Physical Education

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 23 March 2022.

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Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury 4:30, 23 March 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered physical education as a core subject in schools.

As always, I am delighted to have you in the Chair, Mr Hosie, for this important and, I hope, enthralling debate at the end of the day on physical education in our schools. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

To begin, I thank personally all 386 members of the public who so far, in just 48 hours, have taken the time to respond to the survey distributed by the Chamber Engagement team, sharing their experiences and ideas on PE as a core subject. I also thank students of the Bishop of Hereford’s Bluecoat School who, as part of the Pupils 2 Parliament programme run by former children’s director Dr Roger Morgan OBE, contributed their views and proposals. I am extremely grateful to them. That demonstrates the significant and rising interest in this crucial aspect of school, and growing recognition that the status quo is not delivering for children in the context of the modern world in which we live, in particular for those with special educational needs and disabilities or from more deprived backgrounds.

I am also grateful to the Minister, whom I know, from our early morning runs together, is as passionate as I am about the power of PE as a springboard to a lifelong love of sport and physical activity. Indeed, the Government have an ongoing commitment to which I am sure he will refer. The £320 million a year primary PE and sport premium, the 2019 manifesto pledge to invest in primary PE teaching and the new £30 million of funding to help schools open their sports facilities are all demonstrations of the desire to see improvements in participation, performance and prolonged engagement into adulthood with physical activity and sport among children of school age and beyond.

Last year, I chaired the PE taskforce—I thank Sue Wilkinson, the chief executive of the Association for Physical Education, and her team for their support—and it laid bare that this is happening at a time when children’s physical fitness and their mental health and wellbeing are all heading in the wrong direction, unfortunately. A Lords Select Committee report, “A national plan for sport, health and wellbeing”, which was published in December 2021, cited data from the Active Lives annual survey showing that of 2.3 million children in England—I emphasise that I am speaking about England and English schools—almost a third, or 31.3%, are doing less than 30 minutes of activity a day. It also found that girls and children from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds are the most likely to have lower activity levels.

We have also seen a growing trend of obese children in both reception and year 6, leading to one in five secondary school pupils falling into that category. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the situation has gotten worse since the pandemic, with a surge in numbers of children being referred to mental health services, including a rise of 77% in severe cases. At the same time, there is evidence of PE being side-lined by some schools as a “nice to have”, rather than a “must do”, reducing PE time in order to focus on catch-up in other areas, which is understandable but to the detriment of PE.

It is worth remembering that even before covid, the situation was deteriorating. For example, as part of the research review series, Ofsted published its PE paper only last week, revealing reductions in the time allocated to PE of up to 20% since 2013 at key stage 3, and 38% at key stage 4. If we add increasingly sedentary lifestyles, gaming, phone addiction and sleep deprivation, we see that those are all turning children and young people off physical movement, with dire consequences for their own health and that of the nation. If we are serious about taking on the ever-growing pressures on the NHS, instilling a habit of physical activity for life would be a good way to start alleviating that pressure. The Lords Committee also said in its report that schools are the place where:

“Attitudes towards sport and physical activity…track into adulthood.”

The even better news is that we can actually do something about it; that is where physical education comes in. I am not, I hope, naive enough to think that making PE a core subject will, on its own, achieve that laudable objective. As a father of four, I know I have a responsibility to lead by example, and encourage my own children to find ways that they can enjoy keeping fit and active into adult life. Indeed, my 18-year-old son recently announced to me that he wants to join me on my next London marathon—my 17th, I think— this October, so I must be doing something right.

Having had the privilege of being Children’s Minister, rarely have I come across a specific policy, with a modest price tag, that has a very real prospect of changing the trajectory of so many young people towards a healthier and more fulfilling life. The evidence is staring us in the face. It is no coincidence that the very best schools, both state and independent, have for many years understood that the holistic intertwining of PE into their school offer reaps rewards in so many different ways—physically, socially, emotionally and academically, too.

Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need to combat and reduce childhood obesity. I congratulate him on securing this worthwhile debate and fully support what he is saying. There is a greater social benefit to children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds who do not have the life advantages of children from affluent backgrounds, in playing sport, coming together, learning team skills and enjoying being part of a team and the social fabric of sport. That is recognised, quite rightly, in much of the state sector—in good-performing state schools—and in the private sector. What he is proposing will ensure that all children have access to the opportunity to benefit from those wider parts of education, and that will bring their lives along further. I do not know if my hon. Friend would like to reflect on that, but I hope that the Minister has taken note of those comments.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the benefits that I saw when I was responsible for school sports as Children’s Minister was from programmes in the inner cities where children do not always have access to other facilities. The children there were gaining so many of the elements, which other children take for granted, that sport, physical activity and—the precursor to that—good physical education can bring to their lives. It is not only about their participation in sport; it is about their life skills, confidence and sense of achievement and purpose, and where that can lead. At the end of my speech I will mention an individual who all Members will know and who falls into that category.

That point segues into one made by the celebrated 19th century educator—and headteacher at one of my former schools—Edward Thring. He was ahead of his time in observing that when it comes to physical education,

“The aim was to produce a wholeness and harmony, within and beyond the classroom, in work and in play, and in body, intellect, and soul.”

As an academically rigorous curriculum is not at odds with having PE at its heart, we can see it as the only subject that educates through the physical domain. The evidence that it helps enhance academic performance—not forgetting concentration and behaviour—has never been greater.

In 2015, the University of Texas at Austin published a paper entitled “Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance”. The paper reviewed 39 separate studies and unanimously found that,

“Physical activity can have both immediate and long-term benefits on academic performance. Almost immediately after engaging in physical activity, children are better able to concentrate on classroom tasks, which can enhance learning.”

Let us take an example from England. At Sandal Castle VA Community Primary School in Wakefield physical education is at the heart of their curriculum. It is also seen as a vital and critical priority driver for school improvement. They have two members of staff who have the Association for Physical Education and Sports Leaders UK level 5 certificate in primary school physical education specialism, which is vital in raising standards in primary school physical education teaching and learning. The breadth of curriculum opportunity on offer in the extended school day has ensured that attainment in core subjects continues to be well above the national average. In 2019, 82% of children achieved the national standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with the England average of 65%. Progress measures in English in particular are well above the national average, with reading at +3.5 and writing at +3.1—no coincidence, one might think.

At this stage, it is probably sensible to explain exactly what PE is and how it interrelates with physical activity and sport. The structure of the national curriculum is based on 12 subjects, classified as core and foundation subjects. English, mathematics and science are core subjects across all key stages, with PE being the only foundation subject across all those key stages. The purpose of studying PE as outlined in the national curriculum is as follows:

“A high-quality physical education curriculum inspires all pupils to succeed and excel in competitive sport and other physically-demanding activities. It should provide opportunities for pupils to become physically confident in a way which supports their health and fitness.”

The stated aims of the national curriculum for PE are

“to ensure that all pupils: develop competence to excel in a broad range of physical activities;
are physically active for sustained periods of time;
engage in competitive sports and activities” and “lead healthy, active lives.”

PE is essentially the planned progressive learning that takes place in the timetabled school curriculum involving both learning to move and moving to learn, the context for that learning being through physical activity. Sport is the structured learning that takes place beyond the curriculum, often within school settings, out of hours or in the community, but there is clearly a symbiotic relationship between all three, with PE being the foundation from which all other physical activity and sport flows. As Ofsted points out, a child with lower levels of motor competence may be less inclined to participate in physical activity and sport. As such, getting PE right is fundamental.

Writing in the British Medical Journal on 2 March, Michael Craig Watson and Dr John Lloyd from the Institute of Health Promotion and Education observed:

“In addition to the current low levels of physical activity in the UK there are also stark inequalities in levels of physical activity within the population. There are large disparities in physical activity participation rates in relation to age, disability, ethnic group and gender” and that

“physical activity should not just be for the elite or for example individuals of a certain age, or ability”

—a point made by my hon. Friend Dr Poulter

“but should be actively promoted to the whole population.”

Schools have an important part to play in developing health literacy. That includes physical education, which is a central part of the curriculum for all pupils of all ages.

In calling for this debate, I am realistic: PE will not miraculously appear as a core subject overnight. Further work is needed to ensure we have the capacity, culture and commitment within the schools system for it to have the desired effect. Some have also legitimately raised issues about curriculum time, assessment challenges, recruitment, and the quality of PE teaching at primary level. The Government are already addressing the latter, and I humbly suggest that when it comes to recruitment, the Department for Education should use Ofsted’s recent review of PE to help improve accountability and inspection of PE and the use of the premium, as well as develop a coherent standards and assessment framework for PE that would satisfy a core status in the future. That could include how PE reduces the burden on the NHS, as suggested by Professor Jo Harris from Loughborough University.

Turning to the question of curriculum time, PE has the flexibility to be incorporated more in the wider curriculum and woven into the school day if the leadership, innovation and desire is there. For instance, at St Gregory CEVC Primary School in Suffolk, the headteacher, Daniel Woodrow, has introduced a whole-school, 10-minute “wake and shake” activity first thing and, later, a 15-minute daily mile—something I know the Minister is keen on, and these days runs pretty decent times on, too—as well as three PE lessons every week.

Crucially, we should not see the curriculum as sacred and be dogmatic about its constitution; in my view, the move towards better vocational representation at school and college—which is the right move—is testament to that. The curriculum has evolved over time, and should continue to do so in order to best reflect the current and foreseeable demands and needs of society. Quite rightly, we place high value on all children having good knowledge and application of maths, English and science, but surely the time has come to recognise the equal value of good knowledge and application of PE as one of the cornerstones of setting up a child with some of the core attributes they will need for life.

Let us build on the excellent practice and leadership already out there. Let us learn from the outstanding schools that have already made PE essential to their delivery of an excellent education. Let us start to build the base of expertise and understanding across our school workforce. Let us set the achievable target of having a great PE teacher in every primary school, and let us make CPD more effective, so that the transition from a foundation to core subject up to key stage 2 can be where we begin. As Nik, who replied to my survey, said, let us assess the quality of the delivery through internal and external engagement and improve the real, “on the ground” evidence from the likes of the United Learning trust, which is piloting PE as a core subject across its whole family of schools. That is what children and the public want, too.

Pupils from the Bishop of Hereford’s Bluecoat School told me that they wanted more time for PE and sports in the curriculum, including different after-school and lunch timings to help find that time. A survey of adults conducted by the Youth Sport Trust found that the majority of the general public wanted more physical activity in schools and would support enhancing physical education to core subject status. Almost two thirds of respondents strongly agreed or tended to agree that PE should be a core subject in the national curriculum, with 80% agreeing that there should be more opportunities for young people of all ages to be physically active at school.

Before I allow others to contribute to the debate, I want to mention swimming and water safety. It is a statutory element of PE that every 11-year-old is required to be able to swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres. Despite the requirement being in place since 1994, one in three children, around 200,000 every year, leave primary school not being able to do so. I find that astonishing and worrying. It lends further credence to the need to take swimming even more seriously as an essential life skill. I hope the Minister will use the funding already announced to look at improving access to facilities, including pop-up pools, and better scrutinising this aspect of PE, so that we can ensure that all children get what they are entitled to.

I am aware from the Government’s response to the Lords’ report that there are no immediate plans to re-categorise PE as a core subject. However, I do not think it is giving away any state secrets to say that over the last few weeks I have had both enthusiastic and encouraging conversations with other ministerial colleagues in a position to make things happen. There will be people who want to put it off—either because it is not a priority, because it is too difficult to do or because they simply are not interested. As I said earlier, there are very few straightforward policy changes that sit on a Whitehall desk carrying such a clear need, evidential basis, public support and potentially far-reaching impact as this one.

I earlier alluded to Jason Robinson OBE, the former England rugby union World cup winner and British Lion. He said:

“Physical education was a vital part of my life growing up and gave me so much, playing an instrumental role in the success I went on to achieve in my career. PE has a unique power to inspire, but too often it isn’t taken seriously enough. The time for change has come and for PE to become a core subject in every school, rightly put alongside other key subjects to ensure that the next generation of our young people are given better opportunities.”

If the Government were able to accept, at least in principle, the recommendations of the Association for Physical Education’s taskforce, the Lords Select Committee and others focused on PE becoming a core subject, it is no exaggeration to say that we would be taking the lead with an absolute commitment to the development of healthy bodies and minds for all children, whatever their background. If we have the will—or should I say Will—we can make it happen. PE should be at the heart of school life.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen 4:49, 23 March 2022

I thank Edward Timpson for securing this debate. It is not often I get really excited in this place, but today is one of those days. This is a subject close to my heart.

I have a background in sport and physical activity and health and wellbeing, having lectured in these subjects for over a decade and worked both in primary schools, delivering exercise sessions to young children, including the aforementioned “wake up, shake up” activity, and in a secondary school PE department. Based on that experience, I strongly believe that PE should have a much more central role in the curriculum.

Successive Governments have missed the chance to improve the nation’s health and wellbeing by adopting a holistic and preventive approach, placing an emphasis on educating young people about the importance of physical activity, what it means to have a healthy lifestyle, and ensuring that they adopt healthy, enjoyable exercise habits from an early age. With alarming figures relating to childhood obesity, diabetes and a range of other health conditions, along with serious concerns around children’s mental health, we must take a more preventive and long-term approach to health and wellbeing. The provision of high-quality PE in our schools should be a fundamental part of that.

Do not misunderstand me: the provision of good-quality PE is not the only solution to those problems. As the hon. Member for Eddisbury said, we also have to look at a wide range of other things, such as active travel, active families and active communities, grassroots sports provision, nutrition, and addressing the barriers to being more active—be they real or perceived. However, young people’s access to good-quality and wide-ranging physical education is an important part of addressing some of those serious health issues. That is why I think that PE should be a core subject.

I accept that that cannot happen overnight, and we do, of course, have to consider the implications for the broader curriculum. However, as the Association for Physical Education says, we should give PE a higher priority straightaway, with children spending more time on physical activity, and aim to have a highly trained PE teacher in every primary school within a few years.

As The Times Educational Supplement reported recently, by having high-quality, properly resourced and immovable PE provision in our schools, we encourage children and young people to adopt life-long physical activity habits, which will reduce the prevalence of a range of chronic health conditions and, in turn, take some of the pressure off the NHS which we know is bursting at the seams.

The “A national plan for sport, health and wellbeing” report, recently discussed in the House of Lords, noted that:

“Attitudes towards physical activity…track into adulthood.”

In short, by exposing children to a wide variety of PE options and enabling them to develop healthy habits from a young age, we help to create a generation of healthy adults. The benefits of high-quality PE provision do not stop at the physical. The skills that children learn from PE are many: perseverance, resilience, collaboration, teamwork, initiative, and confidence, to name just a few. Those skills help young people to flourish in education and life.

The great thing about physical activity is that there is something for everyone, whether that is in competitive sport, dance, gym, group exercise, running, and everything in between. There is something for everyone—boys, girls, men and women. On that note, I am pleased to be providing a female perspective to today’s debate. I had two very good female PE teachers, who were instrumental in inspiring me to adopt physical activity habits for the rest of my life—including a 30-year hockey career which, sadly, came to an end as a result of the pressures of this job. Those role models are important, and that is why PE should be a core curriculum subject at the heart of our education system.

As well as having PE on the curriculum, it is also important to look at how we can embed physical activity into the education system as a whole. The “creating active schools” framework, designed in part by the Yorkshire Sport Foundation, is a good example of that. It encourages all stakeholders, from local authorities to school leaders and pupils, to play a role in embedding physical activity in the school’s ethos.

To finish, I am pleased to take part in today’s important debate, and to have the opportunity to speak about a subject so close to my heart. I offer to work with colleagues across the House on taking this agenda forward. Thank you.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North 4:53, 23 March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, yet again, in Westminster Hall, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend Edward Timpson for securing this important debate. I thought his speech, and that of Kim Leadbeater, was fantastic in outlining the absolute reasons why physical education needs to be taken much more seriously, particularly in primary school curriculums.

Mr Hosie, the irony is not lost on me; I am quite aware of the overly large circumference of my waist at this moment in time, and that for me to be talking about physical health, I should be leading by example. However, PE is absolutely essential to tackling issues such as childhood obesity, which are, sadly, all too prevalent in the great city of Stoke-on-Trent, and in Kidsgrove and Talke, which I am also proud to represent. There are a number of different factors for that obesity, but one definite challenge is that, all too often, in the advancement of students’ literacy and numeracy—which are absolutely critical in improving the life outcomes of pupils in my area—the physical education side has suffered.

I am the first in my family to be the beneficiary of a private school education, something I am very proud of. My parents worked very hard and made many sacrifices to give me the head start in life that they felt they had not had through their education. People always ask me, “What is the major difference between a pupil from a state school and a private school?” I was a teacher in a state school for eight and a half years before I entered this place. The answer is simple. Even though private schools produce fantastic academic results, they heavily invest time, the money from parents—yes, I understand that is an advantage—and energy into giving children a rounded education, not just through debating, LAMDA and drama, but physical education.

I remember that Wednesdays from one o’clock meant games for the entire year group. A variety of football, hockey, rugby, netball and many other sports would be available to us for two to three hours. That meant we were getting high-quality physical education from fantastic teachers, such as Mr McCollin, whom I still dread and fear to this day. When I went back to see him 12 months ago, I still looked down and called him sir, because of the fear he brought when it came to being disciplined. Perhaps Mr Speaker should have a word with him, to get me to behave in the Chamber.

Ultimately, it was teachers such as him who inspired me to play rugby, a sport I had never played before I was 11. I was delighted to end up with a very successful career, even being paid to play rugby union while I was at university. It is about that type of support network. As the hon. Member for Batley and Spen said, it is about teamwork, the learning and camaraderie with colleagues, the resilience from taking a knock and getting back up, and accepting defeat, even when it feels undeserved. Those are the things that are inspiring, and why we need to do a much better job, ensuring that children in state schools are getting access to that.

Stoke-on-Trent in 2019-20 featured among the top local authorities for high levels of childhood obesity; 27.7% of children were either overweight or obese. In Kidsgrove and Talke, 27% of children in year 6 were obese and 19% overweight. Those are scary statistics that have a huge impact. As someone who has been open recently about my mental health struggles, I understand the impact a poor diet and lack of exercise can have on mental health. It is no shock to me that high levels of obesity are leading to long waiting lists with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Adults in the city of Stoke-on-Trent have issues with asthma, heart conditions, with a clear link to the lack of physical activity at the earliest stages. We talk about the first 1,001 days of a child’s life being the most critical for imparting knowledge and nurturing their growth, but there is a physical aspect as well.

Kidsgrove sports centre was closed in 2017. Thanks to the Government’s town deal funding and Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, it has been refurbished and will reopen in July 2022, bringing swimming back to the town, with its record high levels of obesity and overweight children. There will be a gym, which will be run by the Kidsgrove sports centre community group, so that every pound that is spent in it stays in that community centre, for the benefit of that local community.

Alongside that, we have invested in a pump track at Newchapel Rec, which has kids on their BMXs, scooters, roller blades and a variety of other wheely machinery. It is getting them out and about. When I drive past, I see the benefit of that with tens, if not hundreds, of children on a daily basis enjoying that facility. For the mere sum of £100,000, that town deal has already delivered over and above what was invested in that area. Clough Hall bowls club is nearby and there is a FIFA-standard 3G astroturf pitch at King’s Church of England school, supplied through the town deal funding. That will not only be used by kids during the day. We opened it up by doing a deal with the school, so that the community can use it in the evening and at weekends. This is a sports village complex that we are trying to bring to local areas, so that there is no excuse why anyone cannot access good, high-quality physical education.

The last thing I want to say is that we have some great people in our city doing fantastic work. We have companies such as Bee Active which was established in 2013 by brothers Ben and Bobby Mills. It offers an innovative approach to physical education, Ofsted-registered schools and holiday sports clubs. It has extended services beyond children’s PE, to include gentle exercise for older people, birthday parties, celebrations, special events and community sessions, to name a few.

Bee Active even has a great app that parents can use to do activities with their kids at home, record them and have them marked and assessed on how well they are doing. The company came to the office, and let me just say there is a lot of work to do on my part—I am sure my daughter and son will be much better. Bee Active has become Staffordshire and Cheshire’s leading provider of sports and physical activity, supporting 75 primary and secondary schools to deliver PE. However, there is one challenge in its way: the PE and sport premium. Because the money is not secured for the long term and there is almost an annual bidding process, there is insecurity as to whether the fund will even exist and, therefore, whether the business can carry on. Ben from Bee Active wants me to ask whether we can have a long-term settlement for the fund to ensure that companies such as his can continue to operate.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend’s last comment about the premium, which I was privileged to help set up in my time at the Department for Education. I am delighted that it is still going, but long-term funding makes a significant difference to schools’ ability to bed in some of the practical improvements that they need in the way that they teach PE. Do we not also need confirmation from the Government in relation to school games organisers by 7 April, so that they can continue their excellent work on interschool and intraschool competitions, which have been so successful over the last 10 years?

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

I could not agree more. This is so important. Again, the benefit of private schools is that they have interschool cups, so we should have interschool competitions. The highlight of my week was knowing that I could get out of maths halfway through the lesson in order to go and play against another local school in a rugby match, or against another house when we were doing our school cup games. It is so important for breeding confidence and motivation in young people within our education sphere, so long-term funding needs to be approved. We cannot have year-on-year uncertainty with primary schools and the providers that are doing such great work externally.

My final point is that we need an extended school day. I bang on and on about this, and I know I will embarrass the Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Department for Education, my hon. Friend David Johnston, who is sat behind the Minister. He was an advocate for physical education when he was on the Education Committee, and they sucked him into the Department—probably to shut him up. Now that he is in the Department, he can tell it loud and clear that we need an extended school day. Not only does it keep kids off the streets and make the most vulnerable kids feel safe in their school building because it is a place that they know, surrounded by adults whom they trust. It also means that, regardless of whether there needs to be catch-up, the whole school can enjoy good-quality physical education if there is a challenge with fitting it within normal curriculum time.

The extended school day is happening already in the private school sector, and it is unfair that it is not happening in the state school sector. It is unfair on parents, who are having to leave work two or three hours earlier than they should, and who are having lower incomes than they deserve, in order to go and pick up their loved ones or look after them. The stats do not lie: all too often in major cities, knife crime involving young people peaks at the end of the school day, between 3 pm and 5 pm, as I have seen in some studies. We need to grab hold of the situation and announce this fantastic thing. I know it costs money, and I am fully aware that those in Treasury will be rolling their eyes at me yet again because I am asking for more funds, but this is something that, in the long term, we will see money come back in because we have confident and healthy young people who do not need to access health services in the way that they are doing now, and who feel much more confident and have aspiration to go and achieve.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 5:03, 23 March 2022

I thank Edward Timpson for securing the debate. I am pleased to see the shadow Minister, Stephen Morgan, in his place, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. The Minister has shown that he can do this, because I remember when he was slightly broader than he is now. It is lovely to see him in his place. My contribution will reflect the Northern Ireland perspective, as it always does.

It is always a pleasure to follow Jonathan Gullis. I think we have now found his weakness. We know that Mr Speaker threatened to ring his mother, but we now know the right person to call, so perhaps I will text Mr Speaker to say, “The person you want is his teacher.” Beware of what might happen in the Chamber.

I declare an interest as a type 2 diabetic. I did not set out to be a type 2 diabetic, but I had Chinese carry-outs four or five times a week with two bottles of Coca-Cola, which is never a good recipe for keeping thin and trim. I realised only a year after my diagnosis that I had probably been a diabetic for a long time. I make that point because it is about having the right start.

I go back further than most people in this Chamber, as I was at school in the 1960s and early 1970s. I think about the grave impact of my type 2 diabetes and the benefits of PE. I went to a sporty school, and I was thin and wiry. I was always a good runner, and I loved rugby and cricket. Sport was an integral part of where we were.

However, I was always aware of something else at school, and I am speaking personally now. There is always a child—I was at an all-boys school, so it was a boy—who is always picked last when a team is picked. He came in last and was the last out of the changing room. That is how I learned to observe and consider how we encourage children. The fact is that boy always turned up for PE, but he did not seem to get enthused about it.

I learned to swim at school, and I am glad I did. I have always been a fairly strong swimmer, but I understand why some children ask their parents to write a note to get them out of what they perceive to be a humiliation. Yet the importance of a healthy lifestyle must be established from a young age.

Times have changed in the world of PE. In my day, we used a sports hall. Star jumps and the dreaded rope were deployed, and I am probably ageing myself here. Now, my speechwriter Naomi—she is a very busy speechwriter—tells me that her six-year-old came home saying that she was doing a month of Monday football, as an additional day of PE. There were no complaints about that extra PE.

I am not sure how schools enthuse children, and I will give another example shortly, but they certainly do back home. It seems to be working, which is the important thing, because that wee girl is not bothered one bit about doing extra PE. In fact, she is absolutely bouncing about it—literally bouncing. What a tremendous way to encourage young boys and girls to be involved in exercise that is interesting and exciting.

My eldest granddaughter, who is 12 coming up 13, was never very sporty; she was more into her laptop and contacting her friends. This year, everything changed. She attends Strangford Integrated College in Carrowdore, and she is on the girls football team. She has lost weight, which is tremendous to see. I was quite surprised, but she is enthused by the sport, including the training.

Sport is another way for children to engage with their friends, as Kim Leadbeater said. The strategy of my granddaughter’s football team seems to be all or nothing. Her team lost their first match 7-0, but they won their second game 6-0. They go all out to score goals or all out to prevent them.

We must make sure there is exciting, inclusive exercise in school to tackle the sedentary lure of the computer and tablet. Get children away from those things and give them a physical focus. The days have changed from when mums and dads threw their children out to play in the streets until the streetlights came on, as happened to me. Parents are now understandably concerned about not knowing where their child is, so things are slightly different today.

Additionally, most parents who work all day are unable to take their children to the park to play, as they have to make dinner, do the housework and help the children to do their homework. The natural thing is that kids stay safe inside, playing their games. However, if we can engage children through the schools or local sports clubs, we can make them be energetic and keen—as they are naturally—and then I believe that we can move in the right direction.

Although children playing indoors is completely understandable, it is not ideal. Thankfully, the schools are stepping up and putting on additional physical activity. Primary schools are doing it, too, for very young children, which I am glad to see. The children in my constituency now start their day with what is called the daily mile, which the hon. Member for Eddisbury mentioned. It is incredible, because all the kids want to do the daily mile. They walk with their friends from school—they can chat the whole way round—but they do their daily mile and it has almost become an everyday occurrence. They walk at a pace set by the teacher, who sets a pace the children are able to cope with. This enjoyable form of exercise teaches our children that we can make exercise a part of daily life.

The staff in the Chamber and the security guards sometimes ask me, “Are you doing any running over the weekend?” I say, “No, there are three stages: running, walking and dandering.” I am a danderer. I take strolls at my leisure, as I am well past the other stages.

Time is of the essence, so I conclude by saying that obesity is an increasingly common problem in Northern Ireland, as it is across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. One in every five children aged two to five is classified as obese, so we have a real problem but we have a way of addressing it, as the hon. Member for Eddisbury and others have said. We have to change the story. The sugar tax on smaller chocolate bars is a good step, but exercise is how we want to achieve this. Schools have a vital role to play by providing more PE with interesting exercises. Hobbies would also be a wonderful step for each region in the UK to prioritise.

I am pleased to support the hon. Member for Eddisbury and I look forward to hearing from the shadow Minister and, more importantly, the Minister.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 5:11, 23 March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank Edward Timpson for securing an important debate on an issue that I believe is vital to the future of young people and our country.

It is clear from today’s contributions that Members on both sides of the House agree that physical education and sport are an important part of the curriculum, and this has been a good-spirited debate. The hon. Member for Eddisbury spoke passionately about the importance of physical education, and I thank him for his efforts and his leadership in the task group. He described how some people perceive PE to be a “nice to have” rather than an integral part of the curriculum, and he spoke about the impact of PE on health and wellbeing.

My hon. Friend Kim Leadbeater showed her usual passion and energy, which she demonstrates on every issue she raises in Parliament. She has huge experience of the education sector, and she talked about PE needing greater priority and about the skills it gives young people so that they can succeed, flourish and make friends.

We know the pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to children’s academic learning, but it is also important to recognise the impact of the lack of opportunities pupils have had to participate in organised team sports and physical education. I am sure colleagues on both sides of the House will share my concerns about the combined impact that the limited opportunities for sport and exercise and being locked indoors for the past two years has had on our young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Sport England’s survey, published in December, showed that only 45% of children and young people—equivalent to 3.2 million pupils—achieved the chief medical officer’s guideline of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more a day. Worse still, 32% averaged less than 30 minutes a day. Crucially, the guideline is similar to the ambition of the Government’s 2019 school sport and activity plan

“that all children should have access to 60 minutes of physical activity every day”.

The Government had stated that they would publish an update on their plan this year but, despite their targets, it is still nowhere to be seen.

Even with the Government’s record over the last two years, the state of children accessing exercise prior to the pandemic cannot be forgotten and simply swept under the carpet. According to a Taking Part survey covering the period of April 2019 to March 2020, just 65% of five to 15-year-olds had participated in competitive sport in school during the previous 12 months, and only 58% of five to 10-year-olds had played sport at school in organised competitions. Will the Minister commit his Department to publishing an update on its school sport and activity plan? What specific action will he be taking to address the Government’s failure to meet their own objective of all children having access to 60 minutes of physical activity every day?

The pandemic has caused widespread disruption to children’s learning, including PE and sport, but the Government cannot use covid as a smokescreen to shroud a decade of failure to provide proper access to physical education and sport that students need and deserve. If Ministers will not deliver for our children, the next Labour Government will.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 5:14, 23 March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. First, I thank my hon. Friend Edward Timpson for securing a debate on this very important subject. I am aware that it is close to his heart and I am grateful to him for his efforts thus far, including, of course, as chair of the Association for Physical Education taskforce, to promote the importance of this curriculum subject. In addition, this is the first opportunity that I have had at the—metaphorical—Despatch Box to thank him for all his work as one of my predecessors as the Minister responsible for children and families.

I also thank all hon. Members for their constructive and passionate contributions to this important debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury mentioned, we run together most Tuesday mornings and we have therefore had the benefit of discussing at great length this and many other issues. He knows that I am a relatively new convert to running—in truth, I am a relatively new convert to exercise full stop. But both running and exercise have now become a passion. In truth, I was not keen on playing sport at school. I did not enjoy it. People did not encourage me to play sport in school. I was one of the children picked last, which Jim Shannon mentioned in his speech. I was not very good at sport, and the main reason was that I lacked confidence. However, PE, sport and physical activity have significant importance in keeping children healthy and for the positive impact that they can have on a child’s health and wellbeing. I mention my own personal experience because, importantly, sport builds confidence. Schools should be aware of the difference that high-quality PE can make to a school. That is why PE is right at the heart of the national curriculum. In fact, it is the only foundation subject that is compulsory across all four key stages of the national curriculum.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury shares my passion in this area and a desire for us to go further and faster. Why? Yes, because health, fitness and physical wellbeing and mental health and wellbeing are really important, but also because this is about confidence, as I said, about camaraderie and teamwork, as Kim Leadbeater pointed out, and about leadership skills. They all come with taking part in competitive sport.

Why now? As my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis said, we have an obesity crisis. We know that there is a growing issue—pardon the pun—with childhood obesity. Obesity is now a bigger cause of cancer than smoking and although sport is not the only solution to obesity, it is a part of it. PE, sport and physical activity can and should play their part in tackling that. Equally important, of course, are diet and nutrition, but setting behaviour and habits around physical activity early in life and, importantly, as part of family life is vital. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury talked about what we see our parents doing, and about doing things with our parents. That is vital, because children take that with them into adult life. These habits and behaviours stay with people, and then they are seen by their children, so they develop them too and they are seen as normal. High-quality PE at the earliest age at school is key to allowing children to learn and develop key skills that will—to come back to this point—give them the confidence to take part in physical activity and competitive sport. My hon. Friend mentioned this, too. I genuinely believe, and there is evidence to suggest, that it also enhances academic performance.

I could say, “Everything is rosy. This happens for all children and they get excellent PE teaching at primary school.” But the truth is that that is not the case. I know that from my own experience and from the experience of many young people I have spoken with. The teaching of PE is done very well in many schools up and down the country, but it is inconsistent and, particularly at primary level, there is an issue with teachers lacking the confidence to teach PE effectively. Too often, it is outsourced, as we know. As great as rugby and football coaching is in and of itself, that is not PE; it does not give children the confidence and life skills that will lead them to take part in competitive sport. I am determined to address that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury has called for PE to be made a core subject. He rightly pointed out that no curriculum review is under way, but I am very sympathetic to the case and the arguments that he makes and I will raise them at length with the schools Minister.

At the heart of the debate, notwithstanding the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, is the challenge to ensure that PE as a subject is taken seriously by all schools and that it is done brilliantly and consistently across our country. That is vital so that all children have the chance to develop the fundamental physical literacy that they need to go on to live an active, healthy life and to experience different types of sport, so that they are enthused and have confidence. That is why I am clear on the importance of PE as a curriculum subject. As I say, it is the only foundation subject taught across all key stages, making it a requirement for children of all ages. I assure all hon. Members across the House that the Government place significant importance on the delivery of PE lessons.

Notwithstanding that, given the challenges facing schools, as alluded to by the spokesperson for the official Opposition, Stephen Morgan, and with the recovery from covid under way, we remain wary of making technical changes to the curriculum now. That could place additional burdens on teacher workloads and training requirements by introducing changes, which is particularly relevant as schools start to recover from the pandemic.

That said, however, as referenced in the taskforce report of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, PE and sport are also vital to recovery. We want to focus on what we can do to build on what is already in place to ensure that PE is taught really well in schools. I therefore confirm that we remain committed to our manifesto commitments to support the effective use of school sport facilities and to invest in primary school PE teaching and the promotion of physical literacy and competitive sports.

My hon. Friend rightly pointed out the £30 million a year for opening up school sports facilities in England, as well as our measures to promote and improve the quality of teaching of physical education in primary schools. We will build on that £10.1 million that has supported schools to reopen their sports facilities after the pandemic, increasing opportunities for children and young people across England to take part in sport.

What have we done to improve PE so far? To help primary schools make improvements to the quality of PE and the support that they offer, we introduced the primary PE and sport premium in 2013, during the tenure of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury. The funding for the premium since its introduction is £1.6 billion, with the funding having doubled to £320 million a year since 2017. We are considering arrangements for the primary PE and sport premium for the 2022-23 academic year, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North.

I desperately want to give that long-term certainty of funding. All I can say is that I am working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to enable us to do that as soon as possible. We are considering a series of approaches to bring together the evidence of what constitutes really good PE, how that can be delivered practically and how to support schools to identify and take the steps necessary to make their provision as good as it can be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury referred to the school sport and activity action plan. We remain committed to the ambitions that we set out in the plan and we will publish an update to it later this year, to align with our publication of the new sports strategy. That action plan update will not only cover ground lost during the covid-19 restrictions but boost momentum to deliver an action plan for all pupils, regardless of their background.

Notwithstanding what I have said, which I appreciate is lukewarm and complex, I assure my hon. Friend that I am ambitious about what we can do in this space and about going further on PE, school sport and physical activity in schools. I am ambitious about expanding the holiday activities and food programme, to which we have committed £200 million per year for a further three years as part of the spending review. Some 600,000 children up and down our country have taken part in those activities over the past year.

I am exploring whether we could be a daily mile nation, and I warn hon. Members that that will be not just for schools, but for everyone. I think we can do that, and I am pushing in the right direction. I am exploring a summer activity challenge—similar to the summer reading challenge—so that we get kids moving and taking part in sports and activities over the summer holidays.

The ambition is there and the work is ongoing. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury and Members throughout the Chamber are assured that we are determined to achieve the same thing, which is every school teaching PE well and every pupil benefiting from that, wherever they are, up and down our country. We will work with Ofsted, schools, sporting bodies and PE teachers on the further steps that we will take to achieve exactly that.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury 5:24, 23 March 2022

I thank all hon. Members who contributed to this afternoon’s debate. Although I cannot speak for the Labour party, a one-line Whip has been circulating for an hour or two, which may explain why some very enthusiastic Members who would otherwise have been here have found some more pressing engagement. However, if nothing else, the quality of the debate has been extremely high, and has ensured that we have brought to the fore the key aspects of what makes PE such a crucial part of school life.

My hon. Friend the Minister underplayed his hand a little by saying he was lukewarm in his response when he was actually very enthusiastic. He has given me a lot of hope for what is to come, both in schools and in the communities that surround them. I say to him—and to Her Majesty’s Government in their entirety, because I appreciate that other Departments are involved in some of these decisions—that moving PE to core status is not just a technical change, but would change the whole way in which it is seen in the schools system. It will no longer be able to be an afterthought as every school will have to engage and think hard about how to deliver the high-quality physical education we want to see right across the board.

I am pleased that the Minister shares my ambition to go further and faster and is sympathetic to the arguments we have made today on making PE a core subject. I acknowledge—as I did in my speech—that there is still some work to do in order to satisfy not just ourselves but everyone who needs to be party to that decision that all the building blocks are in place so it becomes a plausible, effective and long-term change that we can rely on within schools. To that end, I would be pleased if I could continue to work with the Minister and his Department on how we build capacity within the system and develop some of the assessment and accountability measures that will be necessary to satisfy everybody with a vested interest that the children we are putting through our school system are reaping all the benefits that that education can provide. We know that this is already happening in the very best schools —it has been happening for a long time—and I still come across some very inspiring leadership within physical education, but it is not happening everywhere often enough. Off the back of covid, we have a real opportunity to shine a light on a part of the schools system that has been kept in the dark for too long.

PE has a huge part to play in moving our country forward, both in ensuring a happy, long and healthy life for more of our citizens and making sure that our education system is performing at the highest possible level. Ultimately, it is not just about making sure children come out healthy at the end of their schooling, important though that is; we want to make sure they reach their potential, emotionally, mentally and academically. PE can tick all those boxes, and whenever in their life a person discovers the benefits of exercise, they never turn back. Let us make sure that more children find that out much earlier.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered physical education as a core subject in schools.

Sitting adjourned.