Physical education has always been something I felt very strongly about, when I was in my primary days, P.E was always a subject I looked forward to. That enthusiasm never dwindled, once I was in high school, any day with P.E was a good day regardless of what we were playing it could be football, rugby or rounders, I’d be the first changed and the first on the field (or our dreary sports hall) raring to go.
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Whether it was a sports day, p.e session, after school club or just a muck around at lunchtime I always got a great feeling from P.E and it would give me a brighter outlook on everyday.
So, what is it that has caused Physical Education to become such an overlooked subject (in some schools, not all, I hasten to add) and something that has almost become a chore for teachers as opposed to the hour of fun and energy release that it should be? Well, I could sit here and write a dissertation on the subject but the three key things for me are:
(note- I refer to Physical Education as PE just for ease of use!)
1- Lack of subject knowledge and enthusiasm ‘because’ of it.
Last year we did PE as one of my core modules at university and the sheer lack of enthusiasm and interest shown by some of my fellow trainees was staggering, especially when we were doing practical sessions.
For me enthusiasm and interest is the bare minimum I’d expect from a teacher, even if your subject knowledge is sketchy and your lesson not so great, if you approach it with the an enthusiastic vigour then you’ll save even the dreariest lessons.
So when I see fellow trainees approach PE without any passion, it really grinds my gears. You may not like it, but you have a duty to your future students to do your best, I hate music, but I still approach it with all the enthusiasm I’d expect kids in my classroom to.
This also throws up another problem, the lack of PE focus on teacher training course, we did one module, with most if spent doing theoretical stuff, there should be more opportunity to take short courses in particular sports suited to primary to further understanding and confidence in teaching them.
I read a quote from a popular, reputable newspaper a few days ago that said nearly half of teachers say kids just ‘don’t enjoy PE.’ Now, without sounding like a PE expert, if the kids ‘don’t enjoy’ PE in your class, you maybe need to look at what you’re doing and not question their enjoyment or effort. Kids love PE, if you put the right things in place and approach it with enthusiasm (my buzz word for the blog clearly) then 99% of the time, you’ll win kids around.
We are lucky that the current PE curriculum is fairly vague, you can pretty much do what you like as long as a few core things are covered, there are so many opportunities out there to make lessons fun and engaging. You don’t have to spend an hour practising passing in football, that would bore me, never mind 30 kids.
In my opinion PE doesn’t need and shouldn’t be about teaching specific skills, kids can do that in high school and in later life, it should be about getting them excited about a sport or activity that they can then take up outside of school and carry on through adulthood. Yes we should teach them important skills like throwing, catching etc but we don’t need to be teaching 9 year olds how to hit the perfect volley!
2- Time and pressure from other curriculum areas.
Lets face it, its March, you’re teaching Year 6 and your class are performing horribly in mock SATs tests. You’ve got a choice, go into that little sports hall and do 45 minutes of football that you don’t know how to teach and don’t like doing, or spend an hour doing a bit of maths catch up and ‘promise’ the class you’ll catch up on PE. This unfortunately trickles down throughout year groups, class time is so valuable these days and with all the pressure to succeed some things get neglected, this isn’t just a PE problem it includes all non core subjects.
3- Facilities, resources and the like
Another excuse I hear a lot being bandied around for why teachers don’t do PE. I’ve experienced both a school with a tiny sports hall, barely bigger than an average classroom and a school with massive grounds and a sports hall with state of the art equipment. What I’d say to this is, regardless of the circumstance, make the best of it, kids don’t need the best gear, they need a teacher who gets them enthused (look there it is again, maybe theres a pattern) and provides opportunities for children to get excited about sport, keeping fit and having a run around.
There are 3 reasons (not all the reasons I admit) that have contributed to the lack of Physical Education teaching in our primary schools, so what are the #5reasons that PE should be utilised much more, and why it is so important I hear you ask? Well wonder no more!
1- For some kids its the only exercise they get in a week!
School for a lot of children is the only place they actually do any physical exercise, they are driven to school, dropped off, driven home and then sat inside all day long. Now, this isn’t ALL children, but for a lot of children this is the case, it is important for these kids that they are given the opportunity to charge around playing football, tennis, athletics or whatever it may be.
2- Boosts confidence and breaks down barriers.
For some children, academic work can leave them feeling deflated of confidence and not as good as their fellow pupils. Sometimes this can lead to poor behaviour, lack of effort and a whole range of other things that are a detriment to their school life. But P.E can offer these children that little bit of a boost, where THEY can shine and show their talent, boosting their self esteem, showing that they are good at something and
that if they try hard they can achieve, which hopefully and most often, will boost their other work.
It can also help children who are not good at P.E in general, some children really struggle with fine motor skills and sport, but it is also these children that can get a massive confidence boost from P.E. Whether its scoring their first goal in football or learning how to catch, I’ve seen children running to their parents at the end of the day buzzing with excitement just to tell them that they learnt how to catch today and also that they can now ride a bike! Not that they spent an extra hour doing maths for the third week in a row.
3- Creates lasting memories
Two of my best memories from school revolve around P.E. At school I wasn’t the most confident kid, I was brilliant at maths and ICT but distinctly average at everything else and woefully poor at writing, due to a massive lack of confidence in my handwriting, but I’ll save that story for another time!
My first memory was playing cricket at our school, I was by far the best (yes, I was THAT DAMN GOOD ;)) and when we were picking teams I was always picked first, the other team always valued getting me out more than anyone else and I remember smashing the ball into the next playground a few times (it was a loooong way) and everyone being amazed, staff included. For me this was game changing, as I wasn’t exceptional at anything in school, the confidence I gained from this filtered into all my work in school and into secondary school where I really excelled, I’m not sure that without this confidence boost in cricket if I’d have done quite so well.
My second memory is as a member of staff, I took my class to an athletics competition, we didn’t have massive expectations of doing well and we were just there for the fun (as you should be), we’d practiced for weeks and although we always enjoyed it, it wasn’t a sporty class at all. However, that class showed so much determination and enthusiasm that we came second out of eight teams, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had in a school, kids going mad and next day parents were telling me their kids were shattered as they hadn’t slept all night because they were so excited and happy!
These memories are things that leaving a happy memory, and will last a life time, not only for me, but also for the kids. What are we more likely to remember, an extra lesson on mixed fractions or an awesome sporting moment!
Some of those kids have now gone on to join athletics clubs and are part of their high school athletics teams, kids that up until doing athletics in Year 6 had never done any sport outside of school!
4- Builds teamwork and class togetherness
PE can be a great team builder, especially if you are taking children to a sports tournament. I’ve seen children who normally would never talk to each other and children who didn’t really get along become good friends through going to football and athletics tournaments.
It can turn the most distant and torn apart class into a solid group, that work together and for each other, this benefits not only P.E but all subject areas and most importantly the kids in general as they become happier and more engaged with school life.
5- Helps children begin a life long sporting passion
Every professional athlete starts somewhere, that spark that ignites a kids enthusiasm in a particular sport begins at some point. Who knows, maybe you could be the spark that motivates the next Jessica Ennis or Frank Lampard…