So, I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t scrap school PE…..

What are your memories of school sport and PE? Bitchy netball cliques, gym knickers and being forced to run around a cross country field?
Mine were anything but. Teamwork. Fun. Pride. Patience. Frustration. Ambition. Emotions, experiences and qualities that rounded my education and my personality. So why is it causing so many problems? How is it being allowed to fall by the wayside as the first ball to drop? You don’t let people skip maths because they just don’t like it or aren’t particularly good at it. So why are we frequently letting this happen with PE?

I get it. I was sporty. I was never at the back of the cross country course, I was never the last person picked for the team. I’m probably the last person who should be writing about this topic and I’m sorry if that comes across as arrogant. My view won’t match a lot of people. I clearly sit VERY much on the pro side of the fence.
But it’s not just what you intrinsically learn. Learning to lose, working as a team, the dedication and commitment to playing and training regularly, the competition element for team places, yes, but there is the other stuff. The girls I call my best best friends weren’t in my form group. I got to know them primarily through PE lessons, through netball, and athletics, and trampolining clubs and this was only made EVEN better when half of us chose PE at GCSE and A level. And I couldn’t wish for a bunch of more incredible girls and I quite frankly wouldn’t have got that anywhere else.

Unfortunately, it’s not all rainbows and sparkles for everyone. We are constantly being made aware of the decline of female participation in school sport, particularly at a secondary school level, where the realisation that you could talk back to a teacher and potentially refuse to do something has come about it most.

I am 99% sure that for most, a large part of the reason behind this is because people learn how to play the game. Come on, you will all know that, as a girl, if you didn’t want to take part, all you had to do was mention ‘female problems’ and the male PE staff would run away screaming. And the problem is, there is only so much that PE staff can do. Unfortunately, PE sometimes doesn’t have the same respect as a lot of the other curriculum subjects, especially once you get to GCSE level and above, where a lot of schools will reduce the dedicated hours, or even cut it out altogether. PE just doesn’t seem to attract the same level of respect in terms of consequences for not taking part – the problem is as a society we are getting so SO concerned with body image and freedom that PE staff simply can’t use the same level of discipline that say a science teacher would use if you kept skipping lessons.

But let’s not say I’m blaming it all on the pupils. Infrastructure, government cuts to funding, the selling off of school playing fields to developers, greater pressure from society to seemingly allow pupils to do what they want because enforced exercise is now no longer seen as fair…..are all attributing factors. Obesity is at a high point. Childhood and youth activity levels are at a serious low. Children aren’t getting the activity outside of school that they used to and if this isn’t at least partially tackled in the classroom, I don’t really know where we go from there. And that’s not OK.

If we don’t get sport and PE into children’s lives at an early point, what chance do we have later? And then what role models and encouragement will their children have?

There is a fine line between getting people to participate through new activities and losing the core tradition of a subject where you should be able to play the games and sports that are so typical to a school life in the UK. If you let people go to the gym in the PE hour, the problem is that you simply don’t have enough staff to supervise and what some of them actually do is read magazines and drink coffee….enough said.

Another factor often brought up is the lack of shower cubicles and time to get changed after lessons. And unfortunately, that’s apparently what we now need to do. #thisgirlcan is great as far as it stands, but try telling a teenage girl that she has 5 minutes to do her hair and get ready (despite the fact a lot of schools theoretical don’t actually allow make up….) and you have NO CHANCE of getting anyone to put in vaguely enough effort in a lesson to make it worthwhile….unless you are someone like me who is already on board with it and really could only half care about what they look like (sorry!)

Oh and let’s not forget the fact that obviously, aged 13, the only reason you would go into a school shower is because you are a lesbian. *facepalm* (and there we go into a WHOLE other subject but let’s leave that for another day)

So I guess my point of view is twofold. In my head I’m all for ‘just get on with it and do it, stop faffing around and bring back stricter rules’ but unfortunately in this day and age, that isn’t going to fly. It worked for me, it works for a lot who enjoy PE, but it’s not going to work for all.

So yes, let’s make changes up top to redefine what we incorporate into lessons and how we surround this with the relight infrastructure and enablers, however please please DO NOT trivialise the importance of PE and allow it to be treated as the weakest subject where all rules, values and qualities can be thrown out of the window.

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7 thoughts on “So, I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t scrap school PE…..

  1. I personally hated PE at school. But it has left me very sad that I didn’t discover my love of exercise until twenty flipping one. 21! And my school had a cross country course! I could have gone to TOWN on that; I would if I could somehow reverse time. But I would definitely NOT want to see it go.

    The way I see it is this:

    – include lessons about why PE is important; about finding joy in exercise.
    – allow lots of variation so people can find their niche, and if possible also the opportunity to then start heading into that niche.
    – don’t split by gender. This was part of why I detested it. Just because I have a vagina does not mean I like dance. I DETESTED dance. I did some football at uni and far preferred that.
    – yes, be stricter, make participation near mandatory and effort required too. Promote respect for PE teachers.
    – Don’t allow team sports to become a popularity contest, teach teachers to allocate team captains on skill then pick the rest of the teams in a random numbering fashion or similar.
    – Try less team sports. Team sports are a breeding ground for popularity groups, ignoring weaker members etc. (No offence to yourself here!)
    – incorporate class trips into PE. Everything else gets them! Learn to surf or climb a nearby hill or go horse riding or something.

    I’m not 100% sure of how it should be implemented,but what I want to see is teens learning what kind of sport they love.

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    • The amount of people I know now who echo exactly the same as you (that they hated PE but are now super into their running, triathlons etc) is INSANE! Actually I also hated dance. My one memory of it was doing something to the tune of the matrix. I think the boys had to do it too though…which kind of made it better?

      Another of my musings is around parents – so I berated mine recently for the fact that I could have done a lot more with triple jump had they made me go to my local club sessions after my PE staff told me to….and their simple point was ‘you just wouldn’t go’. Which was fair, I wouldn’t. And that brings up a nature/nurture aspect, whereas now, I listen to exactly what they say and they are my biggest running fans (Hi Mum!)

      Regarding the niche bit – the girls I ride with were allowed to go home during PE and school their horses by the time it got to sixth form, which is great, because they were competing at weekends and it gave them the time to train, but I think this is probably pretty rare.
      And I also wonder what we need to do in early years to make secondary school less of a challenge – there is a lot of funding going in at the minute but it’s understanding how to keep up the momentum and make sure people realise that EXERCISE IS FUN!!

      (I also have a friend who is a PE teacher at a school where a lot of the pupils need additional support…he is on my hitlist of people to write a guest post!)

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  2. Some great points Scallywag! Unlike Katie, I wasn’t one of the ‘sporty’ crew at school either – I got on fine in PE, but was never destined for Olymic Gold Medalry… If I’d learned to surf as a child however, rather than waiting til my 20s, I could have been a Roxy-sponsored, perma-tanned, wave-riding, multi-millionaire by now!

    In all seriousness though, yes it would be great to offer children and young people the opportunity to do something active that they really want to engage with!

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  3. I completely agree about getting kids into sport from a young age- but sadly I had the opposite experience to you! I am absolute rubbish at team sports, so I never enjoyed them, dreaded them even , and because I was rubbish I was never really encouraged to get better. PE was just one long torture where the teachers dedicated their attention to the sporty kids, and us crappos were left on the sidelines!

    Luckily I loved swimming (which wasn’t offered at my school) so went to a local swimming club and with my parents which kept me fit and showed me that I wasn’t bad at sports, just team sports.

    My parents were also active, and we spent out holidays walking and doing outdoors activities. My Dad was a runner, and this inspired me too.

    I think the sports curriculum needs to me more varied and kids should have more choice in what they could do. There was really no benefit for me playing netball as I hated it, and forcing it on me every week was not going to change this. So many people leave school thinking because they’re bad at hockey or netball they can never be sporty, which is totally not true!

    That said, I think parents also have a responsibility to introduce their kids to an active lifestyle and encourage themselves to find something that they like. Schools have limited funding, and time, and can’t take full responsibility. Kids should be exposed to all sorts of activities: running, cycling, walking, team sports etc and then they can find what they like and decide for themselves whether they are sporty or not!

    Jess x

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    • My sister is exactly the same – she totally HATES and will freely admit she is rubbish at team sports. But she loves gymnastics, trampolining, horse-riding, spin classes etc. it’s all about finding the niche but unfortunately, it can often take a lot of time to do so – but I think it’s about making it more varied and giving choice, but without being too lax and allowing people to get away with doing nothing? Which is where parents come in! (Again though, that is finding the balance between encouraging, being pushy, not being quite pushy enough and totally ignoring it!) I have been lucky like you and used to there always being bikes and trainers taken on holiday with us and I think that made me think it was normal? Apparently it’s not and people think the entire family are mental!
      The good thing is, I think a lot is being done to try and open up more activities both in and out of school, especially those which we’ve suddenly started to do well at on a global, more visible level, the momentum just needs to keep going!

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