Case for physical education becoming a core subject in curriculum

Physical education should be a core subject within the National Curriculum because it is the only subject whose primary focus is on the body and, in this respect, it uniquely addresses the physical development aim of the curriculum and it also makes a significant contribution to the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of children. In addition, it develops an interest in and patterns of physical activity which are essential for healthy development and lay the foundations for active lifestyles. This is increasingly important given growing concerns about children’s health (e.g. over 75% of children do not meet physical activity for health guidelines; 20% of children experience mental health problems; and 1 in 5 secondary age children are obese). Furthermore, there are current concerns about physical education in schools with inadequate attention paid to the subject in primary initial teacher training meaning that qualified teachers often lack the confidence and competence to teach physical education well. In addition, the well intentioned Physical Education and Sport Premium has unfortunately led to the unintended consequence of physical education in some primary schools being virtually handed over to sports coaches and instructors who generally lack the pedagogical skills to meet the needs of all children and who deliver a narrow physical education experience. There are also concerns about physical education in secondary schools where curriculum time is being reduced. Making physical education a core subject in the National Curriculum would stimulate significant health and educational attainment benefits, lead to improved physical, mental and personal well-being of children, develop essential life skills and contribute to whole school improvements. It would also ensure that physical competence is valued as much as reading, writing and arithmetic, and that well qualified specialist teachers are employed to teach physical education in primary and secondary schools. High quality physical education in schools can also reduce the health burden of physical inactivity and contribute to the economic prosperity of the country. Elevating physical education to core subject status would build on the 2012 legacy in a sustainable way by potentially reaching all children in the country and it would demonstrate a genuine commitment by Government to addressing significant, systemic health issues amongst children.

Submitted by Dr Jo Harris, Loughborough University (on behalf of the Physical Education Expert Group, England). See full paper by Dr Jo Harris at: