In a world where students are constantly being warned about employability, the terrible job market and house prices, other crucial aspects of education have been falling by the wayside. Regardless of employability concerns, we should still be investing time and money in a subject that improves the health, concentration and confidence of all students, regardless of whether they wish to pursue a career in it. The benefits of regular exercise are undeniable. It releases endorphins, improves self-esteem and body image and reduces obesity. But, for some students, Physical Education is a stressful, demoralising and diminishing experience.
Recently, there have been articles claiming that the often poor quality of P.E lessons is being tackled. Extra funding has been made available to double the amount of P.E specialists working in primary schools with the aim of improving the quality of children’s Physical Education from a young age. These articles reference issues like the need for children to be given the chance to compete, which has been proven to improve their education as well as the urgency for more strenuous Physical Education lessons, to push pupils to achieve in P.E. What these articles do not mention is that for some students the idea of more emphasis on physical education will not be good news. Before we can worry about P.E lessons being more strenuous and challenging, we first need to address the attitudes of certain schools and P.E teachers concerning how P.E is being taught to children and young adults of diverse physical capabilities, backgrounds and gender identities.
Driving a wedge
A culture of discrimination and exclusiveness is breeding fast and needs to be completely stamped out. When I attended school, I experienced both directly and indirectly P.E staff members bullying pupils who struggled with P.E, instigating discrimination against people with disabilities and blatant sexism and misogyny. The way in which Physical Education is being taught in both primary and secondary education needs to be seriously re-evaluated.
The fact that P.E is a negative and stressful experience for some will cause these pupils to develop long-term negative associations with exercise. This will prevent them from living active, healthy lives and leave them with little confidence to participate or compete and various self-esteem issues, the exact opposite of what P.E claims to achieve.
Thankfully, things are changing gradually. Recently, the Youth Sport Trust conducted a study in which girls were given a voice concerning the ways in which P.E was taught to them to see if participation increased. They found that body confidence doubled, the amount of girls who looked forward to P.E almost doubled and the percentage of girls that felt positive about school rose from 24% to 78%. You can view the findings from this pilot in more detail here. This is overwhelming evidence that we need to be listening to students and paying attention to their issues with P.E and addressing them.
Of course, the extra funding towards Physical Education and the recognition that some schools need to push able students is excellent. But schools also need to be focusing on making P.E. a body-positive, inclusive and encouraging subject in which all students have a voice and the right to grow in confidence, maintain health and improve fitness. Physical Education is compulsory for all students because everyone needs it. So why isn’t it an inclusive subject? Things need to change faster than they are, perhaps, and change only begins with acceptance that there is a problem.