Physical education – What schools can do to stop the squeeze

cartoon illustration of a school sports team celebrating a goal or match victory, representing physical education

There’s been a worrying decline in PE lesson hours due to schools prioritising academic subject interventions, warns James Walker…

James Walker
by James Walker
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Physical education is slowly being squeezed from the curriculum. Over the last 10 years, 36,244 hours have been lost.

73% of this drop impacts young people in KS4 alone. Yet these are the young people who are most in need of PE’s transformative powers.

Following the release of the Youth Sport Trust’s ‘Secondary PE – State of the Nation’ report, we wanted to create a picture of the current situation for schools in England. What we found out was dire, to say the least.

Secondary schools are only offering an average of 92 minutes of physical education to KS4. This is well below Ofsted’s recommended 120 minutes per week.

In the northwest, we heard examples where students in Y7 to Y9 were only getting two hours per week of PE for half a term. They were then stopping completely due to rotations with D&T.

Y10 and 11 students

The situation is even worse for Y10 and Y11 students in some schools. In some, Y10s are accessing one hour per week and Y11s are receiving no PE at all.

The issues this causes for students’ physical, social and emotional health and wellbeing are profound. This is especially so when they’re experiencing some of the most stressful years of their adolescent lives.

This is the curriculum schools are being forced to create, due to pressures such as those relating to the EBacc and Progress 8.

Support for schools

Schools tell us they want government to be more vocal on the value of PE. As a charity, we have long been campaigning for better school investment in the subject. We want to support schools in reducing the amount of PE time that’s taken away for other subject interventions.

So how can we start to address these challenges? Senior leaders – consider alternative options when planning interventions and exam preparation. PE staff understand that spaces like sports halls may need to be used for formal and mock exams, but could informal assessments not be hosted elsewhere?

Where Y11 students need additional support, vary the lessons/days when students receive them so that they don’t keep missing PE or after-school clubs. This may send the message that PE is less important than other subjects.

PE teachers – listen to your students, particularly the least active, to help you understand their attitudes and barriers. You can then use this feedback to inform your curriculum design, track the impact and get better engagement. Senior leaders will be interested in this, so show them your results in order to get their buy-in.

James Walker is a Development Manager for Secondary PE at children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust; for more information, visit or follow @youthsporttrust. Browse ideas for National Fitness Day. Read advice for preparing for PE deep dive questions.

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