Has PE lost its way? by @ImSporticus

Knee-jerk reactions & Possible solutions

This is a re-blog post originally posted by I’m Sporticus, and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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In Memento, Guy Pierce, plays a character called Leonard Shelby. Leonard, a former insurance investigator, suffers from anterograde amnesia, short-term memory loss in which he cannot make new memories. He suffers from this because of the injuries he sustained whilst trying to save his wife, he is now fuelled by revenge and vengeance.

This pursuit of revenge and justice is extremely difficult for Leonard who has to use aids such as Polaroids, notes, and extensive tattoos to help him keep track of things because he loses his memory about every fifteen minutes. These tools remind him of where he is, where he is going, and the purpose of his investigation.

Are we trying to be something we aren’t? 

I sometimes feel that Physical Education in school is like that. We have an overall aim, but we constantly keep forgetting it. We forget it because Senior Leaders keep trying to pigeonhole us as a subject like Maths, Science and English, which we blatantly are not. I think PE teachers don’t help this. We want to be taken seriously by our colleagues, to implement a lot of what they do into our subject. I have been guilty of this too on many occasions, with constant AfL written tasks, pitstop plenaries and the desire to evidence rapid progress in 20 minutes. They expect us to assess and report in the same way as those subjects and that means we judge pupils that are either making expected progress or failing. How can you ever be failing core Physical Education is beyond me. Some students progress far slower (and some maybe not at all), but when your ultimate aim is a lifetime of health and physical activity surely we can be a little more patient? You want a child to stay involved in being active for life. How is telling them at the age of 11 to 16 they are failing, below the national average or not making the required progress, going to achieve that aim?

Knee-jerk reactions

We also forget our aim because of the hyperbole and influence of the media and politicians. Obesity is on the rise! PE in schools is a joke! Competitive sport is essential for a top performing school! There isn’t enough strenuous exercise in PE! Now today we don’t promote enough low-level physical activity! All of a sudden it becomes the school’s responsibility to tackle these issues. Senior leaders, either under pressure to deliver an ‘outstanding’ school or who have no clear vision of where PE should fit into a child’s development, place unreasonable or unrealistic demands onto PE teachers. I welcomed the Governments u-turn on cuts to SSPs into the rebranded PE and Sports premium for primary schools, but spending is down to the discretion of the Headteacher. I hope they have a clear idea about the role PE plays in the development of a child. If not, PE becomes a Jekyll and Hyde parody of itself. With Dr Jekyll spending his PE lessons filling in worksheets or constantly on iPads, demonstrating and evidencing his progress. Or Mr Hyde just constantly doing, playing only competitive sport and working on the body in the gym with no concept of what and why he is doing it. Neither of these is what, in my honest opinion, Physical Education should be.

Possible solutions

I’m interested in the approach that Ashwell Academy School in Hull is looking to implement. Whilst not something I would want replacing core Physical Education, the fact that they have students, staff, parents and local government all buying into their approach and have a clear overall aim of Linking lifelong movements as part of a daily active lifestyle is impressive, brave and probably fits the context of their school. I hope they share their findings and results of what that they have achieved with their programme once it is completed in 2015. I’m sure if it is successful we might see more schools following suit. I also like the approach the Danes are taking in cracking obesity. Very clear aims and guidelines, clearly shared by health officials and supported by both school and parents. However, these are both retrospective actions, where the system, in some way, has already failed those children and people are trying to rectify it.

I think these initiatives are going to be successful because of something my friend James (@My_PE_EXAM) calls the ‘Golden Triangle of Support’. Until we have all three singing from the same hymn sheet then we will struggle to engage children in a healthy and active lifestyle. The question is why does this only happen when there is a problem?

So where can we begin?

– For government public health services, educational services, schools, PE teachers and parents to work together in the provision of quality physical education. It can’t just rely on one group for success. Until this happens, any form physical education will not have the desired effect; keeping children active and healthy outside of school and for a lifetime.

– To stop trying to make our subject into something else. As PE Teachers we should take pride in that, not compromise it to be something it isn’t. It’s unique, it develops the whole of the child and if approached the right way can support and assist academic and character development. We need senior leaders in schools to have a clear idea of where physical education sits in their educational philosophy and help us promote it to the children, parents and other staff within our schools. That responsibility cannot be just left to the teachers of PE.

– We need to ensure confidence, competence and enjoyment from an early age. If you are worried about low levels of health and fitness and high levels of obesity in children and adults then you can’t leave the responsibility of change to just solely physical education teachers. However if you want us to be the driving force for change, then how about introducing legislation for daily PE, especially in Primary schools, and ensuring every primary school in the country has a specialist PE trained teacher?

Building memories

Recently I read of some research carried about by Dr Ashley Casey and Mikael Quennerstedt on how boys remembered their experiences of Physical Education, it did seem focused on learning and playing sports. However, some of the strongest memories though were about being trusted with their own learning and sharing their opinions. This got me thinking a lot about memories. Are the memories we create within our lessons a powerful driving force for the continuation of having an active and healthy lifestyle? Recent research from the University of Birmingham indicates a strong possible connection between memories of physical activity at school and the amount of exercise taken in adult life.

After leaving school I think most of us only have snapshots of what it was really like. Just like Leonard Shelby in Memento, we are left with looking at a bunch of Polaroids of our memories. I believe those pictures can have a huge impact on the choices we make in our future. If they are negative they will influence us to make excuses not to engage or follow certain areas. However, if those pictures are positive they can have a huge impact on continuing to be engaged with something for a lifetime. Whilst it might be acceptable to drop an academic subject at Year 9 before starting GCSEs, can we afford children to drop living a healthy and active lifestyle?

Ensuring we give students happy, enjoyable and long-lasting memories in PE I feel is important for our overall aim. (My internal debate is whether it is more important than habit.) The more varied and deep memories we can give them will only help once they have left school. However, if parents and significant others in their lives can help build upon those memories too, then we have a much greater chance of keeping them healthy and active. We also need to underpin those good memories with knowledge and understanding and create an environment where we allow children to take responsibility for their own learning and to feel like they have choices in their physical education lessons. That way we can then ensure we don’t lose our way as PE Teachers and neither will the children we teach when they leave us and only have the memories of our time together in school.

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