St Davids College

St Davids College Sports Day 419

Creating a Diverse and Informed PE Curriculum

Published: 23.08.2022 ( a year ago )

With the recent inspirational success of elite sport capturing the hearts and attention of the public and press, once again the spotlight shifts towards PE and its Purpose.

I won’t go over a well-documented historical journey of the attempts to utilise success in Elite sport to steer the direction of PE. Instead we will journey through the story of how a PE curriculum that focuses on being something meaningful for each child might be created.

Perhaps this sounds like an ideological impossibility, not everyone can enjoy PE, surely?

I wonder if this question takes you back to your own experiences of PE. If you asked a diverse population of adults to share their experiences, I wonder how many of those stories would be embedded in sport. What would you say?

Is there a sport for everyone, and can everyone even enjoy sport? Especially as the dictionary definition of sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. We wont go into sport philosophy but….

These are big questions, right? and could lead to an endless debate about the benefits and harms of teaching through sport in a PE context.

Ok. But rather than asking if sport is for everyone, perhaps we could start with a different question…. Is movement for everyone?

You will know from your own experience that we exist in a body. In-fact learning itself is an embodied process. As you are reading this blog, you’re moving your eyes in order to transfer information to your brain. Thinking back to your own experiences of PE generates emotions that could be felt in areas of the body. Without going to far into the philosophy of cognition, its fair to say that we have come a long way from seeing the body as simply a transport for the mind and a means to detect sensory information for the brain to process. Human experience is embodied and so to is learning. You will know this from the emotions you feel from moving your body and the way in which learning new skills requires you to explore them through your own movement experience.

So how do you take Movement in all its forms and embed it into a PE curriculum that is both culturally relevant to your environment and educational?

First. Understand your context

There are principles and pedagogies could be more effective than others but perhaps what you should be considering first, is the nature of your school/environment, the needs of your pupils and their voice and motivations. This will look different in an inner-city school academy to a leafy suburban independent and all other environments in-between. Have a look around your playground, your local community parks, ask the pupils about their parent’s experiences and the clubs they attend or are available to addend in their communities, this will give you a good indication of the forms of movement that are culturally relevant to your school. (Read more on movement culture here:

Second, Its Self-Determination theory for Me

This is the motivational theory (other motivational theories are available) that underpins our curriculum design. The theory assumes that humans are evolved to be inherently active and intrinsically motivated if the psychological needs of Autonomy, Competence and relatedness our met in the environment (Daci and Ryan, 2012).

The break down….

Autonomy – Lets go back once again to those historical PE experiences. How many people say they were ‘forced’ to participate? Autonomy represents the desire to express choice and not feel controlled. It’s important that the right for pupils to disengage and be given opportunities to co-design their own experiences is part of the process. In our context we do this through allowing pupils to choose different forms of a movement concept that they will find meaningful, eg. choosing a basic evasion-based game over a game that might look like rugby/netball is often a discussion between pupils and teachers.

Competence – It's about building a belief in their own abilities and making sure that pupils can explore their movement expressions at their own pace. Feedback from their surroundings and peer support, as well as designing games and activities that allow for the exploration of the pupils' own embodied skill rather than idealised techniques, will all contribute to the long-term development of competence and psychological safety. Can you imagine being told there is a right way of executing a technique? What if you have a disability; is there still a ‘right’ way? This usually triggers a conversation about how to access in a non–linear way but perhaps that’s for another blog post.

Essentially the development of competence should be done in a curriculum that has lots of room for many routes and definitions of success, no one’s start point can be the same because…learning is (in your body) embodied.

Relatedness – concerns the need to feel connected, involved and supported, again depending on how your experienced PE will help you reflect on how relatable your PE journey was to your current embodied world view. We strive to build an environment that builds interrelatedness through mixed lessons at all age groups, grouping pupils by engagement rather than ability and matching the groups activity to what they find meaningful and challenging rather than the teachers perceived judgment of their ability.

The skill here is in becoming attuned to your pupils needs and interests and working with them to build those relatable experiences for them”.

We believe in Movement experiences – The experience itself trumps the level achived. Supported engagement, supported challenge and supported self-regulation are goals we have as teachers for each curriculum lesson

So, the curriculum overviews (What does this look like in practice)

Why/ (our context)

We took a deep delve into our own context and looked at the history of the school and its ethos. The school is small and built on a foundation of developing character through physicality, creativity and spirituality. As a small school often when we compete against another school they are bigger in size and number so the story for the pupils started to be built around skillfulness and a ‘never give up’ mantra. This is now embedded in the curriculum design which looks to support holistic development of the person and skillful adaptable movers which we call ‘movement engineers’.

Four concepts’ principles for our design

Donor games

Stolen from Des Ryan (formally of Arsenal Academy) we created a lesson that was about exploring any games that encouraged skillful play. In the past we have used anything from Aussie rules variations, quidditch, ultimate frisbee games and gaelic games to name a few. It allows for a truly diverse exploration of many forms of movement, these lessons are usually mixed.

Focus games/activities

Culturally the school has always had an affinity to a few teams’ sports such as rugby, netball and cricket due to the gross motor skills involved and the small numbers of pupils. We have also tended to lean toward Cross country and Fell Running due to the school’s geographical location in North Wales. During this session we create versions of the games that are embedded in skill and engagement and the pupils have opportunities to take the games as close to or as far from the sport as they find meaningful by co-creating the sessions with the teacher.

Movement skills lessons

These consist of swimming, functional movement, martial arts and racket games to help pupils explore and develop their bodies adaptability and a greater relationship with their own expressions of movement.

Offramps to grassroots and clubs (The continuous curriculum)

The unique position of PE and sports teachers often means that learning should never be confined to timetabled lessons. The PE curriculum should be embedded in genuine opportunities for children to take the aspects of movement that they have been exploring in lessons and further them in a structured manner such as a club. In our context we do this by tiering our access for pupils providing extracurricular activities which pupils chose structured activity and then creating genuine connections and offramps to local clubs in the community, this is how the PE sport paradigm can inter-connect to create lifelong engagement in physical activity.

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Twitter: @_andcoach

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