PE in Sheffield schools is being sidelined in favour of literacy and numeracy despite a growing obesity crisis in the city.
Studies have shown physical exercise not only benefits pupils’ fitness but can also improve their concentration, help with exam pressure and foster team building.
But headteachers are forsaking PE amid growing pressure to achieve good SATs results, meet Government targets and appease Ofsted.
Sarah Williams, a primary PE specialist course leader at Sheffield Hallam University, has worked with more than half of primary schools in the city to improve PE.
The Sheffield Primary PE, Sport and Physical Activity Strategic Alliance aims to gather information about good practice and areas of weakness to ensure every child has outstanding PE lessons.
But Sarah says more needs to be done. She said: “There’s not a school that doesn’t care about children’s wellbeing but they are under so much pressure in academic subjects, it means subjects like PE are neglected.
“There is so much evidence about the benefits of physical activity yet it takes a strong headteacher to say our SATs scores are low, so we’ll do more PE. They are more likely to drop PE to do extra literacy or numeracy lessons.”
Over the past two years, the majority of Sheffield schools have signed up to the strategy but it’s still a work in progress.
Sarah said: “The first plan was to engage schools and I’m really pleased we have done that. We want to inform schools about things that can help develop a more holistic programme.
“A lot of schools are doing “A Mile a Day” to get children active for a certain amount of time, which is great, but we also want to see children engaged in a range of sports so they can find one that motivates them.
“We want schools to put more time into teaching PE to develop teachers’ confidence. This means getting children active, engaging them in different activities and giving them the skills they need to find it physically rewarding.
“Unfortunately more and more teachers lack the confidence to teach PE and there is less encouragement and no time to plan engaging PE lessons. You wouldn’t get that in any other subject.”
For some children, the only opportunity to try new sports is at school.
“We find when children get older, those who see themselves as being sporty enjoy PE and the teaching ends up being aimed at them. Children who don’t see themselves as sporty will find ways to disengage.
“Obesity relates not just to health but also to how children perceive themselves and how active families are. We need to do our best to provide really good early experiences.
“Often it comes down to resources because some parents can’t afford after school activities. The most vulnerable children and those in deprived areas are the ones doing the least activity. We want to give children a range of activities to give them a love of being active.”