Dear PE Teachers…

Dear PE Teachers,We don’t talk enough. You see, I’m an English teacher. When we were growing up, as you were feeling the triumph of scoring the winning penalty for the school team, I was enviously penning poems about what that might feel like. And now, as I teach sub-clauses from the blissful warmth of my classroom, you’re out there and shivering and shuffling subs on the muddy gradient we all call ‘the field’. And in the future -if educational folklore has it correct- when I’m still a classroom teacher, you’ll be SLT.

Today, I want to breach the gap between us and bring us together in the aim of achieving one goal. Today, I am not concerned with our futures, but the futures of the students we teach and I’m concerned with the power and the responsibility that you –PE teachers- have now, to ensure that these students have the physical and intellectual means to access the marvellous futures they deserve.

Data released by UCAS earlier this month, reveals that young, white working-class men are 50% less likely to attend University than their female counterparts. A recent report from the Sutton Trust showed that only 29% of white working class boys living in socially deprived areas continue in education past the age of 16. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commision, white working-class boys have the lowest levels of attainment at GCSE than any other social or ethnic groups. All teachers have a responsibility to reverse this trend, but I ask you to consider this: Who has the most power to influence this change: Mrs Smith from Geography who ‘only buys Waitrose’? Mr Jones from History who road bikes around France in half term? Mr Pink from English who eats pastrami and rocket sandwiches? The answer, of course, is none of these. The answer is you.

The link between physical activity and the working class is an age old one. You only have to walk through a school playground to realise that the thing that most working-class boys love, more than anything else, is sport. As PE teachers, you are ambassadors of sport and as a result of this, our young working class boys idolise you. As a casual, and slightly envious, observer of the influence you possess, I want you to know I’m fed up. I’m fed up of fifteen year old captains of sports teams proudly telling me, someone they should want to impress, that they’ve, ‘never finished a book’. I’m fed up of giving detentions to boys, who refuse to engage in lessons, whose blazers are littered with badges that commend them for their sporting achievment. I’m fed up of hearing students – and teachers-, perpetuating the false dichotomy that people are either ‘clever’ or ‘sporty.’ If smart people can become more active, active people can become smart.

So, this is what I ask of you.

Please, stop picking naughty boys for your school teams. Boys shouldn’t be given the opportunity to score tries if they’re not trying in class. If they can’t get themselves to maths, you shouldn’t be taking them to fixtures. If they refuse to exercise their brains, then they shouldn’t be exercising their legs. When making selections for school sports teams, ask students to bring their most recent academic report and check for progress made. If they’re not making progress, they’re not on the team. Alternatively, ask students to bring written statements of commendation from their academic subject teachers. If they’re proving themselves in Science or History or ICT, give them the opportunity to prove themselves on the field.

Get your tracksuited torsos into assemblies and tell students what you’re reading. Tell them about your favourite books and how reading has benefitted you personally. If you don’t read yourself, start and start now. It’s never too late. There’s lots of books out there, and they’re not all sports biographies. Try genres you’ve never tried before and get students to do the same.

Ask students what they’ve learnt in Science.

Ask students what they’ve learnt in Maths.

Ask students what they’ve learnt.

Fill your mini-buses with books and paint hulking great lines of poetry onto the walls of your changing rooms. Lines from poems such as ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling in which he asserts:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.

That’s powerful.

I’m aware that people will tell me that for some students, PE is their only opportunity to shine and depriving them of this opportunity is cruel and unfair. Rubbish. High-achieving students who despise PE don’t get a choice: they have to do PE. Likewise, students who love PE shouldn’t be giving anything less than their best in academic subjects.

I want to finish today by asking you to think about how PE is not only a subject worthy of study in its own right, but also the means by which we can encourage students to achieve in other subjects. The students who love your subject won’t all become athletes. This is not necessarily because they lack the talent to do so, but because they lack drive and determination. Tell your students, if they want to realise their sporting potential then they need to practice persistence and they need to practice resilience. They need to practise what it feels like to try and fail. If you think PE is the only subject which can instill these values in pupils then you’ve never read Shakespeare or attempted balancing an equation or tested a chemical compound for its elements.

I strongly believe that PE teachers are the most powerful teachers we have at our disposal. As an English teacher, I value your subject. I just need your help in getting students to value mine.

Author: PositivTeacha

Whole School Literacy Coordinator and Lead Practitioner

34 thoughts on “Dear PE Teachers…”

  1. My husband is a pe teacher and has a fantastic model that he is implementing in his school. Learning through sport project. He has 12 challenging boys from each ks3 year group and teach’s them literacy, numeracy and modern Lang through the use of sport. It has been proven extremely successful. All of these student’s attendance percentages for whole school has improved dramatically. They have improved at least a sub grade in their subjects too. It has been an amazing success and parents are fully supportive of this and are very grateful of this opportunity their children have been given. Yes I am very proud of him and he needs the recognition for this as it is an amazing initiative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like your husband is doing a fab job! Could I possibly leave you my email as I also teach PE and it would be great to grab some ideas from him ? Let me know. Many thanks


  2. This blog makes a lot of assumptions and generalisations about both those who excel at PE and those who teach it. It is profoundly offensive to suggest those who teach PE don’t read (and if they do it must be sports biographies) and it is deeply patronising to deduce the key to capturing the hearts and minds of white working class boys are only the white working class boys who found a way into teaching through sport. PE teachers come from all social stratas (like people who teach all other subjects) and even if they didn’t the idea that a man who shops in Waitrose and a man who bikes around France can’t easily relate to less academic kids is selling both sides short.

    Furthermore, the idea that children should be deprived of sports lessons as punishment for not applying themselves in academic lessons is a worrying suggestion. There are students who don’t apply themselves in PE not because they can’t do it, but because they aren’t motivated. It works both ways. The key to a student accessing any subject isnt reward and punishment. Thats how you deal with dogs. It is making subjects accessible. And the key to that is communication. If the author as an English teacher has lost sight of that then it reflects far worse on them than on any student. Stop passing the buck, stop waving a white flag, and hopefully you will be SLT in no time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Would you tell boys/girls that refuse to participate to their fullest in PE that they are not to receive the benefits from particating to their fullest in maths, English and science?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. 1. PositivTeacher (the Writer) never suggested that PE teachers don’t read, he/she merely suggested that if they don’t, they should consider to do so.

      2. The Writer never suggests that students should be deprived of PE lessons, only the opportunity to represent the school in a given team.

      3. The Writer is not talking about passing the buck. The Writer is talking about teachers of all subjects working together to motivate students to do their best. In fact, a compliment is being paid to the power of sport in our country and how pupil’s passion for sport has the potential to cultivate success in other subject areas.

      I am not a teacher and don’t intend to be but I can wholeheartedly say that if such a system was in place when I was at school I would have been much more productive.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Couldn’t agree more. Find the key to raise student motivation for your subject whatever it is. Don’t rely on others to punish students as firstly it removes your own credit and can tarnish the relationship that took time for the other teacher to build. PE teachers have many students who don’t want to engage in PE and they find a way to improve that. They don’t ask any other teacher/subject to force their will on students with peer pressure or punishment. Go and do a lesson observation on strategies used to engage those less motivated in PE and realise that PE teachers don’t just put a sport into play and “hey presto” the kids play?? We actually teach and work hard to do so despite everyone believing it’s an easy job.


    4. I might actually take the timeout to write a response to this … But for now ..Make the most of this time of year in your wonderful closet warm classroom , with your smug looks as the PE staff troop off again into the cold and wet .. For as surely as day follows night .. Spring is on its way & the sun and blue sky will be calling .. PE staff will continue to be the primary “police and probation officers” of what are often the challenging students.. Whilst also trying to inspire the rest of the student body .. Anyway that’s all for now .. I’m just off to finish my latest reading of Virgil, Shakespeare & Bronte classics #keeponkeepingon


  3. Yes please work with the PE dept towards a common goal, but don’t use PE and sport as a stick and carrot. If a child is disengaged in PE, could the PE department justifiably ask for them to be withdrawn from the school play, music festivals, art exhibitions … or whatever?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What kind of school do you work in? Is it a school where PE teachers reward bad behaviour? Do you work in a school where PE teachers never promote other subjects and the value of an education? A school where PE teachers don’t promote literacy and are focussed purely on promoting elite athletes? I have never heard of such a school myself. I imagine you, the author of this, has never observed a PE lesson either. I guess that you’ve written this following a day when a ‘sporty’ student perhaps was not engaged in your lesson and has disrupted the class. I hardly think having a rant about another is subject’s staff is a logical response. Maybe you need to look at your own teaching methods to create a purposeful learning environment so all students can thrive and progress rather than spend your time writing a clueless article. Give PE teachers respect for running these extra curricular clubs and realise an actual benefit to them doing it

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A very patronising and traditionally elitist and ignorant view on PE teaching. Unfortunately even after 16 years of teaching things like this will never change. I will have to ask the English department to kindly refuse entry to trips and enrichment activities to the students that don’t want to give PE their full attention, only fair. For some of these ‘naughty kids’ they do find themselves off a team at some point, but this team is sometimes the best thing about their school life, something to look forward to. Representing a school community is a proud moment for all kids, and an essential step to learning leadership, commitment and team work, essential life skills.


  6. I am a PE teacher from a socially deprived area, and I agree with a lot of what has been said above.
    I understand the author is not attempting to be patronising, however they sometimes fail, but the message is a good one.
    Departments working together for a greater good has to be a good thing.
    I agree that my PE department spend each lesson promoting subjects, further education and literacy. We also regularly go to fixtures with a weakened side due to a raft of emails from Maths, Science and English staff who can’t get Jonny to do his homework.
    I can promise you that I have never sent an email to a Drama teacher asking for them to be removed from the school play as they always forget their kit, forge notes, stand in the middle of a netball, basketball or badminton court and refuse to move.
    The evidence suggests that sport and PE do have a positive impact on students because PE teachers work tirelessly on relationships, take students to fixtures weekly (returning at 6 or 7 pm), and enjoy seeing Jonny thrive, after feeling written off by every other teacher.

    The poetry thing is great but don’t expect PE to become a place that students don’t feel safe and another place for their academic performance in Maths and English to hinder their success, they have their entire lives for that!


    1. I agree with everything here. The trouble with English and Maths everywhere is the feeling that ONLY those subjects matter. They are clearly massively important to life but I suspect many schools have progress 8 etc as their only agenda. 😦


  7. I agree it is the responsibility of all teaching staff, regardless of subject, to promote literacy and inspire students to read/learn/attend university etc. However, I’m not sure that PE teachers are anymore influential than any other subject staff.

    I also think you are playing a dangerous game when you are saying that students underachieving in certain subjects can’t attend sporting fixtures. Firstly, the beauty of sport is that academic ability doesn’t necessarily matter when competing- this affords ALL students the opportunity to excel based on physical skills. Secondly, are you subliminally suggesting that sport is less important than other subjects if it becomes something that can only be participated in if there is success in other subjects? Sport/physical activity can’t be used as a stick to beat ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ students, nor should it be an ‘add on’: it undermines the importance of PE and it might be the only subject they gain recognition/success in.


  8. I’m not sure it’s wise to prevent students from involvement in school teams on the basis of achievement. Making progress is hard sometimes, even for students who are putting in the effort.

    However, I don’t have a problem with demanding a certain standard of behaviour/effort from students before allowing them to represent the school. Sports teams are part of that, but so are things like drama productions. If they can’t manage to get the basics right, there are always other students prepared to put the effort in.


  9. I haven’t read something so discriminatory in a long time. You are making sweeping generalisations which, frankly, are an insult to me and my colleagues. Have you ever left your classroom and visited the PE faculty in your school? If you did, you would probably see our literacy boards, our boards which show what all the PE are currently reading, and if you dare look in a PE exercise book you would see that we develop writing in prose with strategies that have been developed alongside our English colleagues.

    You have a funny educational ethos if you think that all schools deliver is an exam machine, whereas most of us are just as driven by developing the whole child, and providing opportunities for pupils to shine regardless of the arena.
    “High-achieving students who despise PE don’t get a choice: they have to do PE. Likewise, students who love PE shouldn’t be giving anything less than their best in academic subjects.” when you get the magic wand to get every pupil to put the same effort in every lesson, please pass it onto me. High achieving PE students who despise English don’t have a choice either – your argument works both ways, I’m afraid.

    Do you ask for effort grades from other subjects each time you put on an enrichment activity? Is your classroom adorned with images of Mo Farah or Jess Enness inspiring a nation on Super Saturday? Think about the inspirational leadership shown by David Beckham in an England shirt; or his last minute goal against Greece which sent a nation of fans into rapture. Perhaps that might never of occurred if he hadn’t been allowed to play for his team because he wasn’t very good at English?
    I can recommend reading ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed – and maybe you will start to understand the commitment it takes to be a world class athlete. Come to one of my assemblies and you will find out how much PE teachers value other subjects and the benefit to the whole child. Perhaps you should do the same.


  10. Although some of the comments maybe interpreted differently, there are some very good points raised. However, it is the approach used in PE that engages some of the students that are not engaged in other subjects – if so let work together across the curriculum to share approaches. I have done this with several of my schools and their has been a noticeable decrease in negative behaviour and an improvement in attendance and academic attainment. Not just in PE but across a range of subjects, including maths and science. Achieved by using child centred learning approaches and physical pedagogy. Sharing good practice is powerful, we just need time to share!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A very interesting piece. However, sometimes sport is there access to education and to use the sporting domain to punish poor behaviour else where can be seen as lazy by the teacher of the other subject.

    Yes PE teachers can do more to show the way but can the other subjects do more to engage pupils who may not naturally access other aspects of school?

    Instead of moaning about PE teachers doing a major part of your job for you, do something about it yourself.

    I do not hear PE teachers asking English and Science teachers to help with engaging the less able or willing pupils in Pe. No, we look for ways to engage them as much as possible. Might be an idea for you to try that too.


  12. Find the key to raise student motivation for your subject whatever it is. Don’t rely on others to punish students as firstly it removes your own credit and can tarnish the relationship that took time for the other teacher to build. PE teachers have many students who don’t want to engage in PE and they find a way to improve that. They don’t ask any other teacher/subject to force their will on students with peer pressure or punishment. Go and do a lesson observation on strategies used to engage those less motivated in PE and realise that PE teachers don’t just put a sport into play and “hey presto” the kids play?? We actually teach and work hard to do so despite everyone believing it’s an easy job. The main reason PE teachers have good relationships is we actually are at school late at night 3/4 nights a week showing students we care and strive for them to do the same. Let me be general in my response to your generalisations, I never see English teachers at school offering help any later than one hour after school. My car is usually one of the last to leave the car park which is empty. Put in the time to build a positive relationship outside of the boundaries of your classroom, offer to run a sports club and see the difference it makes to your relationship. Now you get the chance to celebrate with that child you normally only criticised and say “how good are you, wouldn’t it be great if we could work together so you could be just as successful with that English work I gave you? Shall we work together tomorrow after school on it together and see if I can help you improve?” Trust me, the response from the student will blow you away. Sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. If negatively, try another strategy.


  13. As a department, we work with our colleagues from other subjects to ensure that they are getting the best out of everything. If a teacher raises an issue about a student falling behind with their work then we have a chat with them and explain the situation. Quite often we do as we are asked by removing certain pupils from our team selection, however we are the ones who have to pick up the pieces. We have students who will refuse to come into school if they are unable to take part in the sports events, which means we lose out as do you. If you take something away from students that they enjoy doing, they will not repay you with kindness but with frustrations and often anger. It is us, the PE teachers, who have to pick up the pieces in these situations. It is frustrating when students do not seem to care about your subject and fall behind but let’s face it, we are all in the same boat with this one!


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  15. It doesn’t sound like you should have a problem with your PE teachers – you have a problem with your school rules. Our school has ratings for student behaviour that have whole school effects. If you end up on a “U” rating, you don’t leave the school for anything. King Lear play down the street? Nope. Work experience gig with dad? UhUh. Playing or captaining the first XI? Nada. This piece would be more at home on one of those dodgy click bait sites that fish for reactions to hyperbolic contentions or rumours. So, while you may have had the best of intellectual intentions to in your misdirected call for action, all you’ve done is silo teaching professionals and reinforce a long held notion that some are more worthy than others of respect.


  16. I find this whole article unbelievably short sighted. I work in a socially deprived area as a Head of PE where white working class boys achieve above the national standard year on year. This is not because we take sport off them at every opportunity or because PE teachers deliver English/Maths lessons it’s because we build sound relationships with these pupils and engage them. We have high expectations of ALL pupils in every subject and set good examples, we chase up our own problem pupils but most importantly we work hard every day and demonstrate enthusiasm, motivation, determination and work ethic! My GCSE classes regularly tell me they do more work in my class than they do in English and that my marking is far more vigorous. In fact last week we finished our fitness unit and the pupils sat an exam… Returned marked within a day with spelling, punctuation and grammar corrected. For those pupils that haven’t done so well I don’t blame the English department for not giving them the skills they need to respond I simply put something in place so that next time they have a better chance.

    I understand that all teachers are under pressure but just because we are PE does not mean that we are immune to these pressures.

    By the way it doesn’t matter what subject you teach if you deserve SLT you will get there!


  17. Wow! Just Wow! While I think your intention was good, it was very insulting. There it is. The classic unofficial scale of the academic world. English standing at the top. The best, the smartest and hardest working and PE at the bottom. I wasn’t even going to defend PE and I’ve recently been thinking of a response for teacher 2 teacher’s question, “Why do you teach.” I’m tired of doing this but here it is! The answer to both.

    I wasn’t the all-star athlete but valued exercise and sport. I enjoyed PE and had excellent physical educators. (Thank you Lymber, Julian, Wright, Williams. Also, Ciambotti and Bowser, English teachers!) Together they created a teacher! I thought this would be a good way to help children become healthy and strong learners. I should mention here that because of my own health as a child, physical exercise contributed to my success. Sports provided social skills, team work, stress relief and engaged the mind. I then learned that PE was so much more.

    As for me, PE is the tool or method I use to educate children. All 3 domains. All day, every day and every student. While PE/health have their own cognitive, affective and motor educational standards and targets, I do more! Some of my colleagues believe that we have our hands full trying to provide the much needed physical activity needed to combat disease and to create brain connections needed for learning in every content area. However, I know that learning connected with movement produces better results. Therefore, I create and design lessons with spelling, math, history, social studies and any other concept that happens to need some education attention at our school. I use my influence to help difficult students and to work to support other teachers. As I believe, we are better and stronger working together. I also sometimes need their influence to reach students who don’t like physical activity or the fact that PE is not all play.

    In conclusion, I thank you for inspiring my current reflection and motivation to defend my subject for the umpteenth time. I want you to know those difficult students need PE and sports. They should be given the chance to participate. They should be educated that knowledge, learning and being of good moral character are all important aspects of being an athlete. When they fail to meet that criteria, then and only then removed from the situation. I challenge you to do the same for the child that expects to sit and read during PE. You would use your educational influence to tell them that they need to move their body and stimulate his/her brain just as well as read. Even when well meaning but poorly advised adults believe the opposite, this physical educator will continue to stand proud, defend how and why I teach and connect/support/work with other educators because we all have the same goal. Helping children to become educated and the best possible person that they can aspire to be.

    On a side note, here you go Meme Ratliff and you just could resist could you Artie? Excellent responses from the PE Peeps!


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