The Future of Physical Education

AfPE National PE Taskforce

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Physical Education (PE) is a subject taught to, and experienced by, all children
and young people in our schools as part of the curriculum. As the only subject
that educates through the physical domain, understanding its movement and
how it can be used to build an active and healthy lifestyle—that also helps
develop other key life skills and improve academic attainment—PE should
rightly sit at the heart of school life.
Yet in a worrying turn, as the worst of the pandemic has passed, evidence
is beginning to emerge of some schools, since their reopening, reducing PE
time in order to focus on catch-up in other subject areas. The consequences
of this approach are hugely concerning for the future health and wellbeing
of our children. We already know of the worrying consequences to children’s
health through sedentary lifestyles, not least in relation to childhood obesity
and poor body weight management.
It is also the case that at the end of 2019, 150,000 children left primary
school unable to meet the Physical Education National Curriculum minimum
requirements to swim 25 metres and be able to carry out a safe self-rescue:
a key life skill in itself. This will only exacerbate the shocking statistic of one in
three adults in England being unable to swim.
This situation clearly needs addressing, both urgently as part of the welcome
catch-up programme, and more systematically over the longer-term, to ensure
no child misses out on receiving excellent PE throughout their school years,
providing the springboard to a life of physical activity and sport. PE is ‘for life’,
with irrefutable research demonstrating the lifelong impact on physical, social,
emotional and cognitive development.
Currently PE is not a core subject within the school curriculum, with its
foundation status making it vulnerable to being de-prioritised. However, if we
can ensure that PE is taught by highly-skilled teachers in every school, and
there is more available time on the curriculum, this will put PE at the school
life in the immediate term.
Our longer-term ambition is for it to become a core subject within in a few
years. There is no doubt that it will have a powerful and positive impact on
not just the recovery, but also on the longer-term excellence of our school
offer to all children and young people—be that academic, physical, mental,
emotional, or social.
Including PE in the suite of National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) will
provide a route to improve the quality of PE teaching. The PE qualification
is very flexible and locally grown, meaning it can adapt to what pupils need
most in any given school or area. In addition, for it to be appropriately
reported on alongside literacy and numeracy, would demonstrate that we
are all committed to improving the physical and emotional wellbeing of all
children and young people.
A targeted summer swimming catch-up for year 5 and 6 pupils using local
facilities—or schools across all sectors opening up theirs to other pupils—
would also start to help teachers address this stigmatising threat to our
children’s access to water activities and, crucially, water safety.
We believe that PE must be part of the ‘recovery offer’, and sit at the heart
of every school offer and experience. Without doubt, research from across
the world highlights the importance of physical and emotional wellbeing.
If this is prioritised long term, outcomes for all children and young people
will be improved. We have a unique opportunity and responsibility to be
the world’s first nation to take strident action on this global evidence base.
The pandemic has exposed both the lack of understanding of, confidence
in, and commitment to PE across parts of our school system, as well
as demonstrating the huge importance and potential of PE to be a core
contributor to the improved health and wellbeing of our nation’s children.
We believe that this can be a key part of the levelling-up agenda, giving
opportunities for all to thrive—and not just survive—in a challenging world.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2021

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