How I Teach ... PE to disengaged students

We must encourage unfit children to take charge of their health, says Educating Essex's Vic Goddard

Vic Goddard

Some of those who know me find it hard to believe, but I am a physical education teacher. Even though I no longer teach the subject as often as I would like, having climbed the ladder of leadership, I remain passionate about PE and am an advocate for its importance in young people's lives.

The problem with PE is that, whereas it is easy to convince the able and already fit of the importance of exercise for lifelong health and well-being, it is far more difficult to motivate those who are less fit or - in the case of too many young people - are struggling with obesity.

Although the physical aspect of PE must be the driving force behind curriculum design, I am certain that the solution is educating our students about the impact and value of improving their fitness. This requires being quite frank with students and, perhaps more importantly, their parents.

We tried this for a few years at my school, doing baseline fitness testing and allowing parents to review the information on their child's fitness compared with agreed "norms" (which, before anyone shouts at me, I realise are often open to question).

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a painful experience, with far too many parents responding with "outrage" that we would damage the self-esteem of their child rather than taking the time to analyse the information and tackle any issues raised in order to help their child live a long and healthy life.

So, how else can we address the growing problem of the fitness levels of our young people? In my opinion, schools need to use their powers of autonomy, considering what activities are included in PE and how many students take what they learn in lessons and put it to use in the rest of their lives.

Teachers often get carried away thinking about the students who regularly play club sport, ignoring the silent majority who endure PE and do no exercise outside school hours. We must take the opportunity to seek out non-traditional activities to enhance the curriculum and be honest about the lip service that is often paid to the fitness component of lessons. We have to inspire children by encouraging them to try different sports or activities, while explaining to them directly - and honestly - why they should engage.

We are lucky to have a fitness suite at my school and many students have aimed for our numerous personal targets, such as the "Hoy challenge" inspired by Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy. This is just one example of how teachers now need to be all things to all people. We must not lose the competitive aspect of PE, nor the traditional games, but we must recognise our role in getting students to take responsibility for their health, even if their parents find it difficult to contribute.

Vic Goddard (pictured above) is principal of Passmores Academy in Essex, England, and appeared in Channel 4 documentary series Educating Essex.

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Vic Goddard

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