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Stepping up

Towards improving the quality and consistency in the teaching of Physical Education in the Beath cluster: a teacher-led response

A local challenge

Up until the 2012/13 session, a specialist delivered Physical Education (PE) to the six primary schools in the Beath cluster in Fife. The specialist had been in the cluster for a long time, providing support and delivering PE during the non-class contact time of primary staff.

Jackie Funnell, a primary headteacher currently seconded as an Education Officer with the local authority, explained that the practice across Fife has been not to replace PE specialists upon leaving post. “For a number of years, class teachers in the Beath cluster had not had the full responsibility of teaching PE; many staff therefore found themselves under-skilled when the PE specialist in the cluster retired,” explained Jackie. There was a lack of confidence among primary teachers, a concern in the cluster that there would be a decline in the delivery of PE and a feeling that something needed to be done.

A local response

“Gary has helped to bridge the gap between primary and secondary in his cluster by having joint collegiate time between primary class teachers (who are delivering PE in their schools) and secondary PE department staff at Beath Cluster. It is a wonderful example of teachers feeling supported and part of a bigger team to enhance the quality of PE provision that learners receive”
Dr Andy Dalziel

About two years ago the Beath cluster held a one-off twilight session around the new Significant Aspects of Learning (SAoL) for PE. Beath High School PE Teacher Gary Cunningham led the session, introducing the idea of planning PE lessons around the SAoL rather than a particular game or sport – a move away from traditional delivery. Although feedback was positive, Jackie explained that because the session was optional there wasn’t buy-in from the whole cluster. It was therefore agreed by the Beath cluster headteachers and local authority to allocate six hours of collegiate time over the 2016/17 session in four compulsory twilight sessions. Gary, also with the support of the local PEPAS (Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport) network, and as part of his secondment with the local authority to improve the consistency and quality of the teaching of PE, took on the role of delivering these sessions and working with the cluster primaries.

At the same time, Gary explained that he opened his own eyes to recent research around the delivery of PE. The SAoL had come in and Better Movers Better Thinkers (BMT) had become better understood, highlighting the need for everybody to embrace change.

The biggest initial challenge for Gary was to try to eradicate any barriers between the primary and secondary sectors, and this was alleviated through the allocated collegiate time. “Challenge two was opening the minds of secondary staff to the idea that, yes, we are PE but we’re actually teachers of learners of the whole school; what we deliver in PE can transfer into other curricular areas.” The expertise of the primary staff helped to challenge this way of thinking while the specialist knowledge of the secondary staff was helpful for primary staff too, explained Gary. There was also the challenge of ensuring that the sessions addressed the areas of professional learning need and the PEPAS network provided support in this.

Andrew Baird, Senior Active Schools Co-ordinator in Fife and member of the PEPAS network, said: “I think one of the most successful sessions was when Andy Dalziell, who is one of the founders of BMT, came in and spoke to staff. That allowed staff to see the link between physical activity in PE and benefits in the classroom in other learning aspects. I think that was a lightbulb moment for some.”

Evaluation through feedback forms found a big increase in confidence in the delivery of PE among staff, from an average of 5.9/10 after session one to 7.1/10 after session four. With success seen in other criteria too, Gary is pleased with the model they have developed. What he’s really keen to see, however, is the benefits in action; to see what impact the professional learning has had on staff delivery within schools.

The challenge now is how to keep the momentum going, and Gary is looking to keep up relationships with his cluster primaries, while the professional learning model itself may well be transferred into another curricular area in the new session.

Better Movers, Better Thinkers

This approach to PE stems from research carried out by Andy Dalziel and others.

TS: What is different about the BMT approach from previous approaches to delivering PE?
AD: There is less focus on the development of sportsspecific skills from early to second level and instead a more directed approach towards physically educating the learner in the four domains of the Significant Aspects of Learning in PE. For example, rather than focus on the technique behind an overhead clear in badminton, a BMT approach would look at developing good balance, postural control, co-ordination, rhythm and timing through a series of scaffolding practices. These physical competencies are essential to perform an overhead clear in badminton but the BMT approach would allow improvements in these key physical competencies to be transferred into a range of activities and sports rather than for use in only badminton.

TS: How can the BMT approach support attainment across the curriculum?
AD: Research clearly outlines a relationship between levels of physical activity achieved and academic achievement and attainment. Similarly, research indicates that well developed executive function skills have a much stronger correlation to literacy and numeracy learning than IQ. Recent research stipulates that activities designed to integrate motor and cognitive systems directly through increasingly complex movement patterns has a direct impact on attainment and achievement. BMT clearly targets each of these criteria to allow for attainment to be supported across the curriculum.

Teaching Scotland

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Editor contact: Evelyn Wilkins

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