Exclusive: PE 'spiralling downward' as quarter of secondaries cut classes

Youth Sport Trust warns that squeezing of PE because of high-stakes accountability risks "selling this and future generations short"

Will Hazell

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Nearly four in 10 English secondary schools have cut timetabled physical education for 14- to 16-year-olds over the last five years, according to a new report.

The Youth Sport Trust said there was a “spiralling downward trend” in the amount of time offered for PE which risked “selling this and future generations short”.

The charity surveyed 595 PE teachers working at 487 English secondary schools. It found that 38 per cent of schools have cut timetabled PE at key stage 4 since 2012, with 24 per cent having done so in the last academic year.

At KS3, 20 per cent of schools have cut back on PE over the last five years, with 10 per cent having done so in the last year.

“There is a spiralling downward trend in the number of core PE minutes offered to young people in secondary schools today,” the report says.

According to the Youth Sport Trust's research, the time dedicated to PE decreases as students get older. At KS3, the average time devoted to PE in the curriculum each week is 124 minutes, but this falls to 98 minutes at KS4 – a 21 per cent drop.

By KS5, students get just 34 timetabled minutes for PE on average.

The report suggests that “increased pressure for performance on high-stakes testing has caused many schools to reduce the amount of time allocated for physical education”.

Core academic subjects receiving additional time was the number one factor blamed by PE teachers for their curriculum minutes being squeezed, with 38 per cent of teachers saying their provision had declined for this reason.

Thirty-three per cent cited “exam pressures of Progress 8 and EBacc” as a key factor, and 11 per cent referred to cuts to the number of PE staff.

PE teachers overwhelmingly felt their subject deserved greater recognition from school leaders, parents and young people, with 97 per cent saying PE should be more valued within the curriculum for what it offers students.

Ali Oliver, the charity’s chief executive, said: “It is alarming that opportunities for young people to be active during the school day are diminishing year-on-year.

“Like English and maths, PE should be part of the bedrock of a good education which equips young people with the vital skills which support their wellbeing, ability to learn in other subjects and prepare for employment.

“A high-quality PE curriculum uses sport as a vehicle through which a joy of movement is established, life skills are developed and an understanding of a healthy lifestyle is acquired.

She added: “Cuts to PE time are depriving young people of these benefits at a time when they have never needed it more. We will be selling this and future generations short if PE is not made fit for the 21st century and put at the heart of a broad and balanced curriculum in our schools.”

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