Why is PE getting the cold shoulder?

When you walk into any school and talk to any subject specialist it is obvious to see their bias when priotitising the importance and impact their subject has on young people. I too am the same with Physical Education, as a specialist in PE and someone with a passion for inspiring active and healthy lifestyles I’m fully aware of the transformative impact this subject can have on young people and I champion it at every opportunity. Recently however I have been saddened to see that some school leaders are giving PE ‘the cold shoulder’.

Within the last three weeks I have come across 3 very separate scenarios where PE has been neglected at the expense of other subjects. Firstly, I was told by the head of PE at a very successful secondary school that their head teacher had made the decision to discontinue PE as a GCSE subject, claiming that it is too difficult to get the ‘middle graders’ into the higher-grade brackets. Surely in this situation it is the job of school leadership to adopt a different approach to a subject with perhaps more resources or provision to ensure more pupils attain the highest possible grades rather than ditch the subject completely?

The second of the three scenarios regularly takes place in a primary school I know of, during each PE lesson chunks of the class go missing for ‘intervention’ and then return later on having often missed crucial parts of the PE lesson which were key to ensuring their understanding of objectives set and how to achieve them, the unfortunate result of this is not only are they missing out on valuable physical activity, but the physical activity they do get in the form of PE is not being experienced as a successful or enjoyable one as they are hindered when it comes to achieving the lesson objectives through no fault of their own.

Thirdly and finally, at an after school club I’ve had the pleasure of delivering, I suddenly noticed a drop in attendance, when I asked where the rest of the group are I was surprised to hear that they had been told they must attend compulsory math intervention instead of their after school extracurricular sports club.

I fully understand that the current situation in education is tough as the amount of scrutiny of our teachers is suffocating and the expectations that every child should be advancing term on term in every subject is unrealistic. No longer do we take into account the home life, or the wellbeing of the child. No longer do we have time to care for and nurture our school children. no longer do they have the pleasure of enjoying hours of creative and expressive subjects like PE and others. The whole focus seems to be on grades, league tables and what looks best for the school rather than the child and as a result we are failing to enrich children with and give them the opportunity to learn vital skills they need for success in their future life. It sounds clich√© but ask yourself when have you ever had to draw a diagram of a plant cell, or explain Pythagoras theorem since leaving school? I do not doubt its importance of these things and I understand they have a place in our curriculum, but at what expense?¬† I whole heartedly agree that a rounded curriculum is of the upmost importance, but I can’t help but wonder if the pressure schools are under to achieve the highest possible grades is; rather than setting up the next generation of adults for success it is instead neglecting the very subjects that foster the key skills like Team Work, Leadership, Communication, Resilience, Humility, Courage, Empathy, Expression of Self, Creativity.

I often wonder if PE will ever have a place in schools amongst the core subjects like Math, Science and English, I certainly hope so, but I do wonder whether as PE specialists it is wise to put our energy into achieving that or instead to be focusing on alternative ways to allow children to experience physical activity and develop key skills which will help them succeed in life.

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