Despite being sport-mad, the only lesson I skipped at secondary school was PE. Along with several others, we would slide through a hole in the fence round the back of the sports hall, and escape to spend the afternoon playing football in the local park.
I hated PE lessons because of the complete lack of choice, the overdose of cross-country running and the stifling bad temperament of the teachers, punctuated at each end by over-crowded changing rooms and communal showers. PE for me was something to endure rather than enjoy. It felt like something that was done to me rather than something I had any control over. So as soon as I had the confidence – and a hole in the fence - I chose to no longer attend.
Having worked with many groups of teachers and trainee teachers, I think similar negative experiences about PE are commonplace. PE is different from other subjects, and those differences can amplify feelings of exclusion. For example, children in precarious social situations can find it even harder to fit in.
When we plan and deliver PE, we need to be especially considerate of different circumstances such as social class, ethnicity, gender, religion, language, ability, sexuality and power. PE typically works best for those children who are most like the teacher, and we would do well to consider how we engage and include those who are least like us. The benefits of PE are wide-ranging and essential and are not just for a selection of those children who fit a certain mould.
Brilliant PE teachers will get to know their students, and how they identify. Brilliant PE teachers will include their children in the design of the PE programme and find ways to listen to their views. They will especially consider: ‘Whose voices are not being heard?’ PE curriculums should be culturally relevant, and friendship groups should be given as much consideration as ability groups. Democratic PE means the teacher gives up some of their own power, and hands it over to the students. Brilliant PE teachers identify and remove barriers that stop every child from being involved.
Every child in PE should feel as welcome, vital and accepted as they should do in their family mealtime at home. Of course, we need to prepare enjoyable activities and effective teaching, but we also need to obsess about the belonging and identity that each child feels. Continuing with the 'cook book' analogy, it’s not always what’s on the dining table that matters most, it’s who’s in the chairs.
'A Year of Primary PE', helps teachers with easy-to use and effective ways of getting to know their class and including all their children in meaningful and enjoyable PE experiences. PE is a tricky subject because of the vast differences between children in ability, confidence and motivation. These differences are usually accentuated by following a sports-specific curriculum. In my book, I have focused on games not sports. The 110 activities in the book are all age-appropriate, individual, pair or small-group games with adaptations which encourage inclusion and autonomy. Games which are based on sports - like 'Netball Legends 2' or 'Sitting Volleyball' - are modified to fit the needs of a class of 30 children who have different and hard-to-manage needs.
- Lynch S., Sutherland S. & Walton-Fisette J. (2020). The A to Z of Social Justice Physical Education, Part 1. JOPERD, 91 (4), April 2020 (link)
- Landi D., Lynch S. & Walton-Fisette J. (2020). The A to Z of Social Justice Physical Education, Part 2. JOPERD, 91 (5), May/June 2020 (link)
- PhysEquity is a social change movement that believes PE is for everybody (link)