving the subject. I am also not saying that engaging, innovative ideas aren’t great…as long as they are grounded in quality teaching and learning!

Most primary school teachers’ memories of PE are dominated by sport and are not positive. In fact, the most common two words used to describe their personal experiences when we asked over 20,000 as part of real PE training – ‘humiliating’ and ‘embarrassing’. They certainly do not remember PE fondly! They then went on, as do current graduates, to receive very limited training at university – six hours is often quoted as the time spent on the subject.

They then arrive in school and are faced with a PE curriculum which is sport driven and lacks the child centred focus they are trained to deliver across other subjects. They are also bombarded with fads and gimmicks – ‘click here and let this screen teach your children’. It must seem attractive to those who are asked to teach a subject they did not enjoy or have little confidence in teaching. I wonder if such options are given over to the teaching of literacy and numeracy?

Put simply, a sport focus or the following of fads may enable us to make a child run today, but it is only by developing a positive relationship with physical activity for life through quality teaching and learning and a holistic approach that we will truly transform the habits of staff and children.

May I therefore suggest four simple steps to help transform PE?

Step 1: Look at the outcomes of PE and clearly focus on the skills and abilities children need to reach these.

If we were to take the aims of the National Curriculum for PE, the Purpose of Study and the key indicators of the PE and Sport Premium we would see 3 broad consistent outcomes emerge:

  • To develop lifelong participation and through this have a positive impact on health and wellbeing
  • To help children reach their full potential in PE and School Sport (competitive best)
  • To develop and contribute to whole child / whole school improvement

Firstly, can I say that I am delighted that the importance of the development of Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS), allowing all children to unlock their physical potential, is now truly recognised and I welcome the shift to this within PE. However, what further skills and abilities do children need to learn to reach all these outcomes? What really is more important? Side foot pass in football or communication? Rules of cricket or analysing performance? A forward roll or resilience? Copying from a video or creativity? In fact, if we want children to develop their FMS they need, amongst other things, to be able to listen, follow instructions and try hard!

The answers are simple and obvious – develop the physical literacy, emotional AND thinking skills children need… In other words, put the learning first.

If we want children to develop communication skills in PE, we must make it a clear focus for learning, with teachers planning for it, sharing a clear outcome then praising and developing these skills as they would any other learning in any other lesson. The activity or game we use should be the servant to this learning.

The handy outcome of focusing on these skills and abilities instead of just the sport or game? Teachers valuing PE as a subject because of the learning opportunities it offers and the transfer of positive learning behaviours to the classroom. The good news is that the children improve physically too, so there is no compromise.

Step 2: Capture hearts and minds with quality training.

We are asking a lot of teachers to achieve the first step without quality CPD. This should be engaging, empathetic and enable them to feel like the experts they are!

This should be coupled with an approach to PE based on quality teaching and learning, something teachers know well. Let us empower them to use this knowledge so that PE too provides:

  • A high ambition for EVERY child
  • Clear learning outcomes based on the skills and abilities we want to improve
  • Progressive challenges to include and stretch EVERY child
  • Praise for positive learning behaviours
  • Review and celebration of progress
  • Collaborative opportunities for children to share and deepen their learning
  • A shift of control to empower the learner through choice

If we can align the delivery of PE to the skills in teaching they have, rather than the knowledge of sports they often don’t have, we can transform the culture of PE. Off the shelf solutions or fads just will not work in achieving this change, often instead, having the opposite effect. Click here to find out more.

Step 3: Provide proper long term support.

This needs to be in the shape of both quality resources and teaching aids that align Steps 1 and 2 alongside deeper in-school support.

Resources should be easy to use, thematic, progressive, engaging and Key Stage appropriate. The curriculum map, Schemes of Work and Lesson Plans teachers use should be learning focused (Step 1) and based on quality teaching and learning (Step 2). From the school wide assessment framework through to the activities used, they should support teachers to align their beliefs to their words and actions, allowing them to focus on bringing the learning to life for their children.

It must also be recognised that some teachers need more help than others. This means longitudinal in-school support is needed to help embed the approaches, see lessons in action and build the confidence of staff. The ultimate goal is to build the capability and capacity of teachers to make sustainable improvements and whole school impact.

Step 4: Measure impact!

Sounds silly doesn’t it, to even have to say this, but we often miss it? This is not because we forget but because it is very hard to do when Steps 1, 2 and 3 are missed!

How can we demonstrate an impact on teacher confidence without changing hearts and minds with quality CPD?

How can we demonstrate improvements in pupil engagement without a learning focused and engaging curriculum delivered expertly?

How can we demonstrate pupil progress without having a clear assessment framework and supporting learning journeys aligned to the resources the teachers are using?

How can we demonstrate broader whole school impact if we all we do is focus on sport, instead of the skills and abilities children need across PE, Sport and the wider curriculum?

Impact should be simple to measure if we align our beliefs to actions.

We should be proud and excited of what PE can achieve for children and schools.

My plea:

  • Stop being ‘sport’ driven or distracted by fads.
  • Keep focusing on quality teaching and learning.
  • Start believing in the real difference PE can make.

Click here to find out how your school can make the very best PE and Sport Premium investment and show the impact it has made.