Is secondary PE inspiring enough?

by Will Swaithes, Head of Physical Education and Achievement

National School Sport Week (NSSW), 26-30 June, is a great time for leaders of Physical Education (PE) within schools to not only raise the profile of sport and showcase the great variety of activities that are now available within the school and community setting, but to also analyse and reflect on who we are catering for and why! With current workload pressures and relentless pursuit of progress I think it is imperative that we take time out to step back and think about what difference all that energy and commitment is making and if there is a smarter way of working?

Are you, like I was during my early teaching career, guilty of over-servicing the same few mini versions of yourself? What proportion of your students engage in your offer and is it the same few that engage in the community sport offer too? Matt Bowler, Director of Physical Education at King Alfred’s Academy regularly reminds me that they judge the success and suitability of their curriculum PE offer by the proportion of kids engaging in their enrichment offer. Youth Sport Trust’s ‘Power of PE’ survey last summer told us that there is a dip in the average number of core PE minutes per week at Key Stage 3, 4 and for post 16 students in particular. If less than a quarter of young people (and the national stats suggest a lot less than that) are physically active enough to meet CMO guidelines in their own time, should they be the ones we try to ignore?

There is enough evidence out there for adults and children alike to see and believe in the value of living a healthy and active life so why is that understanding not carried through into action? It’s complicated. Of course it is. Behaviour change is a hard thing to crack and often the path of least resistance is easiest to follow. I used to get that great job satisfaction from a buzz of engagement and success from some of my sports teams and hence I invested a lot of energy there. However, is there any point in providing multiple experiences and opportunities for the same group of kids that are already turned on and engaged. Looking back I am sure nearly all who engaged in my clubs and teams were also engaged in community sport. Once we have inspired and ignited that ‘fire in the belly’ of a young person to pursue an involvement in sport and physical activity in their own time for whatever purpose meets their motivation – health, friendship, competition, challenge, pursuit of excellence and the list goes on – surely then it is time to turn our attention and offer to convert those who have not yet “got it”. Tick those who are flourishing off and move on.

Read more blogs on this topic from Will Swaithes.

It’s also about getting a better position for PE sometimes too. It’s not something that should just be trimmed back for those who aren’t sporty, or cut back because it’s not critical to an exam a young person is working towards. Devloping life skills and habits around health and wellbeing rely on consistency – stopping for exam year only gives the impression that exercise should be cut back when there are more ‘important’ things going on. This, from an early age, sets a damaging habit. Take a look at Tom Sherrington’s aka @teacherhead 40 Curriculum Models 2017, showing models from 40 different schools for some ideas of how to weave PE within the curriculum.

For me, the love of learning in a practical setting and challenging myself in new physical adventures came from some early successes and engaging experiences. As I head towards 40 I still feel motivated to play better this squash season than I did last (and perform for my team) whilst also striving to commit enough time to learn to kitesurf (as if other new pursuits I have picked up since my 20s like snowboarding, paddleboarding, mountain biking, surfing & wakeboarding weren’t challenging enough for me!) and with long days and weeks in the office or on the road now I work for YST it has never been more important to carve out time for some daily exercise to refresh and rejuvenate myself to perform in my job and home life. Like I said earlier, there will be little versions of you and I out there who get it and I don’t think they need more of a PE teachers time, creativity or effort, but there are still many that do! I would assume every English teacher gets out of bed with the ambition of inspiring every young person with a passion for reading, writing or both and that starts with acquiring some competence but will be driven by motivation and that’s where it gets personal. Every young person has the entitlement of physical education within their school curriculum, with the purpose of inspiring physical literacy and engagement way beyond the time that is spent in those lessons. So, the question I want to leave you with is, what needs to be done to the curriculum offer to inspire the majority to choose sport and physical activity and do we need to think differently?

Take time this summer to dig deep and better understand your least engaged students in order to inform the future curriculum they need. Perhaps this will help? Be Inspiring! #PEisChanging

Will joined the Youth Sport Trust in February 2015 as Head of Physical Education and Achievement. Previously, he spent 13 years working at a number of secondary schools across Nottinghamshire, responsible for accredited PE courses throughout, with roles to include an Advanced Skills Teacher, Lead Practitioner, Specialist Leader in Education and most recently on SLT responsible for Teaching and Learning with a focus on Quality Assurance and CPD. Will has a real passion to secure ‘Outcomes of World Leading PE’ that are relevant and meaningful to all and result in lifelong participation habits. He believes the powerful contribution that PE makes to young people’s futures and whole school measures must be capitalised on.

The Youth Sport Trust are a national charity with a 21 year history and passion for ‘building a brighter future for all young people through PE and sport’.