Developing Connections to Fulfil the Potential of Primary Physical Education

The Educational Potential of Primary Physical Education

Primary physical education has the potential to offer children and young people so much. It can be the catalyst for a lifelong engagement in physical activity. However, the key for the future of primary physical education is being connected to broad educational agendas.  These agendas demonstrate how physical education can be connected in its own right.  Primary physical education can also connect across the primary school curriculum and beyond the school gates.  These connections are critical but don’t just happen by children being physically active from time to time.  It’s about the integrated learning that is developed and supported over many years.  It needs to connect to children’s lives.

Primary physical education as a connected subject

This potential of primary physical education is unlikely to be fulfilled if it is only focussed on the physical. The traditional multi-activity approach that has dominated for fifty years doesn’t connect physical education with contemporary educational agendas.  It maybe did fifty years ago but it doesn’t now.  This one-size-fits-all sampling approach may be fun for some but it’s difficult to see how it connects with long term learning.  Helping all children develop the physical, cognitive, social and emotional learning that acts as this foundation for lifelong physical activity is a complex process.  It is certainly much more complex than most people think.  Primary physical education needs to concentrate on the core physical, cognitive, social and emotional learning that helps integrate children’s experiences and also sets up connections beyond the gymnasium.

Primary physical education connecting across the primary school curriculum

No one would argue against the physical focus of physical education. However, being able to develop and maintain a physically active life also involves important cognitive, social and emotional learning.  Becoming physical educated takes many years.  It involves the gradual building of knowledge and understanding about learning to be physically active, learning how to work with others to be physically active and also engaging with the emotional issues involved in being regularly active.   Only being physical is unlikely to address many of these key issues.  Engaging children in the wider issues about being physically educated is ready made for the classroom setting and other curriculum areas. I think we sometimes get too embroiled in trying to convince everyone that physical education can help academic achievement.  We miss the point that while physical educations needs to be physical it also needs to include key cognitive, social and emotional learning.  Primary teachers have so much to offer in this regard.

Primary physical education connecting beyond the school gates

Primary physical education offers many opportunities to make connections with children’s lives beyond the school gates. Formal clubs that offer sport and physical activity opportunities abound in many communities.  Creating links between physical education and these clubs is an obvious route for many children.  However, formal sporting activity is not for everyone and is not the main route to lifelong physical activity for the majority.  Local communities around primary schools offer, often untapped, potential for physical activity.  This is particularly true for the informal activities that more and more children and adults are taking part in.  If we truly want children to become the active adults of the future, primary physical education can make a significant contribution by supporting children’s activity in both formal and informal settings within and outside the school.

But, there is a downside. Many primary schools do not really see physical education as being part of these wider educational agendas.  Each year I am told stories by students and teachers that highlight this issue.  National inspectors not observing physical education during inspections, a university tutor not wanting to see a student teach physical education because it is not ‘real teaching’ and primary physical education specialist teachers being told not to bother attending professional learning because it’s not relevant to them.  For many primary educators, physical education is clearly more about the physical than it is the educational.  We have a job to do here.

Primary physical education does have huge potential for all children. However, there is a lot of ‘hearts and minds’ advocacy work to be done. If we really want primary physical education to be about “Learning to be Physical for Life and Being Physical to Learn for Life” for all children then we need to develop strong connections across the school and with children’s lives.