Physical Education and Its Changes


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Physical Education subject faced a variety of significant changes during last 50 years. Some of these changes are so crucial that there may not have even been an academic subject called Physical Education to speak about. This essay shall aim to uncover the principle changes the subject has gone through since 1945 and also provide insight into why these changes did and had to occur. I shall endeavour to tackle these principle changes in a chronological order although some have to be considered as an issue on their own.

Firstly, however, before uncovering the changes in PE post-1945 it is important to know what was going on in this subject pre-1945. A good place to start is in the 1800s in Rugby school where a gentleman named Dr Thomas Arnold was headmaster. He arrived at this public school when boys were taking part in traditional country outdoor activities such as shooting and fishing, though in rebellion of the law. Arnold wished to confine the boys at Rugby to take part in activities within the confines of the school grounds, this meant team games such as Rugby, Cricket and Football. He allowed these team games, where the boys would often get hurt and covered in mud, to go on because he believed that they also served an educational role, a means of developing one's character (Goodwin, 1984). He understood that these games would develop traits in a boy such as courage, loyalty, self-sacrifice, unselfishness, co-operation, a sense of honor and the ability to accept defeat, “be a good loser" . These games were however very much confined to the public schools.

In 1872 an Education (Scotland) Act was passed that introduced compulsory schooling for children aged 5-13. Though this helped children receive an education, there was no mention of PE, or sport of any kind within the document. In order that these children could receive some sort of physical activity, drill was introduced to encourage sharp obedience, smartness, cleanliness and order. It was however recognized that other forms of physical activity had to occur for the health of the nation. This was the time when therapeutic Swedish gymnastics appeared in order that it would counteract disease and ill health. Physical training and education had become part of the wider developments in health education in the school medical service of 1909. PE therefore from about 1872-1945 was no longer about discipline but about health.

It is very important before continuing to have a definition of what Physical Education actually is, from reading the literature it is hard to determine one true designation. The Oxford Dictionary (1999) offers the following, “(PE is) the instruction in physical exercise and games, especially in schools". Whereas Webster's New International Dictionary (1986) offers this description stating that PE is “education in methods designed to promote the development and care of the body and usually involving instruction in hygiene and systematic exercises and in sports and games". As can be seen from the two descriptions the Oxford dictionary does not even mention the word education and instead contends that PE is all about games and sports. This proponent of PE began to surface after 1945.

After 1945 and around the mid 1960s more significant educational changes began to emerge. In 1945 an Education of Scotland Act was passed which increased the school leaving age to 15 years old. PE at this time was a compulsory part of schooling, so with this change more children took part in PE for longer. PE started to move towards the more aesthetic elements of the curriculum; dance and movement were particularly popular. This aesthetic aspect towards PE fashioned a movement characteristic, thus maintaining its physical nature. At this time the majority of PE teachers were female and these teachers pushed towards more qualitative gymnastics and aesthetics promoting that it was a part of self-discovery and expression in their pupils. These female PE teachers came from a very restricted physical education establishment in the form of specialist teacher training colleges. These were confined mainly with women and gymnastics until the end of the Second World War. It was also suggested that this type of PE placed a certain level of demand on pupils’ intelligence levels and helped to develop cognitive activity. Male PE teachers argued that this type of expressionist PE was not the way forward and instead pursued the idea that PE should be competition based. The male physical educators took on board Olympic Gymnastics as opposed to the more qualitative recreational sort. They supported scientific principles and skill development as the best form of education. The popularity of this approach grew as the numbers of male PE teachers increased. The males criticized the females, suggesting that their approach contained a lack of teacher involvement and direction and that it was mainly based around the pupils teaching themselves. With the introduction of other activities into the curriculum the debate surrounding educational or Olympic gymnastics died down. It would not be until 1988 that male and female PE teachers would teach the same thing.

Games were made compulsory in state schools in 1944 even though they had been a very important aspect of private schooling for years. PE around the 1960s consisted mainly of team games. These games were often taught by non-specialists, this was especially the case for the boys’ games programme. At this point out of school games or extra curricular school sport was a major part of the physical education programme. An assessment for the selections of school teams was often a job undertaken by the PE staff. The pupils selected for these teams would be the best players in the school as seen by the PE staff. This was an opportunity where the PE teachers could make a name for themselves and gain prestige from their peers by picking winning teams. Often the prestige of the school came before attempting to give all pupils a game.

As can be seen so far PE had already made some big changes. It had transformed itself from the rough games and character building of Arnold's Rugby School to militaristic drill taken by sergeants to aesthetic gymnastics and movement to the scientisation of the male taught Olympic gymnastics. Once again though PE has returned through this chronological order to the team games that were prevalent back in the 1800s, however, here it was to promote the status of the PE teachers and help them to create a name for themselves within the schools.

In 1965 a Sports Council was set up to advice the government on future policy on sport and PE. This was a unique step and came from the advice of the Wolfenden committee, which reported in 1960 on ‘sport and the community’. Sir John Wolfenden chaired this committee and David Munrow was one of its members and also the Director of PE at Birmingham University. This committee was formed to examine the general position of sport in Britain and to recommend any action that they think should be taken.

Between the late 1970s and early 1980s PE was lacking in educational significance. PE teachers were regarded as having a low status that they were good for talk about the weekend's sporting events but they did not teach a very educational subject. Musgrove and Taylor (1969) suggested that practical subjects had always been regarded as low status. PE had been linked with subjects such as Music, Drama and Art in the section of the curriculum known as the ‘expressive arts’. This convenient label was based on the fact that creativity was an aspect of these subjects. There were various educational ideologies around during this time. Some of which suggested that the main thrust of the curriculum was recreational with the emphasis on games and education for leisure. There was an awful lot of emphasis on playing the game and not a lot of specific teaching going on at that time. PE had become categorized as a subject with a lack of formal assessment.

Assessments up to the mid 1970s had often relied on fleeting evidence and a reliance on general impressions, with a lack of specific criteria and specific observation. Therefore as a result assessment was never seen as an important issue in PE, any thought given to the purposes, issues and problems surrounding PE non-existent. Assessments were in the form of school reports, generally for the pupils and parents to ascertain the levels of their achievements so far. These reports were often vague, hurried and did not have much consideration given to them by teachers. A move towards certification in PE would provide a sound curriculum and forms of assessment and examination.

As of the late 1960s PE had been trying to develop the curriculum and in 1972 this was mirrored in Curriculum Paper 12 - ‘Physical Education in Secondary Schools’. At this time certification and assessment were not yet considered. However in 1980 plans for an introduction of a new system of curriculum and assessment for 3rd and 4th years of secondary schooling were presented, encouraged by the recommendations in the Munn and Dunning committees. The Munn committee established 8 modes of activity within the curriculum of which physical activity was one. This was part of the core and additional options structure. The Dunning committee recommended that all pupils should be given the right to take part in courses that could lead to the Scottish Certificate of Education and that exams and assessment by teachers should depict the awards achieved. These awards would be at three different levels: Credit, General and Foundation. Fryer (1986) contends that the introduction of this structure helped PE to re-consider its teaching practices and system of assessment for certification.

These recommendations for the change in the PE curriculum from the Munn and Dunning report were set in motion by the first Thatcher government, where a small group of policy individuals set about developing a suitable certificated course. In 1984 PE was certificated and came under the title of Standard Grade in Scotland. Standard Grade PE (SGPE) held the idea that PE was now educationally respectable and it began to enhance the status of the teachers. It was now seen by others as an entry into the world of testing, exams, knowledge and understanding, thus implying intellectual activity and serious academic study. The SGPE course contained a large element of coursework concerned with the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of facts, concepts and principles about the activities studied, about how skills are learned and performed and about the body and how it works. All of these elements began to give PE an air of intellectual and educational rigor and importance. PE teachers were now starting to use the same kind of language as their colleagues when talking about course moderation, examinations, estimates, assessments and assignments.

On Tuesday 31st May 1994 2,288 students from 116 presenting centers sat the first examination in performance for Higher Grade PE (HGPE). HGPE was established as the next level of certificated education in PE and is offered to students at 5th year level. The Scottish Universities Council on Entrance (SUCE) approved HGPE for the purposes of the general entrance requirements of its constituent Universities, this also added to the status of the educational aptitude of PE. It was important that HGPE was equivalent to HG courses in other subjects as an entry to University. This of course was especially important to parents and pupils when deciding particular subjects to pursue. Teachers pushed the practical vs. academic battle. Improved standards were a major difference between SGPE and HGPE and to achieve these students must acquire understanding of concepts, assess and appraise both processes and product. Thus, the activities selected in HGPE are the focus for learning rather than a vehicle for learning as in SGPE. In short, HGPE allows a more in depth study to PE. In order to gain an award at HGPE two activities are selected for the students, decided as a result of consultation, which has to be balanced against the expertise, facilities and resources available at individual schools. Assessment is internal with external moderation.

Carroll (1994) has suggested that this move towards a certificated PE curriculum did mean that PE became more centrally involved in the functions of the school, moving from a more marginal role to a more central one. However, as a result, it also meant involvement in the ideologies of assessment and lost its sense of freedom, accepting external control in order that there is clarity of role, personal development for teachers and possibly even the survival of the subject. The development of nationally recognized forms of assessment and certification did, according to Reid (1996), finally settle the problem of marginal status of PE in relation to other academic subjects. Kirk and Tinning (1990) believe that PE finally demonstrated that it was an educationally worthy subject when it demonstrated its scientific basis. They may then believe that the certification of PE led it to become a more scientific subject and that this is the reason that it is worthy of intellectual pursuit.

As can be seen from this essay there have been many changes in physical education since 1945. These changes have most notably been down to changes in the curriculum and this occurred due to the ever-rising argument that PE was not an educationally significant subject. Before 1945 PE was more about play and building ones character through this play. Since this period, PE moved to become more to do with the philosophy of movement and more aesthetic qualities began to surface, especially with the introduction of Swedish gymnastics and the beliefs of many female physical educators. PE has also seen changes towards a more scientific subject with the introduction of male teachers who believed that PE was more than just movement and creativity and that it should have some form of competition. One theme of these changes that has been noted throughout has been the ever-changing status of PE. It seems from the literature that PE has always had a certain stigma attached to it that it has tried so hard to shed. An important change within this context then was the certification of the subject and its resulting educational significance in the school curriculum. The Munn and Dunning report being the main benefactor of this change. The later introduction of the higher grade structure also enhanced PE's status and gave it significance as an entrance into University. All these changes have led PE to the subject that it is at present, however without a few of these changes it is hard to say whether there would be an education to be had in PE.

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