Physical education in schools

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 Physical education in schools 2005-2008

April 2009

Ofsted report into the strengths and weaknesses of PE in a sample of primary and secondary schools between 2005 and 2008.


Main headlines

  •      Improving trend in standards, achievement, provision and leadership
  •      Increased opportunities for professional development of PE teachers
  •      The majority of schools were providing the expected two hours (except in KS4)
  •      There are increasing concerns about childhood obesity
  •      Need to develop the continuity of learning experiences in the majority of schools
  •      PE subject leaders in primary school are less secure in their subject knowledge than in secondary schools
  •      There are inconsistencies in judging pupils' standards and achievements
  •      Provision of 'non-traditional' activities was inconsistent
  •      ICT was only used in patches to support PE
  •     Support from the senior leadership team tended to result in higher standards
  •      Provision of resources in primary schools was variable
  •     The PESSCL strategy was having a major impact on all aspects of provision for physical education.
  •     Continuity of learning across points of transition needs improving



  •      Continuing funding the physical and sports strategy for young people
  •      Establish a post-16 entitlement to physical education and school sport
  •      Enable sports colleges and school sport partnerships to be at the heart of local and regional initiatives to tackle childhood obesity
  •      The TDA should review how much time teacher training establishments spend on PE development
  •     There should be a robust common assessment strategy
  •      Continuing to focus on the professional development of all staff
  •      Provide advice for PE subject leaders about how they might best monitor, evaluate the quality of teaching, outcomes for pupils and the impact of the PESSCL strategy
  •      Enable subject leaders to monitor, evaluate and improve provision
  •     Broaden provision to include non-traditional activities so that young people in hard-to reach groups are motivated to participate
  •      Make more use of modern technologies
  •      Improve transition of information arrangements within and between schools
  •      Consider new approaches to assessment and evaluation


Physical education in primary schools

Pupils' understanding of health and fitness was an area of strength at key stages 1 and 2. Performance against the other three strands was more variable.  Ofsted commends those schools where pupils had opportunity to reflect on and discuss their performance.


The report emphasises the benefits of pupils being able to lead sessions and work with younger pupils. It also notes the increasing opportunities that pupils now have to comment on provision and give feedback.


The report identifies the following characteristics of good teaching:


  •    teachers’ good questioning skills to ensure that pupils understood the task and what they needed to do to improve
  •    a mix of teacher-directed activities, peer teaching opportunities and pupils being guided to make decisions for themselves
  •    pupils being enabled to use their observation, evaluation and feedback skills consistently to help improve their own and others’ work
  •    tasks and equipment planned to meet pupils’ differing needs, including those in mixed-age classes
  •   the effective deployment of teaching assistants to support individual pupils or groups, particularly pupils with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.


The report criticises the over reliance on schemes of work that have not been adapted to meet the needs of the school's pupils. Sometimes teachers' subject knowledge was insufficient so teachers were not able to help pupils progress and reach higher standards. The point is made that the range of knowledge necessary is considerable. Games is a stronger element for teachers with dance and gymnastics identified by teachers themselves as weaker aspects. The report highlights the issues this raises for teacher training.


A small number of schools were using specialist teachers to deliver PE. Generally, Ofsted report, this resulted in higher standards and better progress. Some concern is raised about the use of sports coaches. For although it is acknowledged that they bring specialist expertise their pedagogical skills tend to be weaker and they do not always teach the full breadth of the PE National Curriculum.


Assessment was perhaps the weakest area with only one school visited having a secure assessment system. The use of assessment to raise standards is identified as a weakness. As is the transition of pupils to secondary school. Good assessment is identified by:

  •   detailed assessment and records that reflected the four National Curriculum strands of the subject
  •    pupils tracking their own progress against learning criteria and setting their own targets for improvement
  •    National Curriculum levels of attainment adapted to form the basis of a tracking sheet
  •   assessment information being used effectively to identify pupils for additional support, such as the development of hand–eye coordination or spatial awareness
  •    comprehensive analysis by the subject leader of progress against the 10 outcomes, incorporating a ‘traffic light’ system to track pupils’ progress and identify those underachieving or achieving highly.


The report recommends the use of ICT, particular to assist the pupil's self- evaluation. For example through:



  • effective use of the interactive whiteboard in classrooms to stimulate interest and motivation and to promote discussion of progress in previous lessons and targets for improvement before pupils moved to the working area
  • using still images with pupils in the Reception year and moving images with Year 1 to analyse their movement
  • teaching assistants recording and evaluating performances with digital cameras
  • recording performances to indicate pupils’ progress
  • pupils’ use of laptops in gymnastics to view their work on sequences that had been captured on digital camera in the previous lesson, enabling them to discuss how they might improve the quality of their performance.


Good planning was characterised by:

  • well-conceived medium and long-term plans
  •  links to arrangements for assessment
  •  clear learning objectives
  • outcomes shared with pupils
  •  awareness and use of 10 outcomes of high-quality physical education


In reference to the use of commercial schemes, practice was praised where ideas had been selected from different schemes and adapted for use with particular classes. Less than a fifth of schools were making strong connections between PE and other subjects.


There is praise for the impact that the PESSCL strategy (PE, School Sport and Club Links strategy) has had. Particularly in relation to the links that have been built between different providers and sport partnerships. Primary schools were benefiting from being able to use secondary school facilities and from the additional resources available through school sport partnership.


Although overall, the report is complimentary of leadership and management, it makes reference to the need to focus on outcomes for pupils and be more precise about success criteria so that improvement in standards and achievement can be measured. The commitment of senior leadership within the school was a major indicator of the overall quality of provision. The importance of a full-time subject leader was also highlighted.

Physical education in secondary schools

Ofsted report increased standards and achievement generally in secondary schools. There is no longer a gap between the overall attainment of boys and girls in PE at GCSE although boys tend to be stronger in the practical aspects and girls in the written papers.


All the secondary schools visited offered opportunities to complete sports leaders, dance leader or national governing body awards. The report comments that pupil involvement in decision-making about PE provision enhances students' personal development.


Teaching and learning standards were good our outstanding in two thirds of the schools surveyed. Non-specialist teachers and external coaches tended to have lessons rated as satisfactory rather than good. Ofsted found that newly qualified teachers were well-prepared for teaching PE. Occasionally, however, the most able students were not sufficiently challenged. As in Primary, use of ICT was limited. Procedures for assessing, recording and tracking students' progress was relatively weak.


There were differences noted in the use of effective assessment for learning techniques. Students in KS3 were more aware of what they needed to do to improve and knew how well they were doing in comparison to students in KS4.


Health and fitness programmes did not feature consistently. Outdoor and adventurous activities and swimming were infrequently offered. Less than half of the schools surveyed offered two or more hours at Key Stage 4.


As in primary schools, the systematic monitoring and evaluation of teaching was relatively weak. Sometimes the available data was not used effectively to analyse provision. In particular, there were weaknesses in tracking the progress of different groups of students. There was little moderation of teacher assessments in both primary and secondary schools.


There were significant gaps identified in the transition arrangements between primary and secondary schools. The majority of secondary schools in the survey had no information on pupils' achievements in PE in their primary school.


Where transition arrangements were effective they included:

  • schemes of work introduced in primary schools that were also used in Key Stage 3
  • secondary schools successfully adapting their Year 7 curriculum to compensate for weaker aspects of primary school provision or experiences
  • pupils identified as gifted and talented in primary school attending summer schools before starting secondary school
  • Year 7 programmes introduced to tackle identified weaknesses or to extend identified strengths for individual pupils or groups of pupils
  •  leadership skills developed in primary schools that were extended through specific roles assigned to Year 7 pupils.