We review 1st4sport’s PE Confidence Series – a suite of six courses designed to improve the teaching practice of those timetabled to deliver physical education, school sport or physical activity to primary school children.
Teachers new to delivering physical education lessons discover sooner rather than later that PE is unlike any other subject on the primary curriculum, presenting a unique set of complex challenges.
The diversity of the subject, and the inconsistency of children’s behaviour in a games-based environment, means the only thing primary school teachers can rely on is the fact that lessons will be reliably unpredictable.
For non-specialist teaching staff, student teachers and inexperienced coaches who take charge of PE, sports or after-school activities in primary schools, delivering developmentally appropriate sessions that are fun, safe, engaging and challenging for all pupils can be an intimidating prospect.
Senior lecturer in Physical Education at the University of Chichester, Rachel Mackinney, appreciates this better than anyone.
A former PE teacher and Advanced Skills Teacher (AST), she spent a number of years observing primary teachers in schools across West Sussex. ‘It gave me a good perspective on the support that teachers need and the challenges they face,’ she says.
Rachel was able to draw on her experiences as an AST when she was commissioned to work as a subject expert on 1st4sport’s PE Confidence Series – an innovative suite of online learning courses designed to improve the teaching practice of those timetabled to deliver PE in primary schools.
Along with Pivotal Education and the 1st4sport team, she helped to devise a multitude of hypothetical but realistic everyday challenges PE teachers might face during lessons, with solutions to overcome them.
Recognising that teachers often lack confidence in delivering PE, Rachel is convinced the six-course bundle will help all PE practitioners, not just specialists, enhance their pedagogical skills and increase their depth of knowledge so they become more self-assured in responding to a range of unforeseen circumstances.
‘The reality, unfortunately, is that because of the priorities in schools and in teacher training around numeracy and literacy, the amount of time that teachers get to practice teaching PE in schools is relatively limited,’ says Rachel.
‘And there are so many pressures on them in terms of those core subjects that actually the amount of training that is available to them in PE isn’t huge.
‘So those scenarios often don’t come up until they start teaching themselves, and for them that might feel a bit too late.’
Failure is critical to success
Each of the six PE Confidence Series modules puts the learner at the heart of the action, giving them the opportunity to learn from virtual experiences that result directly from their own actions.
And because the on-the-spot decision-making process takes place in an imaginary setting, at a time and a place where the learner feels most comfortable, they are not made to feel inadequate when faced with the consequences of their decisions.
Rachel agrees that such flexibility, with the space to try again and again as many times as you want, with no one looking over your shoulder, is a great way of permanently embedding techniques into practice.
‘It puts them in scenarios they haven’t had the opportunity to practice and they can then learn from their mistakes,’ she says.
‘But I also think it is the flexibility it gives them in terms of creating the time to sit down and think about those things and uncover their own solutions at their own pace, where in a busy day they might not have that opportunity. The freedom to do this training anywhere is one of its biggest benefits.
‘I also think that this type of online learning programme has the potential to help every primary school teacher. Training that exists at the moment tends to focus on the PE coordinator and it is then their job to disseminate all the information, and often they don’t have the time to do that.’
Having a safe place to fail – where your choices do not affect things in the real world – is crucial aspect of the learn-by-doing concept, as those who lack experience teaching PE can, quite understandably, be reluctant to expose themselves to failure and risk in a classroom setting.
‘It’s not fear but definitely a lack of confidence that comes with the unknown,’ adds Rachel. ‘If you know what’s coming – and hopefully these scenarios give them a taste of that – then you are going to have more confidence when you are timetabled to deliver PE or after-school activities.
‘The thing to remember about primary school teachers is that the level of their pedagogy and quality of their teaching is usually exceptionally good; what we are trying to do is find ways that we can take the bits they know already and transfer that into PE.’
A bundle of fun
One particular challenge primary teachers may encounter when they teach PE is learning to deal with a difference in their children’s behaviour that comes from being in an outside space, with lots of equipment and increased energy levels. This can be quite intimidating for inexperienced teachers.
The Organising PE Lessons module is designed to help teachers discover for themselves some practical ideas to minimise the potential for disruption and develop strategies for organising and managing children.
‘Once they have learnt those types of ideas – for example, how to get children into groups efficiently and how to get them started in activities quickly so the pace of the lesson is really fast – then I think they will start to quickly recognise that this excitement and enthusiasm is not negative behaviour but is actually positive behaviour,’ says Rachel.
As their confidence and competence builds, what teachers may have found challenging initially they will learn to embrace, so that sessions become fun and engaging for them as well as their pupils.
‘It changes what they might at times feel is a stressful experience into something they can look forward to,’ says Rachel.
‘When they see that, actually you know what, these children are loving this and loving being out here, it will then change that experience for the teacher. And that really is as simple as having some organisational strategies to hand to be able to do that.’
Big return on a small investment
Any initiative that fills the gaps in teacher training needs in a time-efficient, engaging and cost-effective way is sure to appeal to head teachers.
The PE Confidence Series can be easily interlaced with a school’s use of the Primary PE and Sport Premium, qualifying as an innovative and affordable alternative to a full-day training course.
The originality of the learn-by-doing approach, meanwhile, can also serve to raise more awareness of the different teacher training methods schools have at their disposal.
‘We know that the ideal world is for a primary school teacher to work alongside a specialist but the reality of that happening logistically for all teachers is a difficult thing to happen,’ says Rachel.
‘I’m not saying this should be instead of face-to-face CPD training but I think this supplements that. So it might be they get to work alongside a more experienced teacher whilst also getting to boost their learning with these modules.’
The Association for Physical Education (afPE) has published ‘five key indicators’ as part of its reminder to schools that they must evidence their PE Sport Premium spend on their website, to show they are making ‘additional and sustainable improvements to the quality of PE and sport they offer.’
The PE Confidence Series would slot neatly into the third of these key indicators, which reads: ‘Increased confidence, knowledge and skills of all staff in teaching PE and sport.’
Designed to build resilience to overcoming barriers in teaching PE and delivering a more confident and competent workforce, 1st4sport is wholly determined that this is one scenario that will definitely end up becoming reality.
People are largely rating the courses 5/5 and Teach Primary magazine gave the series their seal of approval when independently reviewing each of the six courses.
You can buy the 1st4sport: PE Confidence Series today for only £42 (plus VAT). Or buy the individual courses for £12 each (plus VAT). Discounts of up to 75% are available for organisations purchasing multiple enrolments.
- Mentoring in PE
- Managing Behaviour in PE
- Planning PE Lessons
- Organising PE Lessons
- Assessing Progress in PE
- Introducing Competition in PE
After completing each module, learners will not be assessed but will be able to download a certificate of completion to evidence CPD.