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"PE teachers are the ones at the grass roots level who enthuse, spot talent, nurture and develop the children of today"

Posted on: 01 Nov 2016
Posted by: Liz Laybourn

Former Head of Physical Education and current Deputy Head at Burgess Hill Girls, Liz Laybourn, discusses the importance of encouraging pupils to enjoy PE as well as outlining where improvement can be made in the curriculum.

Understandably, faced with an ever changing education system, the need for continuous reflection of what we teach and how best we deliver an outstanding curriculum in schools today is essential.


As a former Head of Physical Education and current Deputy Head it is at times like these when I value the challenges and questions brought to the table about one’s subject and its benefit to the child. We must never, as educationalists, lose sight of the fact we are in this job to ensure the children of today get the best education possible. Nor should we stop striving to understand what an outstanding education looks like!


Recent reports suggest that Physical Education in schools needs a “radical shake up” and is often classed as a “Cinderella subject”. I am sure many outstanding practitioners would be quick to refute this statement and suggest that much has been and continues to be done to ensure Physical Education, like every other subject, is seen as a subject in its own right.


The benefit of Physical Education to the children in schools today is really quite immeasurable. The opportunity to nurture and develop children’s physical, personal and social development within a wide variety of sports and activities in a slightly more relaxed arena is incredible. All of this neatly packaged with an ability to learn, acquire skills for life, an understanding of limits and boundaries and the importance and benefits of remaining healthy. At a time when, as a nation, we face high levels of obesity in young children and a significant increase in the number of low self -esteem and well-being concerns it is important to provide all children with an opportunity to see their PE lesson as a time where they can learn in, what can seem to be, a more open and enjoyable way. It is undeniably a different learning environment than the classroom but not one that is any way less important.


Physical Education in schools has come a long way since the early 1900’s when Swedish Drill epitomised how PE was delivered in schools. Whilst no one would dispute the effectiveness of this form of PE training we are, thankfully, in a completely different world when it comes to the core skills and activities taught in schools today. What is taught will always come under scrutiny no different to questions asked in a Mathematics lesson for example….how is algebra useful in life! Some children will like it and be successful and some children will not be so keen. What is incredibly important during a child’s journey is that they find an activity they will continue in life beyond school. This does not necessarily mean they should have an opportunity to choose what they do in PE but that they should be exposed to the many different opportunities available both in and out of school. In fact I believe that in most secondary schools children find it difficult to choose and more often like to be given direction than the freedom of choice which often means they follow their peers. If a programme is broad, balanced, exciting and well taught I believe everyone can benefit.


Where I do believe there is room for improvement is the need to invest much more in the quality and depth of teacher training. If every student who has a passion for teaching is provided with the level of training that equips them for what the job requires in schools today they will be much better placed to deliver. To offer such breadth and diversity in lessons requires a much greater skill level. Sadly, I feel that this area has lacked the level of attention it deserves and new teachers have found themselves out of their depth.


On a positive note, as I really believe in seeking out the positive in every situation, we must not lose sight of the excellent performances seen at the last two Olympics Games. Opening doors to provide success stories, whatever they may look like, School PE departments should feel proud of what has been achieved in so many different disciplines. PE teachers should remember that they are the ones at the grass roots level who enthuse, spot talent, nurture and develop the children of today. If that isn’t a reflection of the value of the subject, I don’t know what is!

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About Liz Laybourn

Liz Laybourn is Deputy Head at Burgess Hill Girls, a day and boarding school close to Brighton.