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UKPE Cross-border Learning and Innovation Collaborative

UKPE Cross-border Learning and Innovation Collaborative

Making space for interdisciplinary research, dialogue, and collaboration in Physical Education and Health and Wellbeing

Advocating for physical education and developing personal qualities through movement – blog by PE teacher Nichola Aitchison

In this fourth blog of the series, PE teacher Nichola Aitchison talks about the values that drive her thinking, learning, curriculum and her advocacy for physical education.


Advocating for physical education and developing personal qualities through movement

My name is Nichola Aitchison and I am the Head of Physical Education (PE) at an independent girls’ school in the central belt of Scotland. The school is part of a wider family of schools with a co-ed primary school, an independent boys’ school and a co-ed sixth form. In the senior years, pupils work towards the Scottish National Qualifications. However, because of our independent status, we choose not to follow Scotland’s national Curriculum for Excellence, rather we have a values-based curriculum underpinned by nine core values. They are: integrity, responsibility, grace, enthusiasm, appreciation, confidence, commitment, respect and kindness. 

I am extremely passionate about PE and, in particular, its status in school – I work hard to advocate for the subject.  Perhaps influenced by the values-based curriculum in our school, I recognise the value of PE beyond physical health, fitness or performance sport. These curricular activities do feature in our core curriculum, and performance sport is a very important part of the culture of our school through our extra-curricular sports programme. However, these aspects of PE do not dominate. Instead, we focus on the potential that PE has to help young people, build positive relationships and develop personal qualities they can usefully apply in all aspects of their lives. In fact, this is the basis for my advocacy and my justification for its inclusion in our curriculum.

That said, I do believe that PE is fundamentally physical and movement should be at the heart of everything we do. We have become accustomed in Scotland to think about learning across four areas: mental, emotional, social and physical. Learning takes place across all four areas, and none are more valuable than the other. However, as a teacher of PE, I aim to provide a variety of experiences through the physical to create opportunities for learning in the other areas. Through PE, and learning in and through a range of movement experiences, young people can develop confidence, compassion, tolerance, resilience and integrity, skills that can make a real impact on their lives. 

As I have mentioned, I am extremely passionate about PE, and I am motivated to do more – always seeking new ideas to enhance our provision. I see professional conversations as a valuable way to do this. This was a key reason for me attending the UKPE workshops. The workshop I attended was really interesting, highlighting both the similarities and the differences between teachers from the different countries of the UK. It was interesting to learn that the challenges of being a PE teacher were universal, and reassuring to know that all of the teachers in the (virtual) room valued the subject of PE in similar ways (as a way to develop a range of personal qualities in and through movement). However, the workshops were also a great opportunity to hear about some of the different approaches (to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment) that other teachers were taking to support the development of some of these qualities. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the second workshop to explore some of these in more detail, but I did manage to take the discussions back to my own department where we explored the things that they value in PE – which was a useful exercise to engage in.

While I don’t think that all PE teachers should be the same, shared values are important when we are all responsible for writing and delivering a coherent and connected curriculum. The professional conversation we had confirmed that the teachers I work with all highly value the development of personal qualities in and through PE – and that we all aim to develop an inclusive and positive PE experience for our young people. Given these shared values, in the future we will continue to work together to create a PE curriculum and culture/ethos that have the learning and development of young people at the centre. Importantly, we will also continue to work together to think about how we can articulate success through process rather than outcome. How we assess our pupils will be challenging, but integral to creating a learner-centred, inclusive, cohesive and positive PE experience and future for our pupils.

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