What is the purpose of PE?

Posted by: Joyce Matthews   |   No Comments   |  Posted on: Nov 24, 2011

Did you hear the report on the other day, or did you see it on the news?  Sports Medicine specialists were proposing mandatory tests for PE, and all the resultant discussion got me thinking about PE in schools.

What exactly is the function of PE in this day and age?

Certainly not the same as it was 100 years ago, when muscular Christianity ruled the roost and battles were won and lost on the playing fields of Eton.

Is it to develop physical literacy amongst all our young people to enable them to function more ably in society? Or is it to keep them entertained as a contrast to the academia of the present league table directed curriculum? Maybe it’s to introduce them to a variety of sporting and physical activities so that they have an informed basis to choose from in their own time. Or could it be to get them fit, in a society where obesity is looming large on the horizon as the norm for about twenty per cent of the young people in our school? Could the purpose of PE in schools be to give those young people who don’t get good grades at ‘A’ level a chance to get a university degree and a half decent job with good holidays? Is it just a different ‘language’ for children to learn in and through? Maybe it’s to increase competitive opportunities to prepare young people for success and failure in later life, or is it just playing out – does it have any real value at all in today’s technological society?

Controversial, you tell me?

After all, hockey is still hockey and rugby is still rugby. There might have been a few minor changes in the rules of games, but essentially the games are still the same. Gymnastics and swimming are still essentially the same, while dance has moved forward and developed new genres to mirror the fashion in other expressive arts.

And what about the quality – are PE lessons better taught today than they were twenty years ago? With active learners, cutting edge technologies, and a range of teaching styles deployed to stimulate the cognitive, social, emotional and physical child, are PE teachers providing a better quality service for all? By sharing your learning objectives with the children before the lesson begins, does it make it more relevant, enjoyable and understandable for those involved? Should every child participate in all games, should they only play what they are ‘fit’ for, or is it the process rather than the product that matters? Are you doing it for its intrinsic or extrinsic value?

I know why I participate in physical activity, and I know what I believed when I was teaching it.  In the last twenty four years that I’ve been involved with physical education and school sport, I’ve seen its focus change drastically, and I’m lucky that I’m now outside the system and am able to objectively ask – for what reason?

So I guess the question that I’m posing is “For what purpose do you have physical education in your curriculum?”

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