NCSL Article – Role of PE

I have recently had an article about the role of PE in the 21st Century published on the National College for School Leadership Website. The article features in the on-line ldr magazine. It has a wide range of articles on school leadership issues.

You need to be a qualified teacher to register and gain access to the site, but it is a simple process.

Here is a link to the article: NCSL

Here it is…

The Role of Physical Education in
21stCentury Education

As the country enters a very challenging period  for young people leaving education, the value of developing  a wide range of personal and interpersonal skills are becoming more important, whether they aspire to further / higher education, skills based training or employment.

It has been widely acknowledged that playing sport can develop a range of social, personal, cognitive and creative skills, in addition to the more obvious physical development. However, the ‘traditional’ delivery of physical education has focused more on the physical skills, teaching the activity /sport, and that the more essential life skills are only improved as a by-product and therefore only make limited amounts of progress.

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the focus of some PE departments across the country (including my own) where physical activity is used as the vehicle to develop the social, personal, cognitive and creative skills of young people in addition to developing their understanding of health and fitness. A vast majority of our learning objectives are based on the wider skills and not on physical skills themselves. However, as a result of more confident, resilient creative and healthy pupils, we have found that their physical skill levels are now improving at a faster rate than before.

For many years, I knew that there was the potential to develop the whole child through PE, but still chose to focus the curriculum on learning how to play a range of sports, and just hope that they developed as part of that experience. My journey started (as did many others) at a Heads of PE meeting where a guest speaker, Ronnie Heath (Managing Director of Create Development), provided practical solutions to support the concept of taking a more holistic approach to the development of pupils. We now use Create Development’s ‘cogs of learning’ to inform our planning for all of our schemes of work so that we can provide a multi abilities approach to our lessons.

In the first instance, we delivered the same National Curriculum activity areas, with nearly the same content in the lessons, but with one key difference. Instead of the learning objectives being physical skill related (as most of lessons in my first 5 years of PE teaching were), the learning focus was on their social or personal skills. All of a sudden, the pupils were learning how to work with each other and support each other, to take responsibility for their own learning and be able to embrace challenge instead of feeling threatened by it. The structure of the lessons remained the same, but the learning conversations and focus had changed. As a result, the progress that the pupils were making had accelerated.

From this point on, the pupils were able to use the levelled statements within the cogs of learning to monitor their progress. The curriculum has been constantly modified to ensure the pupils are able to make progress in all 6 ability areas and not just in ‘the physical’. Examples of these curriculum changes include ‘developing social skills and fair play through golf’ and ‘developing personal and creative skills through Parkour’. In truth, any activity area can provide the platform for a multi ability approach.

Assessment for learning has been embedded in this new method of delivery. It allows pupils to be much clearer about their learning journey, which in itself helps to accelerate progress. Pupils are given clarity about where they have come from, where they are currently, where they are going and what they need to do to get there.

I may provide learning objectives for the group focusing on a one particularcog e.g. All pupils should be able to work well with a partner or group and tell them what they are good at (social level 3). Most pupils should be able to help my partner/team/group make decisions (social level 4). Somepupils should be able to give and receive sensitive feedback to improve myself and others (social level 5). These objectives could be given in any PE activity e.g. gymnastics, football, swimming.  Because each ability/cog has progressive statements that link to the National Curriculum attainment levels, it easy for staff and pupils to identify what level they are working at and to monitor their progress. Pupils have their own individual targets that they check on an online assessment tool. So regardless of the activity and the objectives in any particular lesson, they all have their own targets they are trying to achieve.

There is a draw back. Updating pupil assessments highlights failings in my teaching. Some pupils are getting stuck in certain areas of their learning, not because they have not got the ability to progress, but because my lessons are not providing them with the opportunity to develop those skills. In addition to this, as the pupils are able to access their assessments on line, they also work out where their learning is stalling. As a consequence, they too have worked out that my teaching is slowing them down, and they have started to point this out to me and have asked very nicely to plan more opportunities in lessons to allow them to reach their targets!

An example of this was a year 9 pupil whose target it was to take responsibility for his own learning; and to create his own learning plan and revise that plan appropriately. This pupil wanted me to allow him the time in lessons to create his own plan, rather than being told what to do all the time. Too much teaching, not enough learning!

There have been several significant improvements that we have seen as a result of this shift in PE delivery. We have Year 7 pupils, who after only one term into their secondary education show more resilience in their learning than some of our Year 11 pupils (who received more traditional PE lessons) and are more skilled at working with others in groups (both cooperatively and as leaders) to accelerate learning. By focusing on skills that support learners to recognise and develop their own learning, the pupils are approaching their lessons with a greater sense of wanting to learn and to progress. This is evident in all pupils, especially in those that are not ‘sporty’, who in ‘traditional’ PE lessons, would already have been turned off from a life time of sport because they were forced to do rugby or X-Country in the cold and because of their low skill or fitness level, it was confirmed to themselves and everyone else in school that they were ‘rubbish at PE’.

In fact, these pupils, if given the right support and focus, can often have far better social, personal and cognitive skills than more physically developed learners, which allows them to learn at a faster rate than others, putting them at the top of the class and full of self-esteem.

Traditionalists may argue that there is a need to teach sports in lessons to maximise the potential of all the gifted and talented pupils in the school and to have strong sports teams, which always reflects well on a school. There is a duty to ensure that these pupils do develop and fulfil their sporting potential.
I believe that ‘able’ pupils must be given clear routes into local clubs and development squads where sport specific skills can be developed. However, in my experience, many of our more ‘gifted and talented’ pupils i.e those with high levels of physical skill, often lack the personal and social skills to make real progress. An example would be the performer who finds lessons easy due to their high skill level. They often have very low resilience to learning and when finally faced with a challenge, they get easily frustrated and give up all too easily. Using a multi ability approach ensures pupils develop into more rounded athletes and individuals.

However, there is an equal need for PE Departments to engage and educate all pupils, regardless of physical ability (as every other subject is expected to do), to develop them in a way that no other subject can do. We have found that the most physically skilled performers develop at a much faster rate, not by practicing their physical skills over and over, but by developing a wide range of skills that allows them to become better learners.

PE Departments have an opportunity to raise standards across the whole school by developing more confident, resilient, motivated, well behaved and happy learners, instead of just a cup winning rugby team. If you were holding interviews at your school for a subject leader for PE and one applicant said ‘I will develop successful sports teams, which will strengthen the reputation of the school’ and another applicant promises to ‘take a holistic approach to develop each and every child, thus creating more motivated, resilient and successful learners’, which one would you employ?
Simon Scarborough is a Subject Leader of PE at Culverhay School. The PE Department has recently been graded as Outstanding during a Local Authority review. Simon has also become a Specialist Leader in Education, based at the Cabot Learning Federation Teaching School in Bristol. He specialises in PE leadership and curriculum, behaviour and personal learning and thinking skills.
In September 2012 he will be become a Community Leader (PE, Science, DT, ICT and Business), when the school joins the Cabot Learning Federation and becomes Bath Community Academy. You can follow him on Twitter: @leading_in_pe or read more about his work at

Create Development are a national team of leading consultants providing innovative training, support and resources solutions to accelerate learning. @create_dev
The mulit ability strands are developed from Bailey, R., Morley, D. (2006) Towards a model of talent development in physical education. Sport, Education & Society. From this, Create Development designed the cogs of learning approach with the tiered statements. 

One thought on “NCSL Article – Role of PE

  1. Pingback: Developing Gymnasts Without a Gymnasium | Leading in Education

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