Crichton Casbon, curriculum adviser for PE at the QCA, explains the new PE curriculum changes to Penny Cottee

Few teachers can be unaware that the secondary curriculum is currently undergoing a thorough overhaul in the London offices of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), with education experts and advisers pulling together plans for new programmes of study across all subjects. Physical education is, of course, no exception.

The man in charge of the review and implementation of the secondary curriculum is Crichton Casbon, curriculum adviser for PE at the QCA. Crichton is hoping the changes will help to engage pupils in a relationship with PE that will last far beyond their school years. “One of our key aims is to make sure we build a connection with long-term physical involvement, so that young people choose healthy, active lifestyles which continue not only outside school but for the rest of their lives,” says Crichton. “We also need to look at much greater personalisation of the curriculum, so that it’s more relevant to young people, giving them choices about what they do and how they do it.”

Following a consultation on the review in the spring, the QCA considered the feedback it received and gave its advice to the secretary of state in June. “The responses we have had from teachers have been extremely positive,” Crichton adds. ”Teachers are ready for a change – what they need now are the tools to do the job.”

The programmes of study for PE have been rewritten and the proposal is now to have them organised under five headings which all look at the aims of the curriculum. These are:

  1. the importance of physical education
  2. key concepts
  3. key processes
  4. range and content
  5. curriculum opportunities.

Crichton would like to draw teachers’ attention particularly to the first, ‘The importance of physical education’ (see inset box above, right), which reads rather like a mission statement for the subject. “This really describes what PE is all about,” he explains. “It shows the types of outcomes you would hope to see from a good PE department and it makes an excellent starting point for planning.  We hope teachers will take a good look at the outcomes and then consider how best to achieve them in their schools.”

The ‘key concepts’ are the broad understanding and knowledge that underpin the subject and are grouped under four headings – competence, performance, creativity and healthy, active lifestyles.

“The next section, the ‘key processes’, most resembles previous programmes of study and teachers will be broadly familiar with this section,” Crichton says. “These are the essential skills and processes in PE that pupils need to learn to make progress.” The ‘key processes’ outline 14 skills and processes that pupils need to learn, including refining skills into techniques, developing precision, control and fluency and making decisions to improve their performance.

“In the ‘range and content’ section, we’re looking at six activities that require different techniques and different ways of thinking,” continues Crichton. These are:

  1. outwitting opponents
  2. accurate replication of actions
  3. exploring and communicating ideas
  4. performing at maximum levels
  5. identifying and solving problems to overcome challenges
  6. exercising safely and effectively

Crichton illustrates this with the example of swimming. “If you play water polo you are outwitting opponents, with synchronised swimming you will be replicating movements, in lane swimming you’ll be performing to your maximum speed, in life saving you are focused on problem solving, while in aqua aerobics you will be exercising to improve fitness,” he explains. “Each activity requires you to be able to swim but each also focuses on a different outcome.”

The fifth and final heading, ‘curriculum opportunities’, deals with offering pupils the chance to, for example, get involved in a range of activities that develop the whole body, to make links between PE and other subjects in the curriculum and – an overarching aim for the QCA – to follow pathways to other activities beyond school as part of a healthy, active lifestyle.

Crichton is keen to stress to teachers that the proposed curriculum should make life easier for them. “Teachers are not expected to do the work twice,” he says. “These new programmes of study weave together the 10 high-quality outcomes, the PESSCL work strands and the Every Child Matters agenda.  We’re pulling together all elements into one cohesive curriculum.”

This work represents the next stage in the evolution of the National Curriculum. “We’re trying to create a curriculum for the 21st century which prepares learners for their futures,” Crichton explains. “The world is evolving all the time and the curriculum needs to stay in tune with that, if not be ahead.”

The proposed changes offer teachers more flexibility to be creative. “We will know we’re winning when schools will be designing their own curriculums to suit the needs of their own particular youngsters.”

This article first appeared in PE & Sport Today – September 2007