Are we getting it right?

We provide a service, a service which is free at the point of need. Like everything else that is free it is well within our rights to question its quality. I for one question the quality of delivery every day, not only my own delivery but that of others across the nation. I question whether we are providing high quality physical education to every young person in Scotland, i question whether appropriate planning and evaluation takes place, I question whether every teacher of physical education embraces quality assurance and I also question the tracking and monitoring of young learners and its validity. I question myself after every lesson, every block and every term, perhaps I am too harsh on myself but I am responsible for the physical education of a generation. A generation that needs physical education more than any other and a generation that, as it stands, has a poor reputation, a reputation I am desperate to change for the better.

There is a simple reason why I am questioning myself and others: National Qualifications (NQ’s). The implementation of our new NQ’s has been tough, for both students and teachers. There has been little time and money given to teachers to develop the new courses which has resulted in many waiting for answers that are not forthcoming and waiting for someone else to write courses for them. I for one have been more than happy to share the work that I have done, good or bad, and enjoy hearing feedback about my courses. The main reason as to why NQ’s have impacted on our curriculum as a whole is that many practitioners have totally forgotten about the Broad General Phase. Some have placed NQ’s so high on their priority list that the idea of providing high quality physical education to the junior years is based around teaching them about factors impacting performance. I even received plans from a colleague that outlined which factors would be taught during which block and in which year S1-S3. This, I believe, will only serve to turn kids off of our most wonderful subject.

Practitioners can be forgiven for this, but only slightly, due to the demands placed on them to produce results. Attainment has been on the lips of every Head Teacher and senior manager, so much so that many teachers are told to ‘get them through’ N3-N6 qualifications (even though the learner is not going to meet the assessment standards). Is this right? many would say yes but I fully believe that it isn’t and I will explain why soon. Due to the pressures on teachers many revert to a chalk and talk style of rote learning and many are scared to move away from anything other than a ‘unit-by-unit approach’ (I will discuss further in a future blog post). This style of teaching then becomes habit and is utilised during the junior phase to ensure that learners are capable of remembering what they are taught but not necessarily be able to understand or apply their learning.

So what should be our priority, the process or the product? Well this has a simple answer but is it as simple as i think? Our focus MUST be on the process of learning, if the process is right then surely the product will be right. If the product is our focus then the process will be very rigid and not allow for movement (breadth and depth perhaps?) as in this case if our goal is to get all learners to achieve N5 then our teaching will focus on ensuring this, often to the detriment of high quality teaching and resulting in rote learning (i’m sure many wouldn’t argue with me if I said some centres even provide their students with answers to learn and remember). I am constantly looking for the best way to teach a factor through practical experiential learning, I don’t want to be in a classroom and I don’t want my learners to associate my subject with a classroom, my classroom is a rugby field or a games hall. As such the process of learning is my focus, how do I put this across so my learners can apply their learning, how do I provide meaningful experiences for my learners and what strategies do I put in place to ensure my learners achieve THEIR potential and not the unachievable target set for them by a senior manager?

What of the Broad General Phase then, what should our focus be? My focus is exactly the same; the process of learning. I don’t want to teach watered down version of our NQ’s, I want to provide meaningful experiences that allow my learners to achieve our experiences and outcomes whether they are Early Years or Level 4. I want my learners to experience through a practical environment the Skills for Life, Learning and Work (SfLLW) and our Significant Aspects of Learning (SAoL) which will allow for progression, breadth and depth of learning across my curriculum. This must become the focus of our profession now that our NQ’s are implemented (to be honest the NQ’s will take care of themselves). We must prioritise for effective planning, delivery and monitoring and tracking to ensure that physical education from 3-18 is of the highest quality in Scotland. I encourage all practitioners to familiarise themselves with the SAoL and SfLLW and plan for these effectively. I am a big believer in ensuring that lessons are ‘framed’ correctly for our learners. What I mean by this is that sport is the vehicle through which we teach speed or physical wellbeing or balance and control and not just the sport itself. Obviously we need our learners to be able to participate in sport through learning skills allowing them to do so but it is not the aim of our subject to create excellent table tennis players. The role of our subject has changed over time and we must enable learners to participate in physical activity throughout their lifetime (for this they need basic skills) but also become problem solvers, decision makers, planners for effective change, evaluators and more. All of these ‘skills’ are vital for progression not only our subject but in all aspects of life. Our subject has major role to play in learners development of these key skills. An example of this can be found in a recent S2 Health and Fitness block where I challenged learners to improve their Speed over a 5 week block. I initially taught them the tools they may need then it was up to them to mange time, problem solve, work with others, apply and evaluate their performance development. I became a facilitator by guiding and answering very interesting questions from my learners. The main thing I learned from using this approach is that my learners are capable of achieving in my subject in more ways than simply improving speed. They learned many skills and its up to me as their teacher to capture this and provide meaningful feedback to allow them to move forward in my subject and across others.

Am I getting right? I hope so but I have so much still to learn myself. I have developed NQ’s within my department and authority and now my energy is being used to redesign the Broad General Phase with a few colleagues of mine. We have a very simple aim to improve the planning and delivery of physical education in the Junior Phase (Primary 1 – S3). If you are interested in this area please check out @thefuturepe and keep an eye out on any future developments from this group of practitioners. The Broad General Phase will be back on the lips of our Head Teachers very soon and it is important that is put back to the top of the to-do list of every Principal Teacher, Curriculum Leader and Faculty Head in Scotland. We have a chance to ‘get it right’ please join me in wanting to take this chance and improve the outcomes of every young person in Scotland.

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