PE: Improving bodies and minds
The importance of physical exercise for keeping our bodies in good shape is well documented, but the benefits of Physical Education in school extend far beyond the sports field.
In 2020, after the national lockdown, children’s charity Youth Sport Trust carried out a survey of 1,396 young people aged 6–15 to discover how they now felt about sport and exercise. Over a quarter said physical education, sport and exercise had made them feel better during that time. Additionally, 40% said not being able to play sport had made them feel worse. Clearly, sport and exercise has a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.
At Paradigm it is easy to observe the positive effects PE has on our pupils. In the lessons following a PE session, students’ attention is noticeably greater, their ability to focus is far better. Long term it builds self-confidence, reduces anxiety and improves self-esteem. It also helps them develop attributes which help them cope with difficulties and setbacks.
In PE lessons, Paradigm takes a skills-based approach, especially at primary school. Rather than simply play different sports and games, lessons are instead designed to improve the fundamental movement skills – running, jumping, hand-eye coordination, balance, agility, throwing and catching – especially in the younger year groups. By incorporating these into the PE curriculum, schools are able to ensure pupils can develop these core abilities which are used in multiple sports and physical activities. Then when they come to play different sports, which are usually introduced around upper Key Stage Two, students will be competent in the necessary skills the sport requires, whether it’s throwing a ball in cricket, jumping in basketball or having the hand-eye coordination to play a racquet sport such as badminton.
To plan lessons and to ensure the pupils are able to improve their abilities as they move through the school years, teachers in the Trust use a progression map for PE. This document shows the development for each year group, and so the progression map becomes an extremely useful tool for any non-specialist teachers who are going to be teaching the lessons. It also gives them an overview of the whole PE curriculum.
As an illustration, in Year 1 schools teach the children to throw underarm. In Year 2 the distance is increased and later they are taught the correct technique to throw overarm as well. At Secondary school the lessons become more challenging; the basic skills remain the same but the focus switches to developing and practising them more. The difficulty of the activities increases in order to hone the skills, for instance the size of the ball is reduced, throwing challenges use more difficult angles, distances are greater. Also in secondary school there is a heavier emphasis on the ability to outwit opponents with strategy and tactics, and students are routinely exposed to attacking and defending principles specific to activities through in-depth discussion.
This approach was put into place at Paradigm three years ago, and the results are already evident in the pupils who have been taught with this method. As a whole they are displaying more aptitude in these core skills than previously, they understand games a lot better and know how to use the required skills to succeed at the sport they are playing.
When it comes to choosing between fitness and getting children healthy versus simply playing team games and having fun, Paradigm Trust works to have a good balance. For example, after lockdown children had lost much of the fitness they had previously developed so for an entire term the focus was working hard to get them back to the level of fitness where they were previously. After that teachers incorporated games too, to reintroduce the other aspect of PE.
To be able to track pupil’s progress effectively, measurement is key, so Paradigm has created a series of assessments which are used in all its schools. These tests are deliberately standardised so it is possible for teachers to compare and contrast the data across the whole Trust and adjust teaching methods as appropriate.
There are currently five assessments, including the bleep test, which gives an indication of whether pupils’ fitness is getting better, and a speed test, consisting of ten sets of 10 metres sprints which are timed to see how fast students can go. Hand-eye coordination is tested by throwing a ball at the wall and catching it, and strength is measured by seeing how far a pupil can throw a basketball from a seated position.
PE can often be a subject that is missed by SEN children, but inclusion is a key consideration in all Paradigm’s lessons and so the Trust ensures every child has the opportunity to join in and benefit. Any adaptations made are always based around the individual’s needs, and these can take many forms, from varying the size of the ball to adjusting distances or the equipment that is used. As an example, Culloden Primary Academy has a Deaf Support Base and its PE teachers ensure the one to one support staff are there to support with the signing, whether this is on the playground, in the hall or even at the side of the swimming pool. Staff are also equipped with electronic devices that make it easier for the children to hear what they are saying, and consciously employ techniques such as positioning themselves so it’s easy for the children to lip read.
At the core of sport is competition, which is important for helping pupils develop a winning mental attitude and equipping them to handle both success and failure. Taking part in inter-school competition, both within and outside the Trust, is an effective way to do this, and so teams from all schools are entered into many different competitions throughout the year, including SEN-specific contests. As well as teaching pupils about sportsmanship and respect, it fosters a sense of friendly rivalry and school pride, and boosts morale and self-esteem.
PE is an essential part of the curriculum that builds strong character and develops qualities in pupils which are beneficial in all subjects, as well as their lives beyond school.