Why Physical Education Is Failing Our Generation


It’s a Thursday and the weather outside is pretty bad. There are a group of forty children in gym shorts, black plimsolls and fluorescent yellow polo shirts.  Most of the children look excited except for one short, brown-haired, bespectacled girl right at the back. 

You guessed it. Me. I can honestly say that PE was a mixture of intense fear and humiliation, but mostly humiliation. There’s nothing quite like being called to the front of the class on your first day of secondary school and forced to star jump in front of a group of people. It was captured in my Year 7 report, ‘though Lucy has no natural elegance or grace, she tries her best at sports to varying degrees of success.’ (No, I’m not kidding, that was actually what my teacher wrote).

I found out later that I wasn’t the only person who hated school sports, or ‘games’, a rather misleading term my secondary school liked to use. According to Ofsted in 2013, Physical Education is rated to be one of the biggest failing subjects, the gifted children ‘aren’t being pushed enough’ while the ‘overweight children’ are also not being helped. I have to say that this Ofsted report made me laugh. To separate children so crudely into ‘gifted’ and ‘overweight’ is absurd. What about the vast majority of children, what about the mediocre, or the average child? Our school sports system should be an environment in which, yes all children are pushed but it should also be an environment where all achievement, however small, is valued, a place where people look forwards to having fun and playing sports together.

Being dyspraxic, I was what my sports teacher termed, charmingly, ‘one of the special ones.’ (Again, no kidding he actually said this). And, I’ve got to tell you that description didn’t make me feel particularly excited about the concept of doing team sports. One of the problems with our school system is that the quality of physical education received is largely a postcode lottery. The government spent huge amounts of money as part of the 2012 Olympic legacy on the school sports system, as they wanted to leave a new culture in schools where a large variety of sports were offered and one in which sport was cherished. For example the government scraped School Sports partnerships (SSPs) in 2011. The SSP was a clever system that helped schools organise PE lessons, fund PE teachers for two days a week and helped schools to more easily compete with other schools in friendly matches. The decision to scrap the SSP by Gove was met with outrage by many within the teaching community. Whilst this may not sound like a very big loss, the scrapping of SSPs has meant that schools are often left to develop school sports programmes organically. This has very bad consequences as it means that teachers who teach other subjects are being drafted in to teach PE even though it is not the discipline they are trained in.

Therefore, is it any wonder that people like me had such bad sports experiences? We were taught by teachers who had received no training, who received no extra pay for longer hours and a group of children ranging in ability and then were expected to craft lessons catered to all. Whilst I retain that I had the worst sports teacher in Britain and cannot excuse him for his instance to complete the bleep test in the rain I can pity poor Mr S., a maths teacher who probably didn’t want to be teaching us sport anyway.


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