The last decade has witnessed a significant revival in the fortunes of primary physical education in many parts of the world. Often positioned on the margins of primary education and playing second fiddle to secondary physical education, the evidence is pointing towards a more optimistic future.
Many governments are showing more support for primary physical education in both policy and financial terms with the result that the professional learning opportunities for primary teachers have become more frequent and, in some cases, are moving beyond the long-criticised ‘quick fix’ short course approach. In the academic world, primary physical education is also becoming a more regular feature.
The European Primary Physical Education Network (EPPEN) for teacher educators came into being in 2016, while the first world seminar for primary physical education should take place in 2018 or 2019. Special editions of journals focussed on primary physical education are becoming a more common occurrence, as are academic journal articles, while the first international handbook on primary physical education will be published later in 2017. Developments certainly seem to be shifting in a positive direction.
From an educational perspective, however, there are a number of key issues that need to be negotiated and addressed before we are able to capitalise on the current good fortune. While less positive comment about the nature and quality of primary physical education seem to come with the territory, a pressing issue is the need for the physical education profession to collectively come together and advocate to the widest possible audience for the educational value and potential of primary physical education. Focussing on an educational agenda is critical for the future because the current attention on primary physical education seems to have its roots firmly in health and sport related agendas rather than the educational worth of the subject area.
This creates a ‘Catch 22’ situation for primary physical education. On the positive side, it is extremely encouraging that primary physical education is receiving such positive support from the sport and health lobbies, particularly because this signposts the potential that the subject area has to connect with the lives of children and young people. Professionals and volunteers working in these different sectors are great allies for primary physical education. However, with the outsourcing of primary physical education to sports coaches, private companies and health workers becoming more common in an increasing number of countries it appears to be the sport and health sectors that are the drivers of the primary physical education agenda.
My point is quite simple: primary physical education should first be viewed as a valuable educational experience so that it can be used as the catalyst to positively influence children’s engagement in sport, physical activity and associated health-related activities across and throughout their lives. In essence, primary physical education should be seen as the educational hub for lifelong learning and lifelong engagement in physical activity. Primary physical education therefore has the potential to do two very important interconnected things. First, by playing a significant role in the educational life of the primary school, it has the potential to enrich children’s learning across the school, and secondly, it can act as the foundation, or connective hub, for children’s lifelong and life-wide engagement in many different forms of physical activity.
This has been the first in a series of primary physical education blogs that set out to develop and expand these key points as part of a shifting perspective agenda that supports the case for primary physical education as a significant part of children’s educational experience and lives. The blogs will focus on a wide range of topics in an effort to fuel debate and discussion about primary physical education. Issues to be discussed will include policy, stakeholders, curriculum, pedagogy, professional learning, children’s voices and many more. However, running through the blogs will be two constant messages about primary physical education. It is about “Learning to be Physical for Life and Being Physical to Learn for Life”.