Leadership programme

What does it mean to be physically educated?

Equal Access to Sport

What does it mean to be physically educated? MacAllister (2013) offers us the idea that physically educated people are:

“Those who have learned to arrange their lives in such a way that the habitual physical activities they freely engage in make a distinctive contribution to their wider flourishing”.

Earlier this year on International Women’s Day (8th March) the government announced, ‘new standards for equal access to sport’. These new standards involve a comprehensive package of:

  • increased funding
  • increased curriculum time for PE
  • an expectation that schools increase what is offered to girls and boys
  • an increase in the School Game mark to reward parity of provision for girls

There is an expectation that the new standard for PE in primary (and possibly secondary, this is still not clear) is to deliver 2 hours of curriculum time per week. This expectation comes with an announcement to offer support to schools via a ‘refreshed School Sport Action Plan’ and is supplemented by £600 million in funding for the PE and Sport Premium over the next two academic years as well as £22 million for two years of further funding for the School Games Organiser network (SGO), which are responsible for engaging young people in competitive school sports events.

In addition, the School Games Mark is being used as an incentive to offer girls the same opportunities as boys (if wanted) and schools are awarded the mark based on the amount of provision they offer for extracurricular games, events and competitions.

The offer from the government to support this delivery and provide funding that schools can use for professional development is a welcomed and much needed addition if schools are going to be able to not only achieve the 2-hour target but ensure these 2 hours are quality experiences that are inclusive, educational and appropriate for all involved.

The full announcement can be found here and the recent Euro 2022 England Women’s National team triumph in which the Lionesses ‘brought football home’ has been attributed as a major influence on forcing the government’s hand.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan feel they have delivered on promises they made to the Lionesses, however, as we know in education the real delivery is done on a day-to-day basis by dedicated staff across the board and in often ever-changing environments that in this moment in time are under severe economic and political constraints. In this blog post, we aim to unpick the announcement and try to suggest some answers to the question ‘What does this mean for me and my school?’

‘Equal’ Access for Whom

Football is a male dominated sport and after the great victory from the Lionesses, ‘female’ football has started to have a seat at the table of discussion. However, to what extent does this announcement from the government promote equitable approaches to engagement in sport and PE for all young people, not just girls interested in playing football? Is equal access enough to ensure young people have the opportunity to flourish through physical activity and sport?

A Paralympic Dream

This year in Birmingham the IBSA World Games will take place, and for the first time, there is going to be a competition for female footballers with visual impairments. The World IBSA Games is the largest high-level competition for individuals with visual impairment and is usually a qualification event for the Paralympic Games. It was only in 2021 that the English female team was assembled to participate during the Blind Football 5-a-side competitions thus the dream of competing at a Paralympic Games can only be realised in Los Angeles 2028, as that is the first time the female competition will be included in the sport competition schedule. Currently, females with a visual impairment have only one option, and that is the sort of goalball. How many females with a visual impairment attending mainstream schools could benefit from hearing about this story? How will access to football and an increase in PE hours play out for the young female in a wheelchair?

The recent announcement included one bullet point dedicated to disability, and that should be celebrated. However, that could be considered exclusive if compared to what is suggested for non-disabled students. Marginalised voices need to be heard and listened to if this announcement is going to have a positive impact on all members of our society.

'Increased’ Funding

Figure 1 (below) shows the 5 key areas that schools should expect to see improvement based on the Primary PE and Sport Premium funding.

Figure 1- https://www.afpe.org.uk/physical-education/evidencing-the-impact-guidance-template/

Schools have had access to the School Sport Premium funding since its introduction in 2013 and are tasked with allocating the funding as they see fit within this framework with a responsibility to report what they spend. Having this autonomy to meet the needs of the local community is advantageous but it is unclear how a further 2 years of funding will help if the last 10 years have led us to where we are today.

PE Curriculum Time

The magic number of 2 hours of PE and school sport each week is not a new phenomenon and was introduced by the Labour government back in 2009. Interestingly, there was no statutory guidance to adhere to the 2 hours but research from Sport England did see a marked increase in young people taking part in PE for the 2 hours, and an Ofsted review on PE in 2012 commented that most schools were continuing to meet this aspirational target.

However, previous research in PE and sport (Youth Sports Trust, 2018) has highlighted a lack of curriculum time for PE and more recently a focus group of PGCE primary student teachers confirmed, what previous research has reported for a while now (see Harris, 2018), that some placement schools often replaced PE with other ‘academic’ subjects, perhaps demonstrating that the importance of PE is still not universally recognised.

The reasons for this are not to be laid solely at the feet of individual teachers or schools per se, as accountability for results has skyrocketed in recent years, thus there are tough decisions to be made about where to find the time to meet these demands. Secondly, there are deeper-rooted issues around a lack of subject knowledge and confidence amongst practitioners that can contribute to a reluctance to deliver PE on a consistent basis (Harris, 2018), and this is often remedied by the employment of sports coaches (Huddleston and Randall, 2018).

In their case study, Huddleston and Randall (2018) looked at 25 schools in Birmingham and found that Key Indicator 1: The Engagement of all pupils in regular physical activity had the biggest funding allocation with Key Indicator 2: The profile of PE and sport being raised across the school having the lowest allocation of funding.

Furthermore, most of the funding for Key Initiative 1 was spent on external coaches to deliver regular physical activity and with regards to Key Initiative 3: Increased confidence, knowledge, and skills of all staff in teaching PE and sport, most of the funding was spent on staff working alongside specialists or sports coaches with only 3% spent on training the school PE coordinator.

‘The Devil’s in the Detail’

As the details of implementation have yet to be released, we sought some opinions on the headlines in the meantime from those who will be or already are responsible for PE and School Sport. Some very interesting feedback emerged from a focus group of undergraduate students, many of whom are about to go on to teacher training after graduation as well as some currently serving teachers in primary and secondary schools based in London.

  • The aim of ‘equal access’ for boys and girls if wanted was picked up on- does this mean it’s an option? This is a HUGE issue and needs to be treated seriously beyond the obvious photo opportunity!
  • The extended funding for the Primary PE & Sport Premium and the SGO programme was welcomed but the question of sustainability remains unanswered – just pushed a couple of years down the road instead.
  • The Primary PE & Sport Premium has been used positively to enhance the opportunities and experiences, but the key question of how to embed this in teacher education remains unchanged and unchallenged.
  • Secondary teachers felt that although the 2-hour PE curriculum time ‘requirement’ could be a game-changer there were practical challenges to the implementation of this in real life – for example, in schools where a 50-minute lesson timetable operates. The question of who would be responsible for ensuring that the time allocation was being delivered was raised.
  • The aim of opening school facilities to outside users is one that has been tried many times before and would be found challenging by many schools. How will this be coordinated and who will do it, considering staff deployment is already at an all-time low?

More questions than answers

There are lots of key questions that arise from this announcement that on the surface are hidden from our direct view. Do we want to increase the opportunities for young people to be active? Of course, we do! Will the increase in funding and curriculum time help? Absolutely!

But what happens if/when the funding ends or declines? Where do we find this time in the high-stakes results-based ‘business of education’?

Does this reliance on sports coaches providing a short-term gain of young people being ‘busy, ‘happy’ and ‘well behaved’ (Placek, 1983) create a long-term loss in upskilling teachers to provide sustainable educational experiences of learning, in, through and about movement (Arnold, 1979)?

A welcoming environment is more than the materials and infrastructure. Ask anyone who has gym membership to a swanky establishment they rarely use! How can schools ensure the physical space that is available is welcoming, inclusive and enticing for the young people and the wider community they serve?

The recent announcement is effectively more of the same and there is inherent value in maintaining some of what has gone before. However, the world is constantly changing, and many young people do not engage in physical activity the same way they did 5 years ago let alone 20 years ago! Primary PE teachers may or may not know it, but they already possess the pedagogical skills to teach a variety of concepts in innovative and inspirational ways. With the right support and strategic investment of time and funding, there is no reason this cannot extend to PE to ensure we are not just providing equal access, but sustainable and equitable access to the community we serve.

Some suggested avenues to explore

It would be unrealistic of us to present you with a list of answers to some of the complex questions and issues we have raised in this blog. However, we recognise that as academics in the field and teachers of PE and Sport we have a role to play in providing support to not only the students on our undergraduate courses but also the profession itself. Here are some suggestions below and links to resources but for those interested in collaborating and learning alongside us please feel free to reach out via the email address below. If there is an appetite, we would be glad to entertain the idea of a webinar in which we can attempt to unpick some of these challenges together.


School Facilities

One solution for primary schools could be to contact local feeder secondary schools which often have a bigger space than their primary counterparts. Funding from the Sport Premium could be used for travel costs. As a former Head of PE I would often allow the local primary to use our sports hall or part of our field and we would utilise our sports leaders to help the teacher with these sessions. The secondary students were gaining valuable leadership experience through PE and primary students were able to see a role model demonstrating the values of learning non physical skills through PE and sport. Money will not solve the problem here but will certainly help if practitioners engage in some creative thinking and community organising with colleagues further afield. Send an email, and see what you get back!

School Games Organiser

The government’s announcement that they will continue to fund SGOs is a fantastic opportunity for schools to tap into the network that SGOs have available to them and engage with school competitions and events. Taking part in age-appropriate competitions and/or events are often cited as positive experiences and the social interactions can be as rewarding for staff as they are for young people. Ask your SGO for assistance in setting up your own in house events first if this is not something you have done previously and reach out to other schools who may be interested in doing something new for the first time, thus sharing the burden of planning and organising. The key here is to make the event inclusive and equitable and the best people to ensure this happens are often the young people themselves so co-designing with them is highly recommended.

Ask us

At the University of East London, we pride ourselves on giving back to the communities we serve. We are happy to offer support via online calls, on campus visits or provide interactive webinars to assist you with bringing some of your ideas to fruition with regards to PE and sport provision. If you would like us to come in and talk with your staff as part of a subject specific CPD session contact one of the SPED team below:

Mo Jafar [email protected]

Dr Nadia Grubnic [email protected]

Dr Maria Antritsou [email protected]

Further resources:


Harris, J. (2018). The case for physical education becoming a core subject in the National Curriculum. Physical Education Matters, 13(3), 9-12.

Huddleston, G., & Randall, V. (2018). Spending the Primary PE and School Sport Premium Five Years on: A Birmingham case study. Physical Education Matters, 13(3), 8-11.

MacAllister, J., 2013. The ‘physically educated' person: Physical education in the philosophy of Reid, Peters and Aristotle. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 45(9), pp.908-920.

Placek, J. (1983). Conceptions of success in teaching: Busy, happy and good? In T. Templin & J. Olson (Eds.), Teaching in physical education (pp. 46-56). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Youth Sport Trust (2018). Survey of Secondary PE. Loughborough: Youth Sport Trust. www.youthsporttrust.org/sec-survey

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