Association for Physical Education Written evidence (EDU0048)


Who We Are:

The Association for Physical Education (afPE) is a Charity limited by guarantee, a membership organisation and the only Subject Association for physical education in the United Kingdom. We are the voice of PE, and our vision is to support the workforce to put physical education at the heart of school life.

What We Do:

We provide quality assured services and resources and valuable professional support for our members and the physical education, school sport and physical activity sector.


  1. The range and breadth of subjects covered in the 11-16 curriculum

This depends on factors such as the needs of students, the goals of education, and cultural and societal values. The afPE membership, however, feel It is important that physical education (PE) is afforded status as a Core subject as a central element of the range and breadth of subjects for the following reasons:

1.1.            PE is at the heart of school life.

1.2.            It would ensure students are supported in the physical, mental, social, and emotional aspects of learning. Regular physical activity improves students’ physical fitness, health and wellbeing, attitudes to learning and reduces anxiety.

1.3.            Regular physical activity has been linked to improved physical and mental health, including reduced risk of chronic diseases, improved academic performance, and increased self-esteem (Public Health England 2020).

1.4.            PE provides opportunities for students to develop social skills and interact with each other in a non-academic setting, promoting teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. These skills are essential in the workplace, and employers often prefer candidates who possess them.

1.5.            Being physically active as part of a physical education programme improves cognitive function, including memory, attention, and creativity. PE can also help reduce stress and anxiety, leading to better academic performance.

1.6.            It fulfils legal requirements and ensures that all students receive an adequate amount of PE. A significant number of schools have reduced key stage (KS) 4 time allocated to core PE to one hour or less which is insufficient time to cover the content required in the National Curriculum Programme of Study. KS4 is also a time when regular involvement in Core PE should be maintained to reduce stress and anxiety in students due to examinations. There is added frustration amongst afPE members (and no doubt in other subjects too) of the huge amount of 'intervention' classes that take place, namely in the core subjects at the expense of time afforded for PE.

With reference to Dr J. Harris (2018). The Case for Physical Education becoming a Core Subject in the National Curriculum


  1. The effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum in equipping young people with the skills they need to progress into post-16 education and employment in a future digital and green economy

2.1.            The 2019 report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) titled ‘How our education system should prepare young people for the modern world’, suggested that the UK education system needs to do more to prepare young people for the world of work in a digital age. The report:

2.1.1.            highlights that the skills gap is a major concern for employers, and young people need to develop a broader range of skills to succeed in the workforce.

2.1.2.            proposes that the education system should focus on developing students' critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and communication skills, which are essential in a digital and green economy.

2.1.3.            recommends that schools should provide more opportunities for work-related learning and offer careers advice and guidance to help young people make informed decisions about their future.

2.2.            The current curriculum includes subjects such as computing and design and technology, as well as Business Studies offered at GCSE, which are relevant to the digital and green economy. However, some afPE members believe that the current curriculum places too much emphasis on traditional academic subjects, such as English, mathematics, and science, and does not provide sufficient opportunities to develop practical sustainable competencies such as social dialogue, community involvement and work-life integration (see also section 11).

2.3.            The emphasis on a green economy is welcomed by afPE and encouraging young people to get out and enjoy the outdoor space is crucial to this. Not only will this have obvious physical health benefits, but it is widely accepted that being outside is good for mental health and wellbeing. This promotes the importance of environmental awareness and encourages younger generations to spend time away from electronic devices, contributing to energy usage.


  1. The availability and attractiveness of technical and vocational options in the 11-16 phase

Positives: Technical and vocational options can…

3.1.            provide a wider range of opportunities for students to pursue in their education, beyond traditional academic subjects.

3.2.            have a more practical focus and be tailored to meet the needs and interests of individual students, allowing them to learn in a way that suits their future career aspirations.

3.3.            equip students with the skills and knowledge required for specific careers, preparing them for the world of work and increasing their employability.

3.4.            contribute to the country’s economic growth by addressing skills shortages and providing a skilled workforce for industries that require technical expertise.

Negatives: Technical and vocational options can…

3.5.            be stigmatised, with some students feeling that pursuing such courses is not as valuable as academic subjects that are viewed as more prestigious.

3.6.            be more limited in opportunities for progression than academic subjects, meaning students are also often limited in their future education and career choices.

3.7.            vary widely in terms of quality and standardisation, making it difficult for students to know which courses are worth pursuing and which may not provide the necessary skills and knowledge.

3.8.            lead to a reduced focus on certain subjects, for example Core PE at key stage 3 and especially key stage 4 due to the overriding focus on qualifications.

3.9.            reduced uptake for GCSE subjects. School entries for GCSE PE for example are declining. Technical qualifications are often preferred by schools due to their perceived ‘easiness’ and opportunity to gain higher Progress 8 scores. Choice is often driven by School League tables, rather than the needs of students. Ofsted refer to such practice as ‘Gaming’, however too many schools still engage in this practice. 


  1. The impact of the 11-16 system on the motivation and confidence of pupils of all abilities

The impact can vary depending on several factors, including the school ethos, the quality of teaching, the learning environment, and the individual needs of students. Some general impacts can be observed:

4.1.            The curriculum is designed to be engaging and challenging. This helps to motivate students of all abilities to learn and succeed. Literature and language studies can help students develop critical thinking skills, creativity, and communication skills, for example which can increase motivation to learn. PE can reduce stress and anxiety as well as create a sense of belonging and a positive attitude to learning through teamwork in sporting and physical activities.

4.2.            The curriculum is designed to provide a broad and balanced education, which can help students of all abilities to find their strengths and interests. By succeeding in various subjects, students gain confidence in their abilities and feel more prepared for the challenges of adult life.

4.3.            Some students struggle with the curriculum or may not find it relevant to their interests or goals. This can decrease students’ motivation to learn and is particularly true for students with SEND, who require additional support and adaptation to succeed.

4.4.            The pressure to succeed in exams negatively impacts the mental health of students of all abilities. This can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression, which can affect motivation and confidence.

4.5.            There has been a negative impact on the reduction in young people participating in sport and activities outside of school from the lack of opportunity in school/extra-curricular due to exam pressures.

4.6.            afPE members feel It is important for educational stakeholders to ensure that it is meeting the needs of students and promoting their well-being through increased focus on physical education, school sport and physical activity.


  1. The effectiveness of GCSEs as a means of assessing the achievements of all pupils at the end of the 11-16 phase


5.1.            GCSEs provide a standardised assessment system that measures the attainment of students across a broad range of subjects, ensuring a level of consistency in evaluating academic achievements.

5.2.            GCSEs provide students with recognised qualifications, which can be used to demonstrate their academic achievements and open future opportunities for further education or employment.

5.3.            GCSEs typically require students to study a broad range of subjects, including the core subjects of English, maths, and science, which are essential for future success in education and the workplace.


5.4.            GCSEs are designed as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ assessment system that does not adequately reflect the diversity of students' skills and talents or allow for individual strengths and interests.

5.5.            GCSEs only assess a narrow range of skills and knowledge in each subject, leaving out certain aspects of learning, such as creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking, which are essential for success in modern workplaces.

5.6.            The high-stakes nature of GCSEs can place significant pressure on students, leading to stress, anxiety, and mental health issues.

5.7.            There are concerns that GCSEs may perpetuate existing social and educational inequalities by favouring certain types of learners and schools over others.

Overall, GCSEs effectiveness in assessing the diverse range of skills and knowledge required in modern workplaces is lacking.


  1. Alternative methods of assessment for measuring progress that could be considered either alongside or instead of GCSEs

There are several alternative methods that can be considered alongside or instead of GCSEs:

6.1.            Digital script readers are now more effective and increase the accuracy of assessment.

6.2.            Students can be assessed on their ability to complete projects that demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a particular subject or across subjects. This approach allows for creativity and allows students to showcase their strengths in a way that traditional exams do not.

6.3.            Performance-based assessments involve students demonstrating their skills and knowledge in real-world scenarios. For example, in a language class, students may be assessed on their ability to have a conversation in the target language with a native speaker. In physical education performance in a sporting context overtime or regular attendance at a fitness club or gym.

6.4.            Students can showcase their work throughout a course or a particular period in Portfolios which can include a variety of work, such as essays, projects, and presentations, and allow for a more holistic assessment of a student's abilities.

6.5.            Competency-based assessments that focus on assessing a student's ability to perform specific tasks and skills related to a particular subject area. This method of assessment can be particularly useful for vocational courses and can help prepare students for specific careers.

6.6.            Standardised tests can be an alternative to GCSEs. Standardised tests can be used to assess a student's knowledge and skills in a particular subject area and can provide a benchmark for measuring progress. An example could be for Core PE at KS4 where students who do not follow an academic or vocational PE or sport related course have nothing to show for their five years of participation in PE.

6.7.            With regard to point 6.6, a High School Certificate endorsed by the subject association e.g. afPE for PE and other subjects could be a possibility. The assessment would be multi-method and include a portfolio of evidence, ongoing competency-based assessment and a standardised test related to the achievement of National Curriculum PE Aims.


  1. How the school accountability system affects the 11-16 curriculum

School accountability can contribute directly to improvements in education. Paradoxically, accountability systems can also produce negative impacts on education, making it more difficult for schools to deliver the sought after quality.  

7.1.            The practice of predicting grades and ‘flight paths’ (a result of the previous accountability system), has been dismissed by the DfE (2023) in ‘Secondary accountability measures Guide for maintained secondary schools, academies and free schools’ (page 24), yet too many schools still use them.

7.2.            Accountability measures are based on examination results and too frequently this overriding focus leads to ‘teaching to the test’ and targeted teaching where schools focus on “borderline” leading to an impoverished experience for some students.

7.3.            Use of (often incorrect/misaligned) ‘high stakes’ Progress 8 data is used to drive practice and informs poor decision-making about student future learning, rather than evidence-based practice.

7.4.            The system-level reforms in 2012 to curriculum structure, documentation and accountability measures were informed by benchmarking from international system comparisons which only focused on a narrow range of skills and knowledge in Maths and English. This benchmark does not fully reflect the quality and effectiveness of an education system.

7.5.            Students are less engaged when undue emphasis is placed upon performance of some groups at the expense of others.

7.6.            The burden of accountability (time and administration) can impact negatively on a teacher’s workload (see also section 9).

7.7.            No significant system standards improvement is discernible, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic measures taken. Ofsted (2022) reported that by the end of December 2021, 87% of all schools were good or outstanding. This was a slight increase from 86% in August 2021.

The school accountability system results in an overring emphasis on ‘teaching to the test’, influences curriculum choice and subject inclusion and should be simplified and more flexible to address the points.


  1. The role technology can play in education in this phase, including in assessment, the personalisation of learning and reducing teachers’ workload

8.1.            Computer-based testing, digital script readers, automated grading, and artificial intelligence (AI) can be utilised to make formative and summative assessments more efficient and objective and reduce workload. (Education Endowment Foundation - EEF). Such assessments could be tailored to student interests and abilities. Personalised learning plans for individual students can be developed, alongside ‘gamification’ providing a more targeted and effective approach to learning.

8.2.            Learning management systems (LMS), used to automate administrative tasks like tracking attendance and grading, could be further developed to manage project and portfolio based assessments. This will reduce teachers’ workload and free up time for planning and assessment. Teachers can also use technology to collaborate with other educators and share resources and ideas.


  1. How the 11-16 system could be adapted to improve the attractiveness of the teaching profession, and the recruitment, training and retention of teachers


9.1.            Ensure the provision of professional development in teachers’ performance management review.

9.2.            Early Career Teachers / Early Career Framework - effective implementation including the training of mentors.

9.3.            Ensure professional development does not add to workload. afPE’s courses / accreditation for example are aligned to the Teachers’ Standards and seek to enhance what teachers are already doing.


  1. How spending for this phase of education should be prioritised, in the context of the current fiscal climate

10.1.            The most important factor in student achievement is the quality of teaching. Whilst it may be difficult to increase teacher salaries, investing in professional development and support programmes for teachers can help to attract and retain talented teachers.

10.2.            Investing in technology and infrastructure can help to improve learning outcomes and better prepare students for the 21st century. This would include investments in hardware and software, as well as the development of digital learning resources.

10.3.            Many students, in particular SEND, require additional support to succeed academically and socially. Investing in special education programmes, counselling services, and other forms of student support help to ensure that all students can achieve.

10.4.            Investing in curriculum development and innovation help to ensure that students are well-prepared for the challenges of the 21st Century and help to improve achievement overtime.

10.5.            Investing in school facilities and maintenance is important for creating a safe and conducive learning environment. Whilst it may be difficult to undertake major building projects, investments in routine maintenance and repairs can help to ensure that schools are safe and well-maintained. Schools are shutting swimming pools for example (swimming is a statutory element of national curriculum PE) due to increased running and maintenance costs.


  1. Lessons for improving education for the 11-16 phase from educational policy and practice from overseas, or from the devolved administrations

11.1.            A focus on competencies can be very effective in preparing students for success in the 21st century. Competency-based education emphasises the development of ‘real world readiness’, by highlighting practical skills and abilities such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, rather than simply the acquisition of knowledge in a subject and can be particularly well-suited to the needs of modern learners.

11.2.            A competency-driven approach demands more active learning and flexibility in authentic contexts.

11.3.            Competency-based education is increasingly being adopted by education systems around the world including Finland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. afPE have been involved with developing a competency-based approach in PE in Kosovo (2014) and Qatar (2018).

11.4.            Competency-based education is often centred around active learning experiences, such as project-based, enquiry-based, and problem-based learning. These types of learning experiences can be more engaging and motivating for students than traditional instruction.

Scotland and Wales:

11.5.            Both have their own education systems that differ from the education system used in England. However, both Scotland and Wales have moved away from a purely competency-based education system and have adopted more holistic, flexible and student-centred approaches to education.

11.6.            Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence focuses on four key aspects of learning: knowledge and understanding, skills, attributes and capabilities, and values and attitudes. It aims to provide a broad and balanced education that encourages students to become confident, responsible, and effective contributors to society.

11.7.            The Welsh curriculum focuses on four purposes of learning: creating ambitious, capable learners; developing ethical, informed citizens; contributing to a more prosperous and sustainable Wales; and promoting healthy, confident individuals.

11.8.            Both Scotland and Wales recognise the importance of developing a range of competencies and skills in students, but they also emphasise the importance of developing the whole person and preparing students for life beyond school.

28 April 2023