Are we looking in the wrong direction?

All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood – Physical Education 
By Graham Morgan, Evolve Chairman 
It is good to see some serious attention being given to the health of our children as they face the challenges of growing up in the digital age. Never have there been so many alarming concerns facing the physical health and emotional wellbeing of children – something not helped by our education system, with its main focus on squeezing academic performance in examinations.
As a graduate specialist of PE from Borough Road College, London, I was lucky enough to teach the subject in its halcyon days during the 1970s and 1980s. I was further fortunate to work in two schools – one as Head of Department – that excelled in PE and sports, and helping to pioneer the CSE PE. In those days, PE was fit for purpose – as were the fit and active children I worked with.
Nowadays, I do not recognise what is being offered by many schools in the name of PE. I find it alarming that OFSTED thinks PE teaching is ‘Good to Outstanding’ in over two-thirds of primary schools. I cannot think what criteria they are using to reach this conclusion or what real expertise the inspectors have to judge the quality of the PE teaching and any impact it might be making.
An equal concern is the lack of any basic fitness and physical literacy embedded in the majority of children when they start their education in Year 1 of primary school.
However, I would like to ask: “Are we looking in the wrong direction?”
By this I mean should we be concerned with the subject of PE itself or the more important issue of improving children’s health and wellbeing? I have read so much over-claiming for school sport and PE on what it can do for health, character development, resilience etc by various agencies and governing bodies. Their claims are more concerned with winning or protecting government or brand funding rather than any objective analysis.
The All Parliamentary Group are to be congratulated on some really excellent proposals in their report, but I think there is still so much more for them to consider. I suggest that if it is children’s health and wellbeing that is really setting the agenda, then proceed directly to that aim and not through the filter of PE. I would go further and strongly suggest another, more innovative group is consulted from outside those with such a direct commercial interest in the subject of PE.
My proposals for discussion:

  1. Health and education to be brought much closer in schools, so that children can learn vital lessons about life and how to make the best informed decisions for themselves.
  2. A new subject is created in schools: ‘health and wellbeing’. Under this umbrella would be physical activity, sport, team-building, outdoor engagement, diet and nutrition etc.
  3. A new organisation, ‘The Youth Health Trust’, should be created. This would focus on what we are seeking, with investment from health and education, and provide an alternative to just throwing more money at sport, thinking it will lead to an active and healthy nation.
  4. That the APPG look at the work of Evolve and Project HERO to see what an alternative approach might bring to the idea that PE and school sport is the only way forward, and that any teacher can inspire children to be active and healthy.
  5. A position is created to look at how schools, parks and other facilities can be turned into activity hubs for the communities where they are located. For reference, see the work of Bradford Football Development (1983-89) and parkrun (UK).
  6. Most importantly, seek and discuss the thoughts of innovative people working in the field, rather than the familiar, comfortable organisations and people who have let the current situation arise. Practical experience is needed to supplement the thoughts and theories of academics, medics and manufacturers of equipment.

To view the full report click here.