Background and context
Over the past 12-18 months, the PE and sport network of United Learning has have been developing a curriculum and assessment framework ready for teaching from September 2016. This follows the lead given in English and maths which began teaching a common curriculum at the start of the 2015/16 academic year.
Where do you start when charged with writing a PE curriculum for schools spread geographically across the country and straddling the state and independent sectors? A curriculum that needs to be distinctive to United Learning; flexible enough to be adopted and adapted by every secondary school regardless of context; and yet reflecting the essential national priorities for the physical and mental development of young people.
Our thinking had been triggered by Kevin Barton’s thought-provoking input at our national heads of PE and sport conference in 2014. Kevin shared how the Youth Sport Trust were looking at assessment models following the removal of levels of attainment. At the time, the PE and sport network were unaware that we would be writing our own curriculum so could not envisage quite how pertinent Kevin’s excellent presentation would become.
Twelve months later and United Learning had moved towards creating a mastery curriculum in English and maths, with a view to expanding to science and foundation subjects at a later date. Typically, the PE and sport network saw this as an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. The 2015 heads of PE and sport conference galvanised the network into establishing a Working Group that would be charged with developing a PE curriculum bespoke to United Learning with an accompanying fit-for-purpose assessment framework.
The Working Group comprised representatives from nine schools across both sectors from Barnsley to Bournemouth. Simultaneously, we engaged a couple of colleagues in the primary phase to ensure that, as we devised the curriculum, it would have a seamless progression from the Foundation stage through to KS4.
At the same time, the Working Group were cognisant of the changing profile and prominence of PE nationally and the pressure on the subject in the light of Ebacc and other challenges facing school leaders. It was crucial for us to use this once-in-a-career opportunity to emphasise the role of PE and school sport in delivering many of the broader educational outcomes that schools desire for their young people.
And so began six months of intense work in order to get the curriculum launched in May 2016, giving schools enough time to prepare for first teaching from September.
Motivations and aspirations
In developing our curriculum we wanted to reflect the values and aims of United Learning whilst building on the platform that the national curriculum provides. The latter has been retained in our curriculum, but only as the starting point. We saw gaps that we wanted to fill and aspects that we wanted to extend and develop further.
More crucially, however, was the distinctive structure of United Learning and the cross-sector nature of our schools. United Learning has an agreed set of six core values which we wanted our curriculum to reflect and support the delivery of. We wanted to ensure that we did not just pay lip service to these values but held them central to our thinking and planning.
Finally, on a more practical level, schools were all trying in different ways to assess student progress and achievement without using levels. Following on from Kevin’s input the previous year, we invested in afPE’s ‘Assessment without Levels’ publication and applied the thinking in there to our distinctive aims and ambitions. In doing so, the level of professional debate was cognitively and philosophically challenging. The ambition was to produce the most exciting and demanding curriculum that we could, yet keep it simple enough for each school to be able to deliver, within their own context and setting and without any impact on the high standards expected.
In doing so, the three themes emerged that would form the basis for both the curriculum itself and the accompanying assessment framework:
The following model provides a visual summary of the overall outcome of our work, which grew to be called the United Learning PE and Health curriculum:
Vision and outcomes
We began by establishing how our vision would deliver on the United Learning core values:
Our vision is that United Learning’s values will be brought to life through high quality physical education, sport and health-promoting physical activity so that every young person is:
- Ambitious – to excel, to be the best they can be in and through PE and sport;
- Confident – to participate, perform and lead;
- Creative – in their decision-making and in finding solutions to increasingly complex challenges;
- Determined – to persist in overcoming obstacles, to lead healthy lifestyles and to achieve their best;
- Enthusiastic – about engaging in physical activity* and sport in school, out of school and beyond school life;
- Respectful – of themselves, all of their peers and all adults involved in their sporting life, whether they be teachers, coaches, officials, medical staff etc.
With a clear vision about how the Group’s core values would underpin our PE and Health curriculum, we drew up four outcomes that we want for all of our young people, whichever institution they attend within the group:
- Our KS3 Physical Education (PE) and Health curriculum will bring out ‘the best in everyone’ by developing physically skilful young people who have developed the skills, knowledge, understanding, character and confidence to prepare them for KS4 PE;
- Our PE and Health curriculum will enable our young people to forge a positive lifelong relationship with physical activity and sport;
- Our PE and Health curriculum will prepare students thoroughly for the rigours of accredited courses in KS4 and beyond through a knowledge and understanding of relevant and appropriate elements of sport science;
- Such is our commitment to developing generic leadership/employability skills in young people through PE and sport, our ambition is to enable achievement of our KPIs in Years 7, 8 and 9 to be recognised with a bronze, silver and gold ‘Fit to Lead’ award. Furthermore, students in Year 9 who opt to undertake a further assessment can achieve a ‘Fit to Lead’ qualification.
We knew that we wanted our outcomes to include aspects of character education as that is one of the strands of United Learning’s Framework for Excellence. We genuinely believed that we could have a greater impact on young people beyond the physical, vital as developing high standards of performance are. Practical performance is one of the distinctive aspects of our subject and is paramount to everything that we do. But through the process of improving practical performance PE can do so much more for the holistic education of children. That is what we wanted our curriculum to emphasise through the heavy focus on health and well-being and developing leadership skills in all students in KS3. Although the awards mentioned in outcome 4 are still to be confirmed, they do signal the priority which we will be placing on these generic skills that employers and HE are demanding of our students.
In order to deliver on our vision and achieve these aims and outcomes, we wanted to set out some minimum expectations. Whilst schools naturally retain complete autonomy in deciding which specific activities and sports to include in their unique curriculum, there were some broad expectations which the Working Group felt all pupils in United Learning schools should be entitled to. In particular, for example, it was felt important that every student learns an adapted/Paralympic sport, but which one/s of these would be at the school’s own discretion. To this end we set out the following expectations:
All pupils in United Learning schools will be entitled to enjoy the following in their PE, health and school sport experience:
- Two hours* per week of a challenging core curriculum which has a good balance between breadth and depth of activities, enabling both a wealth of opportunities and deep learning;
- A core curriculum experience of learning in an unfamiliar environment, whether on water, in challenging outdoor settings, or through activities such as indoor climbing;
- To participate in adapted/Paralympic sports and activities in curricular or extra-curricular provision;
- To undertake a recognised award or qualification in physical education, dance, health, leadership or sport;
- An inclusive and exciting extra-curricular programme that extends and enriches learning and enables them to train and compete with purpose;
- To represent their school in a sporting (or dance-related) competition or festival.
State and independent
One of the distinctive features of United Learning is the mix of schools in both the state and private sectors. Devising a curriculum across the two sectors would be a challenge in any subject. In the introduction to the curriculum we articulated why this cross-sector collaboration was particularly important in PE:
“It is often argued that the greatest disparity between the state and independent sectors lies in the realm of PE and school sport. We value the distinctive nature and philosophy of the two sectors, but are encouraged by the shared learning from each other that we have already experienced. Nowhere has this been more evident than through this curriculum and assessment work. The final outcome provides a common, unique United Learning curriculum framework, but one with sufficient flexibility for the traditions and cultures of each school to be retained and celebrated. The philosophy underpinning this curriculum has been guided by the Group’s aims and ethos; the resulting content has been shaped by the Framework for Excellence; and the process has reflected the group’s mission of collaboration across the sectors.”
From the outset it was essential that both sectors felt ownership of both the process and the eventual outcome. Directors of Sport from two of our independent schools sat on the Working Group to ensure that the independent school perspective was considered throughout. In reality, we found that everyone looked at the potential for a cross-sector curriculum through the same lens. Whilst we had many philosophical and intellectual debates about various aspects of curriculum content and assessment terminology, none of those discussions were along state/independent lines. Our profession can be proud of the amount of common ground we found there to be between the two sectors, notwithstanding the contrasting traditions and contexts.
Crichton Casbon was recruited as our independent expert Chair of Standards. His role included checking that the curriculum and assessment framework would stand up to national scrutiny. He provided us with excellent challenge and contributed some of his immense experience to the process. With such a robust and rigorous arbiter of standards, it would be difficult for any school not to sign up to our curriculum in the belief that it would not be stretching enough.
In our next blog we will share more details and content and try to outline what we hope the difference will be for students. We will also be presenting at the Optimus Education conference on PE, Health and School Sport in November.