Physical education (PE) is often seen within the education system as a marginal subject. And many high schools are actively reducing PE time to make path for more “serious” or “important” topics.
Youth Sport Trust studies suggest that for 14- to 16-year-olds, 38 per cent of English secondary schools have cut scheduled PE. One of the main reasons for that is the enhanced pressure to produce results of the examination. Nevertheless, amid these changes, PE remains celebrated for its ability to improve wellness and encourage lifelong physical activity. This is an important issue provided that according to the latest government estimates, over 30 per cent of the year six pupils are listed as “overweight” or “obese.”
PE is also celebrated for its commitment to improving psychological wellbeing, helping to foster social and moral growth, and promoting academic and cognitive success. The Physical Education Association emphasizes that high-quality PE fosters pupils’ physical, spiritual, financial, mental, economic, and intellectual development. But the many goals for PE – such as health education, developing skills, as well as focusing on moral and social issues – have created confusion about the topic and have done little in practice to further the educational opportunities. In fact, it was argued that PE offers more entertainment than education. A waste of time and some entertainment, or vital to a child’s education and development – what is it?
Part of the problem appears to be that PE is often seen as a possibility for pupils to be active and have fun. Or in some cases, as a way of relieving stress and serving as a break from traditional learning. These locations are clearly valuable for the overall well-being of pupils and there is a growing basis of evidence to suggest that physical activity has the potential to support learning more broadly. But PE’s role is not solely to support and promote the knowledge of pupils in other subject areas. It should instead be providing meaningful learning experiences within the subject itself.
Each offers a unique system for PE, sport and physical culture to explore a multitude of holistic learning opportunities. The moral or ethical controversies in sport, for example, can provide teachers with a range of educational stimuli for debate, rationale and critical reasoning. The Sports Monograph is a recent project that we have been working on, inviting learners to collaborate and share their views and experiences on sport, and what it means to them. The project included pupils from primary and secondary schools, as well as students from undergraduates and postgraduates who were all supported by their teachers and lecturers.
As part of the initiative, not only were the pupils acknowledged for their written achievements at school award evenings but, unlike in conventional PE, their work left a trail of proof of learning and academic involvement – appreciated and supported by the schools. As a valuable educational endeavour, PE successfully stood shoulder to shoulder with other subjects in the curriculum, with written evidence to support the claim. These pupils now have publications which are used at the University of Central Lancashire to teach undergraduates.
The role that PE can play as part of the broader academic curriculum appears to be completely forgotten, at best understated and, at worst. Activities such as those raised here could help to broaden PE’s educational potential, encourage more pupils to engage with the subject matter and reinforce PE’s place as a unique and valuable pursuit of knowledge. There are possibilities, but PE needs to be ready to grasp them and let the pupils write about their sporting enthusiasms to reflect what they’re being told to learn.