Now everyone find a space
Elizabeth Robertson is to be congratulated on producing a book which covers all six activity areas in the PE National Curriculum. To write authoritatively on one activity is daunting enough - to write on six is brave indeed.
Much of the introduction is a restatement of what can be found in the national curriculum documents and related literature, so the first view of the author's mind comes late in Chapter 2 when a balanced curriculum at key stage 2 is seen on a time-scale of games for 30 per cent of the time, gymnastic activities 22 per cent, dance 20 per cent, swimming 11 per cent, athletic activities 9 per cent and outdoor and adventurous activities 8 per cent.
Chapter 3 covers a number of "cross-activity organisational factors" which includes: staff leadership criteria; the grouping of children; use of facilities and equipment; dress and safety. It is all important stuff to bridge the gap between planned intentions and successful outcomes.
The bulk of the book comes from the six chapters covering the teaching of games, gymnastics, dance, swimming, athletics, outdoor and adventurous activities. Each chapter deals methodically with schemes and units of work, lesson plans, teaching content and lesson structure. Chapter 10 then deals with Assessment and Chapter 11 sweeps up with "other issues in P.E.".
There is much to commend a great deal of this, but I have reservations. The games curriculum is too concerned with "closed skills" and little attention is given to "open skill" development. I could find no mention of principles of attack and defence and we know how children fail to utilise space. The gymnastic section has some strange programmes eg "Side Roll 1. Sitting in straddle sit, fall forward to place cheststomach on thigh". That eliminates all but the gym club members. The dance lesson examples often appear as gymnastics to music and rarely relate to expressive dance. It is a pity that the stimulus or idea, the musical accompaniment and the structure of the dance have not been more clearly identified and the interrelationship underlined.
Other concerns relate to the way the author recommends three different lessons per week, for example, one for games, one for swimming and one for athletics. The skill acquisition literature tells us that this is not a good way to encourage skill development. I was also disappointed not to see reference to and ideas on how to use a range of teaching and learning strategies, particularly those of differentiation and reciprocal learning, as they are a central focus of national curriculum documentation. I must also confess that the advice on assessment is rather daunting as teachers are given the scope to tick 90 boxes to indicate one pupil's progress over the range of six activities. This tick box passion has now been considerably reduced in the other subject areas of the national curriculum because of the stress it was causing many teachers. PE must not go down this road as it is a totally unrealistic assignment for the over-burdened primary teacher.
In a continually changing education environment, no two people are likely to agree on all aspects of the curriculum. This book will be a valuable contribution to the debate on how we teach PE. Much of it is very comprehensive and gives sound advice; the controversial bits will always be debated.
Martin Underwood is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter School of Education.