Research finds whistle being blown on secondary PE

Time on the curriculum for Physical Education is being squeezed, new research from the Youth Sport Trust shows

The alarming findings from research carried out by the Youth Sport Trust (YST) suggests that 38% of English secondary schools have cut timetabled Physical Education for 14-16-year-olds since 2012 while almost one in four (24%) have done so in the last academic year.

It comes at a time when too many young people are inactive, obesity rates are going up, mental health issues are increasing, and there is a need for growing resilience and other employability skills among this generation.

YST, which works with thousands of schools across the country, is warning that unless we reverse the slide and refresh Physical Education for the 21st century we risk failing a generation who will be denied the benefits of a revitalized Physical Education.

Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of the YST, said:

It is alarming that opportunities for young people to be active during the school day are diminishing year-on-year.

Like English and Maths, Physical Education should be part of the bedrock of a good education which equips young people with the vital skills which support their wellbeing, ability to learn in other subjects and help prepare them for employment.

A high quality Physical Education curriculum uses sport as a vehicle through which a joy of movement is established, life skills are developed and an understanding of a healthy lifestyle is acquired.

Cuts to Physical Education time are depriving young people of these benefits at a time when they have never needed them more. We will be selling this and future generations short if Physical Education is not made fit for the 21st century and put at the heart of a broad and balanced curriculum in our schools.



The YST research is based on responses from teachers at 487 English secondary schools. It found that:

  • Timetabled Physical Education time is decreasing, and the cuts get bigger as students get older. At key stage four (ages 14 to 16), 38% of schools had reduced timetabled PE in the past five years while 24% had done so in the past year. On average pupils moving from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4 experience a 21% drop in the amount of curriculum PE they receive a week. By the time they are aged 16 to 18-years-old they are doing just 34 minutes a week at school.
  • Exam pressure, additional curriculum time for other subjects and staffing cuts are among the reasons cited for reductions. 38% of teachers said their PE provision has declined because core/eBacc subjects have been given additional time with students taken out of timetabled Physical Education for extra tuition in other subjects. It is suggested these are the very same young people who need that physical activity time the most. One in three cited exam pressures as a key reason for the decline.
  • Physical Education teachers overwhelming feel the subject needs to be more valued amongst school leaders, parents, wider stakeholders and importantly young people. 97% of teachers agree PE should be valued more within the school curriculum for what it offers young people.

A secondary school’s Physical Education provision is often judged on GCSE PE grades and trophies rather than its impact engaging and developing the health and wellbeing of students across the school.

The YST is calling for an overhaul of Physical Education’s place in the curriculum to place much greater emphasis on using sport and physical activity to enhance young people’s confidence, emotional wellbeing, physical health and life skills.

Examples of how this is being achieved in some parts of the country include YST’s My Personal Best programme which supports PE teachers to develop students’ life skills through PE. In Lancashire where the programme is being run in 40 schools, PE departments are now either leading the school health and wellbeing or working much more closely with health and wellbeing leads.

View the full research by clicking through on the pink panel to the right of this story.

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