The theme of this blog post stemmed from recent conversations I have had with teachers at both secondary and, in particular, primary level regarding the place of Physical Education in advance of the re-opening of schools in late August, early September. I apologise to teachers who, after over two months of remote learning and countless virtual meetings, are about to start their well-earned holidays to have to consider this, however, the implications are too great to ignore.
As Government and school management frantically attempt to put plans and protocols in place for a safe return to schools next September, it is concerning to hear that Physical Education may become victim of this “new era of learning”. Specifically, I have heard numerous anecdotal accounts, both nationally and internationally, of Physical Education halls being converted in to classrooms to cater for social distancing recommendations. While on initial consideration this might seem reasonable to those not directly involved in the delivery or experience of the subject, the learning space that is the sports hall is just as important to children’s’ development as the Maths classroom or Science lab. A wealth of research underscores the inferior status of Physical Education in comparison to the more traditional academic curriculum areas. The place of our subject in light of the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic represent yet another significant hurdle in the quest for equal status.
A recent position statement from the European Physical Education Association (EUPEA) (available here) succinctly summarises the importance of the subject and outlines some demands for quality Physical Education moving forward. Bullet points two and four on page two of the statement are particularly pertinent at this time. For a more detailed critical overview of the discussion point raised in bullet point two, check out this podcast. The contribution of physical education to the cognitive, social and physical development of the child has been well documented in many research studies and can’t be sacrificed in any knee-jerk response to facilitate the “new normal”.
In an era of social distancing, the delivery of physical education lessons might seem counter-intuitive. However, there are multiple curriculum options that afford teachers the opportunity to provide quality Physical Education while adhering to public health recommendations. Health related physical activity, net games, athletics and outdoor adventure education are some that immediately spring to mind. Beyond the environs of the school, a recent blog post (available here) identifies four steps for teachers to promote integrating Physical Education as part of family life. Schools may also need to introduce some flexibility with uniform policies to facilitate active-wear on timetabled Physical Education days, and adhering to public health guidelines will require significant planning on the part of Physical Education teachers in preparation for the forthcoming academic year.
In an effort to be proactive during this evolving pandemic, I would encourage teachers at primary and post-primary level to bring the aforementioned EUPEA statement to the attention of school management as we continue to build on the gargantuan strides our subject has made in recent years.
There is no education without Physical Education.
Brendan O’ Keeffe is a postgraduate student in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences who has recently successfully defended his PhD. Brendan can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org View Brendan’s profile here and on twitter at @BrendanOK _