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"Some girls enjoy exercise but drop out when they leave education. For others, PE leaves a lasting impression of being ignored in favour of 'sporty' classmates"

Posted on: 01 Nov 2016
Posted by: Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith, Head at Brighton & Hove High School believes that engagement in PE lies in plenty of encouragement and a growth mindset approach.

Following recent news that the status of physical education in schools needs a "radical shake-up", Jen Smith details her views on PE lessons in schools.


Recently the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood published its study of PE in UK schools. The group’s focus is on how to build sustainable engagement with physical activity in young people, something that we’ve been considering at Brighton & Hove High GDST for a while – i.e. how do we provide a sport and PE curriculum that will encourage girls to pursue physical activity beyond adolescence and into adulthood? How do we encourage activity in girls who do not enjoy competitive sport or who drop away from team games in adolescence?


The APPG study found that traditional, competitive team sport is not enough to foster child engagement with physical wellbeing and a more inclusive and diverse approach is long overdue: ‘Where PE might make a difference seems likely to be restricted, for the most part, to those youngsters already predisposed toward sport and active recreation’ (Green, 2014 ‘Mission impossible? Reflecting upon the relationship between physical education, youth sport and lifelong participation’, Routledge - Sport, Education and Society, 19:4, 357-375).


It concludes that PE for the 21st Century should reflect the many different ways children can express themselves physically and should move away from "skill drill lessons" and that young people should be given greater opportunity to explore what sort of alternative physical activity might suit them, using the natural and outside world as well as sports-specific environments. The study says girls in particular can be put off by a focus on competitive sports and run the risk of becoming disenfranchised from physical activity.


According to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, girls start doing less activity than boys as soon as they're eight or nine. By the time they're 14, only 12% of girls are active enough. And by the time they leave school, they have habits and perceptions that are hard to shift. 23% of women say school PE put them off activity for life. Some girls enjoy exercise but drop out when they leave school or university. For others, PE at school leaves a lasting impression of being ignored in favour of 'sporty' classmates.


In order to address this issue, schools need to develop sport and PE programmes that offer a much wider type of physical activity that can cater for different tastes and abilities. As well as general physical activity such as running and climbing, we should be offering a range non-competitive activities such as yoga and dance and individual sports such as swimming.


Our aim at BHHS is to continue to offer opportunities in traditional sports, with a full fixture list for hockey, netball and football, whilst broadening this offer with a wider range of alternative sports including tag rugby and handball but at the same time to offer more general physical activity such as bouldering, yoga, paddle-boarding and this term’s new arrival: Streetsurfing. We believe that the key to lasting engagement with physical activity lies in encouraging girls to recognise that although we may all differ in our talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments, everyone can change and grow through application and experience and everyone can enjoy physical activity. This growth mindset approach has long underpinned developments in professional sport and our Sports department has been at the heart of much of our whole-school focus on learning resilience.

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About Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith is Headmistress at Brighton and Hove High School GDST a girls' school in East Sussex.