Education

'I forget my PE kit deliberately' – the boys who hate sport

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Illustration - boy leaving house with PE kit left in doorway

“Sometimes people try to forget their PE kit deliberately. You get a detention but sometimes a detention is worth it for avoiding PE.”

Dan is 16 and he hates PE.

By contrast, Liam and James, both 12, were keen enough to be playing table tennis in shorts and T-shirts outside on one of the coldest days of the year..

“It’s quite a lot of tactics. It’s like tennis but on a little scale. So you think things through,” said James.

Boys Active?

These very different views sum up why some teachers believe PE is ripe for reform.

For Dan and fellow PE refusenik Olly, football is a particular torture.

They rarely get the ball and when they do they often mess up through nerves.

The pair say they liked PE when they were younger, before some of their classmates got ultra-competitive.

“It just wasn’t fun any more. It was just annoying. They wouldn’t really play, they just wanted to win.

“They hog the ball and I can’t really get involved. So I just hang around having a conversation,” says Olly.

Dan adds: “They are some of the most popular people in our year. They seem to be really aggressive and competitive.

“They leave out the people they think are useless and they underestimate people.”

Image caption

Sometimes it’s just about finding a sport that you enjoy

Boys like Dan and Olly are a significant and worrying minority, according to Youth Sport Trust chief executive Ali Oliver.

“About 30% of boys don’t enjoy or look forward to physical activity,” she says, quoting a survey published by the charity last year.

Among boys aged 14-16, fewer than half (47%) consider PE skills relevant to their daily lives, and overall, only 16% of boys do the 60 minutes of exercise a day recommended by the government’s chief medical officer.

Ms Oliver says Youth Sport Trust is working on a boys’ programme to do the same job for less active boys that initiatives like Girls Active and This Girl Can already do for girls, instilling a love of being active and healthy, making it fun and relevant, helping them set goals, take ownership of their progress and motivate others.

She says the girls’ programme came first because their PE problems are greater: “We had to prioritise girls… but there is an issue with boys as well.”

“If we got them more healthily engaged in sport, we could help them in the classroom and with their health and wellbeing, which would be fantastic.”

‘Flipping’ PE

Clare Curling, head of PE at the school with the hardy table tennis players, began an overhaul of the subject two years ago.

PE, as a core subject, is on the timetable for all pupils up to and including the year they turn 16, and at her school, Bishop Ramsay in Hillingdon, west London, that means about 540 hours over five years.

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PE can help children learn about integrity, co-operation and communication, says teacher Clare Curling

She says that in popular sports, like football, some boys become very skilled, leaving others, like Dan and Olly, with no chance of touching the ball.

“We started questioning why we were doing the activities we were doing, what was the purpose for it and what were the students going to gain from participating in it?

“What’s the point of standing on a field for an hour or two hours each week?”

So PE teaching at Bishop Ramsay has been “flipped”.

They still teach the basics, like catching and football, but lessons also focus on developing characteristics like communication, co-operation, integrity, respect and fair play – crucial to sport and essential in life.

“I think PE is one of those subjects which can really lend itself to developing resilience, developing the grit, the determination, the will to succeed and the coping when that goes wrong,” says Ms Curling.

“We’re not expecting to create the next greatest footballers – though that may happen for some of our students – but we want everybody to feel that they can perform at their best.”

A poll of pupils resulted in the introduction of new sports like boxercise and parkour, basketball courts and table-tennis tables being open during breaks and an array of all-ability clubs, with girls and boys regularly playing together.

Grouping by ability allows less sporty boys to be competitive at their own level.

And there’s a box of spare PE kit for pupils who forget theirs.

The aim is for pupils to feel both supported and challenged.

The change may have come too late for older boys like Dan and Olly but Ms Curling says it’s working lower down the school, with fewer pupils standing around during PE lessons and more taking the GCSE.

“It would feel really weird not doing PE,” says table-tennis player Andrew.

“It’s healthy to be challenged a little bit. It’s not over the top, where it becomes too much, but enough that you can grow and progress,” adds Malachi.

“Like any other subject,” says Ms Curling.

She believes there is plenty of potential for a “Boys Active” programme.

“A lot of the stuff you do in Girls Active is transferable to the boys anyway. It’s just looking at what it is to market things for boys.

“A lot of boys get turned off from PE because they don’t want to be picked last for teams. They don’t want to be put in a public display to fail.

“So if we can create a system that’s a bit more inclusive for the students and can involve them, then great.”

Some names have been changed.

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