BLOG: Teachers want PE to be more valued, but do we truly understand why we teach it?

As the news headlines continue to stack up around childhood obesity and declining mental wellbeing in young people, Youth Sport Trust Head of Physical Education and Achievement Will Swaithes, discusses why PE is only as good as its weakest link and considers whether we really know its true value.

Our recent research shows 97% of teachers agree physical education should be valued more within the school curriculum, but do we fully understand its purpose, the outcomes that can be expected from it and why we teach it?

At a recent session I delivered to trainee teachers, I was reminded of how essential it is to ensure full and proper understanding of the value and purpose of PE from the outset, during ITT. This, the training phase, is the perfect opportunity to position the wider benefits of PE to the next generation of custodians. I then went on to ask myself how well understood PE and the wider benefits it offers are by the masses? Are parents fully aware of the broader life skills delivered within PE? What about students themselves? Senior leaders? Governors? Possibly even wider?

As most of the nation spends GCSE results day agonising over the exam certificates achieved (or not) by teenagers across the country, I encourage the teaching profession to reflect on how physically educated all school leavers are and consequently how fit for purpose their current offer for all is.

Physical education is the timetabled lesson entitlement of all children and young people. I believe we need to provide increased rigour and focus beyond examination classes to ensure every student gets what they need and deserve from physical education. We need to ensure every student, their parents, other teachers and school leaders truly understand what it looks and feels like. More importantly, we need to ensure the learning and benefits of physical education last a lifetime.

We wholeheartedly support the recent paper ‘The Case for Physical Education becoming a Core Subject in the National Curriculum’ led by Dr Jo Harris. We want to see PE become a core subject and treated with equal relevance and importance in every school as English and Maths. However, we also feel that it needs significant transformation in many schools to ensure outcomes derived from this meet the huge potential of our subject.

I remember a point in my teaching career when only giving an attitude to learning grade for key stage 4 PE was a huge relief for me. Those opting for GCSE PE or BTEC sport received more in terms of current attainment and targets as well but this meant not reporting on the learning or progress being made in PE or suggesting targets for next steps in terms of improving outcomes. Reducing my workload was important but now I really question what message this sent about the outcomes sought and the value of those core PE lessons. If, as a PE teacher and department, you are unable to capture meaningful and relevant progress made by students and targets for next steps that matter to them as individuals and contribute to the education agenda, then is it a surprise that our subject is under threat?

What should be reported on?

Referring back to our recent research, we found that 38% of secondary schools have decreased curriculum time for PE over the last 5 years. This data has resonated with so many schools and we really hope it helps to fuel the conversation moving forwards. I am wondering if what we evidence as progress and report on is a big part of the problem? For me, accurate reflections on current attitudes, skills and knowledge along with SMART targets for further improvement need to be an ongoing dialogue with students and illustrated in both formative and summative assessment.

If, as a parent of a year 10 student, you received this report home then where would you place the value of the subject?


Rebecca is working towards completing her Certificate of Achievement in PE. She regularly brings her kit and participates in the lesson. She has good knowledge of the basic skills and techniques in fitness and netball. She has challenged herself with new roles and continues to enjoy her sports.


To increase her effort in performance and really raise her heart rate during the lesson to improve and maintain fitness levels.

*The above is a copy of an actual report sent home, but names have been changed for anonymity.

Is there any risk that a future survey like this report from the Daily Mail could include the views of students from your school?

Whilst we have some exceptional examples of 21st Century physical education pedagogy and practice which can be seen in our members publication, surely our subject is only as good as its weakest link?

When you talk about high quality or world-leading PE, what do you really mean? We mean the statutory time on the formal curriculum that every child is entitled to and believe its principle purpose is to inspire, challenge and develop every young person as happy, healthy and successful. Following the Simon Sinek thinking of starting with the why, we have captured the outcomes that should be expected from a meaningful, relevant and purposeful curriculum offer under the (hopefully) helpful mnemonic of ASK WHY PE.

 To read more about why, how and what this can and does look like in some of our most pioneering schools then please access this resource via YST membership.

The powerful vehicles of specific sports and physical activities to deliver against these outcomes cannot be questioned but if you are feeling that PE is not valued as much as you would like nationally, perhaps it’s time to hold up the mirror and see what you can do to change that from the ground up?

 Inspired by this blog? You can register to become a Personal Member of YST by using the link.

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