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Opinion: Physical education overhaul

Physical education must start at birth and become a lifelong commitment

by Helen Clark, Royal Public Affair | Published in Sports Management Nov Dec 2016 issue 128
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Clark says PE should be personalised, with pupils striving for individual goals
Clark says PE should be personalised, with pupils striving for individual goals

The publication of the sixth report on physical education by the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood (APPGFHC) a few months after the Rio Olympics and Paralympics is timely.

Team GB is an outstanding sporting force, but the nation is in the grip of an obesity crisis that starts at birth, becomes entrenched during school and triggers diseases such as type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adulthood.

The neglected subject
How can this state of affairs co-exist with Olympic glory? We examined the state of physical education in schools, early years settings and the community. A sugary drinks tax is one anti-obesity weapon. But physical education must join good nutrition, play and sport to create a healthy and productive society.

We all had our own personal horror stories about school PE: ‘skill drill’ lessons, humiliating body shaming and the fact that disabled children and those who disliked team games often skipped lessons and ended up pursuing sedentary lifestyles as adults.

The school physical education curriculum has remained largely unchanged since the 1940s and nobody at government level has collated or cascaded examples of excellence that the school community could learn from.

Also, PE is a ‘foundation’ rather than a ‘core’ National Curriculum subject and is often out-sourced to ‘coaches’ without teaching qualifications. Lessons are allocated little time and cancelled in favour of more pressing concerns.

Time for change
In response to these concerns, the APPGFHC has identified its top priorities for a 21st century PE experience that works. These are:

• A National PE Task Force to overhaul the PE curriculum.

• Personalised PE teaching – pupils striving for personal, rather than collective, goals.

• For PE to have core status in the National Curriculum.

• For PE to be taught by specialists and for PE content to be increased in teacher training and ongoing professional development.

• A PE syllabus that is properly inclusive for disabled children.

• For PE advice and training to begin from birth, with a strong presence in early years settings.

Making a start
Physical education must lead the drive for a ‘whole child’ approach to physical activity in the cause of health and wellbeing. We don’t have all the answers, but for too long nobody has asked the questions. The APPGFHC’s report does that. We honour our elite athletes. But the rest of us should ensure we stay healthy too.

Helen Clark is an associate director for Royal Public Affairs, a public affairs consultancy that advises on a range of policy matters.

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