PE in secondary schools being cut from the school day

Time on the curriculum for Physical Education is being squeezed, new research from the Youth Sport Trust shows.

The research found that 38 per cent of English secondary schools have cut timetabled Physical Education for 14-16-year-olds since 2012, while almost one in four (24%) have done so in the last academic year.

Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of the YST, said: “It is alarming that opportunities for young people to be active during the school day are diminishing year-on-year. Like English and Maths, Physical Education should be part of the bedrock of a good education which equips young people with the vital skills which support their wellbeing, ability to learn in other subjects and help prepare them for employment.

“A high quality Physical Education curriculum uses sport as a vehicle through which a joy of movement is established, life skills are developed and an understanding of a healthy lifestyle is acquired.

“Cuts to Physical Education time are depriving young people of these benefits at a time when they have never needed them more. We will be selling this and future generations short if Physical Education is not made fit for the 21st century and put at the heart of a broad and balanced curriculum in our schools.”

The YST research is based on responses from teachers at 487 English secondary schools. It found that timetabled Physical Education time is decreasing, and the cuts get bigger as students get older. At key stage four (ages 14 to 16), 38% of schools had reduced timetabled PE in the past five years while 24% had done so in the past year.

On average pupils moving from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4 experience a 21% drop in the amount of curriculum PE they receive a week. By the time they are aged 16 to 18-years-old they are doing just 34 minutes a week at school.

Exam pressure, additional curriculum time for other subjects and staffing cuts are among the reasons cited for reductions. 38% of teachers said their PE provision has declined because core/eBacc subjects have been given additional time with students taken out of timetabled Physical Education for extra tuition in other subjects. It is suggested these are the very same young people who need that physical activity time the most. One in three cited exam pressures as a key reason for the decline.

Physical Education teachers overwhelming feel the subject needs to be more valued amongst school leaders, parents, wider stakeholders and importantly young people. 97% of teachers agree PE should be valued more within the school curriculum for what it offers young people.

A secondary school’s Physical Education provision is often judged on GCSE PE grades and trophies rather than its impact engaging and developing the health and wellbeing of students across the school.

The YST is calling for an overhaul of Physical Education’s place in the curriculum to place much greater emphasis on using sport and physical activity to enhance young people’s confidence, emotional wellbeing, physical health and life skills.

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