Team Theory or Team Practical?
The new GCSE PE specification is now in its third year of teaching, having gone through its first exam period in the summer of 2018. Now that teachers have gone through a complete teaching cycle, perhaps it is time to reflect on the changes that have been made and decide whether you are ‘team theory’ or ‘team practical’?
The ‘old’ specification covered 60% practical sport (including coursework) and 40% theoretical work. The ‘new’ specification covers 60% theoretical work, 10% coursework and 30% practical sport. There is no doubt that the GCSE PE course has changed dramatically and this has divided opinion amongst PE teachers.
There has been a drop in nearly 40,000 entries in Physical Education since the specification change
In 2016 125,000 pupils were entered into the GCSE PE exam. In 2018 this figure dropped to 85,658 pupils. 40,000 less pupils now take GCSE PE. Is this due to the course changes?
Let’s have a look at the arguments for and against the new course.
Those in the theory camp will argue that the new course prepares pupils for further study of the subject, such as A Level or degree level Physical Education. Previously pupils would go into A Level study with only a limited knowledge of the subject, leaving themselves a mountain to climb as they tried to get up to speed with the in-depth analysis of complex areas such as anatomy, physiology and sports psychology.
Some pupils enjoy applying the in-depth knowledge required for the course
Further to this, GCSE PE now links to a whole range of different subjects. Learning about the cardiovascular system and the heart has close ties with the GCSE Biology course, Lever Systems link to Physics and the extended questions require a similar format to essay-based subjects such as History or English. Pupils can use their knowledge of other areas within the study of Physical Education, and vice versa.
Greater depth and more content within the subjects also allows greater differentiation amongst results, ensuring that pupils gain the grade that they deserve.
Finally, some teachers simply love teaching theory content. It is much easier to get this passion across and pass it on to pupils with more content and more regular theory lessons.
GCSE PE is one of the few subjects that rewards pupils for a talent other than academic intelligence. Pupils who spend hours of their time training in a particular sport should be commended for their commitment and skill level and this has, to an extent, been devalued by the changing of the GCSE PE specification.
With only 30% practical sport now part of the specification, there clearly has to be less time designated to practical lessons. With obesity levels rising and many schools cutting down core practical lessons due to the pressure of results, choosing GCSE PE has always been a way for pupils to get further exercise and enhance their love of sport. Not anymore?
What would the pupils choose?
Would pupils choose to do more practical sport if they could? For the vast majority the answer is almost certainly yes. Should this be a factor when determining the specification?
There is unlikely to be a significant change to the specification over the next few years, but which way should GCSE PE turn next? Has it been an error turning further towards the theory side of the course, or should the practical ability of pupils’ be awarded outside of the curriculum?