PE for everyone – how to make your provision great for all students, not just the best
For some, PE can be a source of anxiety – but with the right approach, we can help all students put their fears aside…
- by Zeph Bennett
This year has been like no other on record. A narrowing of curriculum choices due to COVID-19, National Governing Bodies dictating mutated variations of sporting activities, limited extracurricular opportunities and no inter-school fixtures.
Our young people need physical activity now more than ever, but circumstances mean we must adapt and move away from traditional games and PE-driven curriculum activities. In 2020, secondary schools include a diverse mix of cultures, religions and sexual identities.
PE has had to adapt to changing circumstances and students are no longer pigeonholed based on somatotype (body shape) or physical prowess; today schools need to provide different curriculum pathways to students as they develop into young adults.
Choosing your approach to PE depends on so many factors – as Alex Beckley, lecturer in PE at Kingston University, made clear in a recent post online. We need to consider the purpose and aim of the programme, the time allotted to PE on the curriculum, the resources and facilities available, group dynamics, individual abilities, staff skills, and the culture and ethos of the school.
That’s quite a list, but as the following models-based approaches demonstrate, PE has the potential to be a flexible and inclusive subject.
ME in PE
A common approach to making PE more tailored to the needs of the students has been to create strands of learning based around the individual and his or her strengths. Tom Brush (@tombrush1982), head of PE at Nishkam High School in Birmingham, devised his model ‘ME in PE’ around five strands of wellbeing: healthy, physical, thinking, social and personal.
Tom first developed the method in order to move away from grading students on levels, but it also had the benefit of allowing a broader range of personal qualities to be assessed.
Students are no longer being compared against black and white criteria that determine achievement based on skill, athleticism, and success. They are now assessed on their ability to organise, create and lead in activities where participation is the goal, and every student has a tangible role.
The sport education model
This model usually centres around team games, although it is not strictly necessary. The focus is on organising leagues, leadership within teams and how individuals develop within the structure of a team or organisation.
Students are encouraged to take on roles beyond participating in the game itself, which can be rewarding for many as it allows them to officiate, manage and organise. You don’t need to stick to more traditional team sports either – games like handball and ultimate frisbee are becoming increasingly common in secondary schools and have wide appeal.
The strength and conditioning model
This groundbreaking approach is based around building confidence in the key movement skills of running, jumping and throwing. This is done by breaking complex movements into manageable chunks for students of all abilities, using a series of stretching, movement and plyometric exercises that run through the core of all sports on the curriculum.
This unique model is currently being developed by James McCann (@jrmccann16), head of PE at Whitgift School, Croydon. Its design is perfect for students who find PE daunting and difficult, enabling them to develop good habits that will define how they take part in physical activity in the future.
As educators we are charged with teaching a broad and balanced curriculum, offering a varied selection of activities and opportunities in school and as part of the extracurricular schedule.
Facilitating these opportunities in the transition from primary to secondary is critical if students are to continue their interest in sport.
Writing in Physical Education Matters back in 2018, primary PE coordinator Ryan Forwood (@RyanForwoodPE) suggested that the sheer breadth of activities now offered in primary schools is not always mirrored in secondary, and this narrowing of choice as children move from Y6 to Y7 and beyond can lead to participation and interest dropping off significantly.
Whether linked to GCSEs or not, schools’ extracurricular programmes are evolving, with trampolining, weight training, indoor rowing and boxercise all proving popular. Because these activities can be less competitive, they allow more introverted students to thrive without the need for athleticism.
Try something different
Whatever approach a school chooses to take, funding remains key in our pursuit of inclusivity. If your PE department has adequate financial support, then the following games will provide all students with activity that improves their physical, social and mental wellbeing.
Importantly, they offer the opportunity for students to develop as part of a models-based approach or through a widening of the curriculum.
The beauty of this activity is that you’ll already have the equipment in your PE department – footballs, cone markers, plus your school playing fields. Yes, you can pay £75 or more for a proper foot golf hole, but coned greens and football corner flag posts are all you need.
The real benefit of this activity for young learners is they can set up the course, create the score cards and manage the rules. It offers all students the chance to play competitively or for fun, and requires minimal motor coordination.
This game has long been established in the USA and whilst played competitively in the UK is still relatively rare in secondary schools. It too requires minimal equipment: a set of frisbees will set a department back £100 and these will last for several years.
Again, you play on an existing football or rugby pitch, but unlike traditional games frisbee can be played at a gentler pace (to suit your participants), and the technique is easily mastered.
This is a medieval game still played in Kent and Sussex. It’s a cross between rounders and cricket, but striking the ball is easier thanks to the bat, which is shaped like a large spoon.
The scoring is like cricket and the nature of the game means it will suit all abilities and contexts. Equipment is available to buy from the Stoolball England website (stoolball.org.uk).
Mix it up
Dodgeball, boxercise, boccia, spike ball – all these sports are ideal for small groups wanting fun, physical activities that place less emphasis on athletic ability. A small investment will immediately open up options for students and hopefully help them develop a lifelong love of exercise.
Zeph Bennett is a PE teacher and Achievement Lead at Werneth High School, Stockport; follow him at @pegeekscorner.