Why PE matters so much at Alderman Peel High School, at Wells

At Alderman Peel High School in Wells are (from left) Eve Harmer (13), Jacob Skipper (13), Rachel Ch

At Alderman Peel High School in Wells are (from left) Eve Harmer (13), Jacob Skipper (13), Rachel Chapman (12), Rafe Bowen (13) and Kate Willis (13). Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

For many people whose school days are behind them, the mention of PE can conjure up memories of cold playing fields, muddy cross country courses and awkward showers.

It is a subject that often seems to lose out in today's world of the English Baccalaureate, which concentrates on traditionally academic areas, and school league tables which place such a high premium on maths and English.

But PE also has its champions, especially when people talk of a London 2012 legacy and the importance of retaining school playing fields, and look to schools to help tackle a national health crisis that saw an estimated 10pc of Norfolk children classed as obese at the start of primary school in 2014-15.

Alderman Peel High School, in Wells, is a specialist sports college, and Joe Wilding, its director of learning for PE, is proud of the priority the school gives the subject.

Three years ago, Ofsted inspectors singled out the strength of its out-of-school sporting activities, and it has received a Gold Level School Games Mark based on the number of students attending extra-curricular clubs and taking part in a number of intra-house and inter-school competitions.

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Mr Wilding said that, while some high schools have moved away from offering two hours of PE a week, especially for pupils in their GCSE years, Alderman Peel was committed to retaining it, and parents sometimes cited sports provision as the reason for sending their child there.

He said the school was forward thinking about the activities on offer to students, which 'can range from doing the water aerobics with a group of girls that may be reluctant to get into the pool, to mixed marshal arts'.

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'It's about looking at the different groups, and how we engage them,' he added.

Part of this is about giving students a voice, with an annual end-of-school questionnaire asking pupils which activities they engaged in most, and what they would like to see the school introduce. It is a mechanism that helped see girls' rugby come to the school.

The school pays to bring in coaches to deliver specialist sports such as archery and trampolining, but all the clubs are free for students to take part in.

Mr Wilding added that in some subjects it may be easier to measure progress students make, or outcomes, but those of sports and PE are harder to quantify.

'I feel that a lot of the impact that PE has is hard to track', he said. 'What we are actually teaching students is how to work as a team, co-operate within that team, what it feels like to win and lose.

'They are everyday values that, if you don't experience them at high school, if you experience them later in life there's a right and a wrong way to deal with them.'

Mr Wilding also thinks that insights teachers have about pupils in PE lessons can be useful for teachers who see them in other subjects.

He said: 'It can help resolve behaviour problems. I feel that a student in a maths or English lesson where you might just hear negative things might thrive in our subject, and it's important to let other teachers know that they thrive in this subject, and those teachers can come to us and ask what we do.'

He added: 'We see them in a different light in PE lessons. It's the same in a club. A student we might see in a lesson might be completely different when they are in a school club. You might also have fewer students there, so you can really get to know them.'

The school also recognises that not all children are sporty, and works hard to engage them in PE.

'We have achieved this by offering them alternative roles in lessons, such as a coach, leader or official,' he said. 'Furthermore, all Year 10 students have the opportunity to complete a Level 1 or Level 2 Sports Leader Award which focuses on the responsibility of leading in a sport, rather than their technical ability.

'Our top sports leaders are then identified and have gone on to help organise and run cluster/partnership/county sporting events.'

The school also holds its own celebration of sporting success, with an awards evening modelled on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year celebration, where pupils not only win prizes for their achievements, but also the commitment they have shown to their sports. So how does the PE that today's young people experience differ from the PE their parents and grandparents knew?

Mr Wilding said: 'It's more flexible. There is opportunity for more choice in what you do, as long as you still meet the aims of the national curriculum.

'When I think back to school, I think of those traditional sports.

'I think every child has probably got that one sport, and it's just the case of finding that sport for themselves. The more different sports you can show them, the more chance you have got of them finding it, and then continuing it outside school.'

He also said there is now more range in terms of the qualifications that young people can gain, with the BTecs in areas such as fitness, and nutrition.

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