On PE's fitness for purpose

C.A. Arthur

I read with interest the comments of Jenna Downing ("Active promotion of exercise", 11 May) and Gregor Steele ("Not to give physical education a kicking, but is it really fit for purpose?", 25 May), finding the latter highly entertaining, thought provoking and very pleasingly "coloured by his own school experiences".

Mr Steele highlights various important issues, specifically relating to his own experiences of physical education and physical activity, while Ms Downing outlines her views on engaging young people in a wider variety of sporting activities and providing them with appropriate role models.

Physical education has developed significantly since Mr Steele was at school, spawning more pedagogical methodologies than many other curricular areas. These have been constantly evolving to achieve affective, social, cognitive, organic and psychomotor development in schoolchildren. In short, education of the whole child.

The activities in PE departments are carefully selected to offer the most worthwhile educational opportunities. Most departments offer a range through which children can gain a broad and balanced education in what they can do, once they leave school, to remain healthy through physical activity.

Ms Downing seems to believe the purpose of PE teachers is to produce a greater number of high-performance sportspeople. This is part of the subject, but it can be argued that orientating PE more towards sport, with its elitist drive, would only cater for the top 20 per cent of children. The variety of PE methodologies can capture the imagination of many more: children are challenged to cope with feelings, interact with others, think creatively, work hard to develop their bodies and apply skills in new ways.

Only through embracing a variety of approaches in differing contexts will pupils be encouraged to lead active lives and find their favoured sport or activity.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the parent discipline of PE was medicine, as the focus was purely on improving public health. For nearly 100 years now, education has been the parent body. Sport has never been the superintending providence, but simply the medium through which some PE has been taught.

I believe PE can become a more highly regarded subject by pupils, parents and other educators if it is made clear that the subject is about educating, not training. It is not so much what is done, but the manner in which it is done, that will inspire children to engage in lifelong physical education, physical activity and sport.

C.A. Arthur, Stirling.

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C.A. Arthur

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