19/10/16 – Working Group Report on Physical Education

Speakers: Sarah Woollaston MP, Chair – Health Select Committee, Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Shadow Minister for Sport; Kelvin Hopkins MP, ex-Shadow Secretary for Culture Media & Sport

Wednesday 19 October 2016

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fit and Healthy Childhood

The Launch of the 6th Report – Physical Education 

The full report can be downloaded here.

Chair: Baroness Benjamin

The meeting was opened by Baroness Benjamin who welcomed the members and the speakers, and then paid tribute to the hard work of Helen Clark and all the members of the Working Group who had contributed to the latest report which is entitled “Physical Education”. A great deal of media interest had already been generated and it was hoped that the enthusiasm generated for the proposals in the report would lead to a brand new start for Physical Education and the way it is taught in schools.

Helen Clark

Helen Clark then launched the report, describing it as groundbreaking in light of the fact that the teaching of PE, as included in the National Curriculum, has not changed since 1944 – which is a very long time to be doing things the same way.

PE is changing, with new elements such as pilates, yoga, dance, walking, as well as looking at one’s own physical literacy and the whole child. PE can improve confidence and interaction with peers, friends and family.  We want PE to come in from the cold and we need a task force to collate and cascade good practice.

It is also necessary to address the issue of girls’ problems. Remember the changing rooms and showers and embarrassing practices of the past?  Many girls who were very physically active at primary school cease to be so at secondary level due to issues of embarrassment and exposure.

PE should be part of the core curriculum and not an add-on. It is a real subject and as important as any other.

Helen Clark invited the various sponsors of the report to say a few words. Moira Howie (Waitrose), Phil Veasey (Mytime Active) and Dr Mark Bellamy (Leisurelines) all enthusiastically endorsed the report’s recommendations and were proud to be associated with it. Dr Mark Bellamy acknowledged the contribution made by Nick Draper (who is now in New Zealand) and all the sponsors thanked Helen Clark for her role in putting the report together.

Dr Sarah Woollaston MP

Dr Sarah Woollaston described the report as “extraordinary” and stressed that the recommendations were for everyone and not just the obese. She applauded the emphasis on hard-to-reach groups and described the recommendations as part of the way to tackle the shocking increase in mental health problems experienced by 5 to 15-year-olds.  There is a sport or activity to suit everyone, so let’s be imaginative. Unfortunately, “unimaginative” all too often remains the norm in PE.

Elaine Wyllie (Daily Mile), who was also present at the meeting, was acknowledged as being an excellent example of a simple idea being designed and developed locally, and then shared and made available to everyone. These things really do make a difference, but it was acknowledged that it does take a great deal of effort and tenacity.

Dr Woollaston added that the key point now was delivery, and she thought we have a real opportunity to tackle obesity and mental health through the recommendations of the report. It is a remarkable and fantastic report, she said.

Kelvin Hopkins MP

Kelvin Hopkins spoke briefly to congratulate the group on the report and speculated that some of the reasons why we had been healthier in the past stemmed from the practice of children being pushed outside to play and run around, the introduction of NHS cod liver oil and orange juice, and post-war food and sweet rationing. He felt that this report would make a lot of difference to contemporary practice of PE in school.

Questions and comments

At this point, questions and comments were invited from those present.

Comment from Giles Platt, Bromley Primary School SCDA: This is the best report on PE that I have ever read, and I feel that the starting point and absolute top priority must be the status of PE in the National Curriculum, as it’s not currently a core subject. Unless that starting point is addressed, the rest will fade away.  If we can get that message across first, we can then consider where we go from there. There are some fantastic grass roots practitioners who have struggled to get their voices heard.

Baroness Benjamin agreed that we need to get relevant politicians on board regarding the National Curriculum.

Giles Platt added that the scrutiny of the PE Pupil Premium is poor: just 2 lines in a 10 page report, so where are leaders going to place their focus?  Baroness Benjamin asked for a written note about this.

Rosena Allin-Khan  MP

Rosena Allin-Khan introduced herself as the new Shadow Minister for Sport, and agreed that the report had a lot of very good practical recommendations. She was talking not just as Shadow Minister but also as a doctor and a mother of young children. During her 11 years as a doctor she had seen many cases of eating disorders in children as young as 11 years old, and she was delighted to see the report highlight the interlinking between activity and nutrition.

As a schoolgirl herself, Rosena Allin-Khan broke with conformity and practised martial arts and boxing, activities that she feels were more accessible in those days. As a parent she finds children’s activities expensive and was glad to see the recommendations about out-of-school provision.

Physical education is not just about physical movement. It also provides a great sense of achievement, especially when moving up through grades of performance, and it also teaches children about how to control one’s body and about working as part of a team.

As a shadow minister, Ms Allin-Khan wants to work with groups such as this APPG. She cannot say what her party will do as it is early days, but she personally will put PE right at the top of her list.

Baroness Benjamin asked if she would put a question down, and Ms Allin-Khan responded that she would, and also that there were questions that she had already put down.

Comment from Sheila Forster, Fitmedia: Delighted to have contributed to the APPG as we have been able to say things that others cannot say. The report is hard-hitting and it is a good thing that it does not come from various organisations which the Government is wedded to – organisations which have consistently failed children over the years. She felt that the reason for the high level of media interest was the fact that the report did not come from them.

Comment from Melian Mansfield, Chair of London Play: Is there anyone here from the Dept. for Education? There are two things that could be done – firstly to reinstate the two hours a week requirement, which seems to have fizzled out; secondly for the Dept. for Education to say that during children’s playtime, pupils should not be kept inside to do extra work.

There is also some overlap with our previous Play report, and how is that report going to be integrated with this report? Some of the same things were identified about children not playing and needing to be more in touch with nature, and recommendations for playground supervisors to be trained, and so on. There are so many people to convince to get any of this happening, but it all needs to happen quickly.

Baroness Benjamin responded that we are resilient and we drip-feed. She added that the Prime Minister is concerned about social equality and mental health and if we can get to her then she can feed it into ministers. However, it will all take time and effort. The fact that the media is taking notice will help enormously.

Comment from Phil Royal, APPG Secretariat: It is the responsibility of every member of the group to play their part to bring about change, for example everyone should send a copy of the report to their MP, and write to ministers.

Comment from Charlene Mulhern, Birmingham Public Health: We will use the report to push local practice. There is some good work going on and we can all learn from each other. Recently, Birmingham Public Health won an award, and Baroness Benjamin asked Ms Mulhern to tell people about it so that politicians can reference it.

Comment from Rosena Allin-Khan MP:  Agreeing with the previous point, she highlighted that people can go to their local MP and ask a question and provide information. She herself was able to talk recently about the importance of the first 1000 days of a child’s life as a result of receiving such information.

Comment from Dr Keith Cranwell, London Play: He liked the thread running through from the Play report and the continuity in both reports in highlighting the relationship between physical education and the community. He mentioned the role of playing fields and the loss of much innovative youth work which had played a big role in bringing alienated young people back into the mainstream.

Comment from Helen Clark: In mentioning local authorities and community initiatives, it would be very good to hear good examples and build a good practice bank. We’ve been doing good work but it needs to be broadened out.

Comment from Phil Veasey, Mytime Active: The communities issue is a possible future report and Mytime Activie would be pleased to sponsor it, as there are lots of community examples – sometimes very simple things that can nevertheless provide a great sense of achievement.

Comment form Giles Platt, Bromley: The outsourcing of key services and academisation of schools is resulting in the loss of interlinking and co-ordination.

Comment from Phil Chamberlain, Youth Sport Trust: A collective voice is gathering and we should use this to spread influence. Now is the right time to influence ministers because next September there will be the doubling of the PE pupil premium because of the sugar tax: the money will be ringfenced. Finally, he raised the matter of the name “Physical Education” and asked if it wasn’t time for a re-branding. PE can be seen negatively and might benefit from a name change, for example, to “Physical Literacy” or something similar. He suggested that it was something for us all to think about.

Comment from Kathryn Peckham, Independent Consultant: Through working with a lot of different schools, PE is much more prevalent in younger children, but they all need to be inspired. She described working with some very imaginative schemes, for example where pupils from secondary schools engage with the younger pupils from primary schools.

The meeting closed at 1915.

Download the report