I lectured in these subjects for over a decade and worked both in primary schools, delivering exercise sessions to young children, including the “wake up, shake up” activity, and in a secondary school PE department.
Based on that experience, I strongly believe that PE should have a much more central role in the curriculum.
Successive governments have missed the chance to improve the nation’s health and wellbeing by adopting a holistic and preventive approach, placing an emphasis on educating young people about the importance of physical activity, what it means to have a healthy lifestyle, and ensuring that they adopt healthy, enjoyable exercise habits from an early age.
With alarming figures relating to childhood obesity, diabetes and a range of other health conditions, along with serious concerns around children’s mental health, we must take a more preventive and long-term approach to health and wellbeing.
The provision of high-quality PE in our schools should be a fundamental part of that.
Do not misunderstand me: the provision of good-quality PE is not the only solution to those problems.
We also have to look at a wide range of other things, such as active travel, active families and active communities, grassroots sports provision, nutrition, and addressing the barriers to being more active – be they real or perceived.
However, young people’s access to good-quality and wide-ranging physical education is an important part of addressing some of those serious health issues.
That is why I think that PE should be a core subject.
I accept that that cannot happen overnight, and we do, of course, have to consider the implications for the broader curriculum. However, as the Association for Physical Education says, we should give PE a higher priority straight away, with children spending more time on physical activity, and aim to have a highly trained PE teacher in every primary school within a few years.
As The Times Educational Supplement reported recently, by having high-quality, properly resourced and immovable PE provision in our schools, we encourage children and young people to adopt life-long physical activity habits, which will reduce the prevalence of a range of chronic health conditions and, in turn, take some of the pressure off the NHS which we know is bursting at the seams.
A national plan for sport, health and wellbeing report, recently discussed in the House of Lords, noted that “attitudes towards physical activity…track into adulthood”.
In short, by exposing children to a wide variety of PE options and enabling them to develop healthy habits from a young age, we help to create a generation of healthy adults.
The benefits of high-quality PE provision do not stop at the physical. The skills that children learn from PE are many: perseverance, resilience, collaboration, team work, initiative and confidence to name just a few.
Those skills help young people to flourish in education and life.
The great thing about physical activity is that there is something for everyone, whether that is in competitive sport, dance, gym, group exercise, running, and everything in between.
I had two very good female PE teachers, who were instrumental in inspiring me to adopt physical activity habits for the rest of my life – including a 30-year hockey career which, sadly, came to an end as a result of the pressures of this job.
Those role models are important, and that is why PE should be a core curriculum subject at the heart of our education system.
As well as having PE on the curriculum, it is also important to look at how we can embed physical activity into the education system as a whole.
The “creating active schools” framework, designed in part by the Yorkshire Sport Foundation, is a good example of that.
It encourages all stakeholders, from local authorities to school leaders and pupils, to play a role in embedding physical activity in the school’s ethos, and I offer to work with colleagues across the Houses of Parliament on taking this agenda forward.
Kim Leadbeater is the Labour MP for Batley and Spen. She took part in a Parliamentary debate on PE lessons – this is an edited version.
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