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A Multi-Axis Approach to Physical Education

Posted: Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:17

A Multi-Axis Approach to Physical Education

Physical education (PE) in the UK is in a poor state. A recent report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood highlights this ongoing issue with the goal of starting a process of realising changes to PE that will allow every school pupil the chance to achieve a healthy, lifelong relationship with sport and physical activity.

According to the report, in what will no doubt be familiar lamentations, to achieve the current public policy outcomes, PE as a subject must overcome a raft of long-standing problems. These are rooted in its archaic structure and design as well as its secondary status as a school subject. Compounding these matters are the wider social changes that have seen new demands placed on children and young people, along with new concerns around child mental health, self-esteem and body image.

Whatever the wider issues PE, in the way it is taught and delivered as a subject, is currently failing to meet these challenges. Both the APPG report and the accompanying article by Fitmedia, conclude this and provide recommendations and ideas for incorporation into a new strategy for the redesign of PE, sport and physical activity in schools.

These reports state the numerous problems with school PE, including, but not exclusive to, a lack of identity and clearly defined curriculum goals, and an overriding framework that is too generic. PE in schools is currently very much a "one size fits all" approach, giving large groups of children activities with a competitive element and some minimum requirement-style physical activity regardless of the personality and preferences of each child. A more child-centric approach, it is argued, would make PE more attractive and address claims that as many as one in three pupils "hate exercise".

The primary recommendation from Fitmedia is based on the concept of a physical activity "compass" that would help to identify the needs of a child based on their preferences for: competitive versus non-competitive; and team versus individual activities. This, it is stated, combined with some assessment of physical attributes (speed, co-ordination etc.), would provide a valuable starting point for schools to design PE sessions with multiple options and for children to decide on activities with which to experiment and explore their physical activity preferences.

Many will argue that the current state of PE is in large part due to the ubiquitous constraints on schools regarding funding, facilities, staffing and finding time in a busy timetable. While it is not difficult to argue that these issues must be at least partly resolved before there can be a sea-change in the quality of mainstream physical education, there seems to be immediate room for a new approach, as advocated by this article, and the use of a multi-axis approach to defining different activities.

As is stated in the article itself, this is not based on new findings (research supporting the idea that different types of sporting activities stimulate different personality-types is cited in the article). It also applies the well-established theory that motivation is bolstered by autonomy, i.e. a pupil being able to exercise choice over which activity to pursue is likely to lead to stronger engagement with the activity itself.

Both articles make for interesting reading and will hopefully go some way to stimulating essential debate over the future strategy for physical education in the UK.

The Fitmedia article and the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood are available below.

Luke Regan is researcher at The Sports Think Tank

Tags: Policy, school sport, PE


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