Schools scrap PE time because of exam pressure

Olivia Rudgard

Schools are cutting time spent on PE lessons because of exam pressures, a survey has found. 

Secondary school teachers said that older teenagers were particularly likely to miss out, as 38 per cent said time spent on physical education for 14-16 year-olds had fallen in the past five years, and almost one in four said it had dropped within the past year. 

Teachers told the Youth Sport Trust's poll that increased pressure to produce exam results was leading to children being pulled out of PE lessons for tutoring. 

One in three said exam pressures were behind the decline, while 38 per cent said core subjects such as English and Maths had been given more time at the expense of PE. 

The charity said pupils moving from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4 experience a 21 per cent drop in the amount of curriculum time set aside for PE per week. By the time they are aged 16 to 18-years-old they are doing just 34 minutes a week at school.

Almost all of the teachers from the 487 schools polled said PE should be more valued for its benefits to young people. 

Mental health experts also warned that cutting down on exercise could exacerbate children's mental health problems. 

Cal Strode, spokesman for the Mental Health Foundation, said cutting PE time would be "short-sighted and risk widespread unintended consequences".

He said: "It is concerning to hear that PE is being cut at a time when students are facing issues with self-esteem, stress and anxiety in increasing numbers.

“There’s a close relationship between our mental and physical health, ensuring that children have access to regular physical education delivers an all round benefit."

Tom Madders, director of campaigns at charity YoungMinds, said: “Seeing schools cut down on physical education because of exam pressures is worrying, and further shows that the education system is fundamentally unbalanced, with a far greater focus on exam results than on the wellbeing of students.

"Schools that prioritise wellbeing also tend to do better academically, so it makes sense to focus on promoting good mental health, rather than putting children under yet more pressure."

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Rising exam stress has previously been raised as an issue by experts who warn that children are under greater pressure because of a competitive jobs market.

The Youth Sport Trust is campaigning for PE to become more focused on teaching life lessons such as resilience, instead of focusing on specific sporting skills.

It said schools are heavily judged on their GCSE results for PE and winning trophies instead of the impact the lessons have on students' wellbeing. 

Ali Oliver, its chief executive, said: "Primarily we want to make sure that the outcomes are more orientated towards physical, social and mental wellbeing. 

"So at the moment it tends to be sport first, as opposed to using sport as a vehicle to deliver outcomes."

She added: "Cuts to physical education time are depriving young people of these benefits at a time when they have never needed them more. 

"We will be selling this and future generations short if physical education is not made fit for the 21st century and put at the heart of a broad and balanced curriculum in our schools."

The Department for Education has been approached for comment. 

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