Ofsted: 7 key findings from its PE subject report

Many schools not 'matching the ambition of the national curriculum', watchdog says

Many schools not 'matching the ambition of the national curriculum', watchdog says

20 Sep 2023, 9:30

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PE curriculums in schools are often not ambitious enough, Ofsted has said

Most schools do not provide “clearly defined and broad” physical education (PE) lessons, Ofsted has found, with many “not matching the ambition of the national curriculum”.

The finding forms part of the watchdog’s latest subject report, which delivers the strengths and weaknesses of how PE is taught in schools.

Evidence was gathered by inspectors during research visits to 25 primary and 25 secondary schools between November and June.

The latest report follows the publication of a geography subject report yesterday, and builds on Ofsted’s 2022 PE research review.

“It’s great that most schools allow enough time for children to be physically active,” said chief inspector Amanda Spielman.

But she added: “I hope the findings in this report help all schools develop their PE curriculum so all children get enough opportunities to experience a range of different activities.”

Here’s what you need to know …

1. Many PE curriculums lack coherence

As of March, the government has asked schools to offer a minimum of two hours PE per week, although the requirement is not statutory.

Ofsted found “most schools” were dedicating enough time to PE to teach a “broad and ambitious” curriculum.

At primary, most schools offered two hours a week, while at secondary, around half of schools visited did.

But it added that “many schools do not match the ambition of the national curriculum”.

Only “a smaller number of schools” had “clearly defined the broad and overarching aims of their curriculum”.

In some schools, this was because the curriculum had “significant breadth” at the expense of depth.

Where the curriculum was planned to include “first and foremost” particular physical activities and sports, it sometimes “lacked coherence”.

It meant pupils were not given enough time to “build knowledge and develop proficiency” before moving onto a new activity.

“The curriculum therefore gives pupils brief experiences of a wide range of sports of physical activities, but what pupils know and can do as a result of what they have been taught is often limited,” the report said.

2. Dance is not offered to enough pupils

Ofsted also noted that in some schools, some activities “specified in the national curriculum” are not taught.

Inspectors found that in just over a third of all the schools visited, dance is either not taught at all or only taught to some pupils.

In three-quarters of the schools, outdoor adventurous activities were either not taught or not taught “effectively”.

But the report found that in comparison, nearly every curriculum included football to support the teaching of attack and defence.

Ofsted warned the discrepancy could “narrow pupils’ experience” of the subject.

It recommended that schools should include “carefully sequenced and taught” dance lessons in primary and secondary schools.

3. Swimming attainment at primary is ‘mixed’

The report found a lack of funding for transport to swimming pools and the rising costs of pool hire made it difficult for some primary schools to “provide an appropriately balanced and ambitious PE curriculum”.

As a result, pupils’ swimming and water safety attainment was “mixed”.

But Ofsted added that in many schools, the “evaluation” of the swimming and water safety element of the curriculum was “limited”.

It added that many were also not making full use of the PE and sport premium, which can be used to fund top-up swimming lessons.

Ofsted recommended primary schools should include carefully sequenced and taught swimming and water safety lessons in their curriculum.

It added that policy leaders should support schools in how they can best use funding to improve swimming and water safety outcomes for all primary pupils.

4. SEND pupils well supported in just half of schools …

Inspectors said most primary pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were being taught the same curriculum, “with support and adaptations” as other pupils.

But they found that the curriculum did “not always” make clear what was most important for pupils with SEND to know and be able to do in “readiness for future learning”.

Outcomes for these pupils “varied within and between schools”. Where pupils showed a secure understanding of what they were taught, they were receiving the precise support they needed and their progress and attainment wee “closely monitored”.

Staff also “collaborated effectively” with special educational needs coordinators (SENDCos) to “develop specific strategies” to support pupils with SEND.

Outcomes at secondary were also “variable”, with staff tailoring support to the needs of pupils with SEND where they achieved better outcomes in PE.

5. … and pupils miss PE lessons for support sessions

Across both phases, a small number of pupils routinely missed PE lessons in order to receive support “in other areas of the curriculum”.

Just over a third of pupils and staff at primary said PE was “sometimes missed to support reading”. But leaders said that often the subject missed was “rotated”, rather than a deliberate decision to miss PE.

At secondary, some teachers and pupils said timetabled PE lessons were missed so pupils could spend “extra time on other subjects” in key stage 4.

“For some pupils, this meant they had significantly less time to learn the PE lesson,” said Ofsted.

6. After school PE activities ‘broad and ambitious’

Across both primary and secondary, Ofsted found that extracurricular provision was “broad and ambitious”.

It meant all pupils had opportunities to experience different activities and to “get better at what they are learning in PE”.

But over half of the schools did not monitor attendance at clubs and activities, so it was not always clear whether the programme was “inclusive for all”.

In its recommendations, Ofsted said policy leaders should support schools to develop extracurricular programmes that provided “additional depth to timetabled PE”.

This could be done through “specific activities designed to extend pupils’ knowledge and understanding”.

7. ‘Significant differences’ in how PE assessment is used

At schools where assessment was stronger, the knowledge to be taught and what pupils need to know and do next “has been precisely identified”.

In schools where assessment “reliably checks what pupils need to remember”, pupils were able to recall important knowledge clearly and in more detail.

But where it was weaker, this was often because assessment was “not always aligned with what is in the curriculum”.

Ofsted recommended that schools “clearly define” the important knowledge that pupils need to be taught so staff could use the information to support assessment.

They should also ensure that what is assessed “aligns with the important and precise knowledge pupils need to retain”.

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