In September 2011, I walked through the gates of St Paul’s School, situated on the banks of the River Thames in South West London. I was returning to teaching – but to the independent sector. Teachers at St Paul’s School say it is a hard place to get into, and an even harder place to leave. I stayed for five wonderful years.
As director of sport at St Paul’s Juniors, with time and resources, I was able to explore assessment, recording and reporting in much greater depth. As a result, I began to better understand its value for all pupils in a physical education.
Assessment is not a popular word in most contexts. In a conversation with my partner about this blog post, she asked if I could find a word for assessment, other than assessment. Assessment is assessment I replied. And it is inherently positive. Today, assessment is the central axis to my work in schools. I am proud of this truth.
I use assessment to engage, inform and motivate pupils, teachers and parents. I also use assessment to hold teaching and subject provision to account. It is imperative here to make a clear distinction. I hold teaching to account, not teachers.
Teachers do their best to progress all pupils in a physical education – within their own sphere of understanding and experience. This is not about teachers demonstrating accountability in physical education. This is a conversation about external stakeholders demonstrating accountability for physical education.
Much of today’s discussion is about the percentage of pupils taking part in clubs and competitions, or hitting 60 minutes of daily physical activity – this data is not measuring progress in all pupils.
Today, we do not know of the actual physical education progress that is being made by all pupils – and particularly those least able, least active and most at risk of disengaging. To achieve this, we need performance-based standardised assessment (within this framework, all pupils should only be encouraged to chase their own unrealised potential).
‘The limited use of accountability systems in physical education has created a situation where questions persist regarding student learning’ (Rink & Williams 2003).
A school today, with no clear standards for literacy and numeracy, and no progress data on all pupils in these areas, would be graded inadequate. This school would be held accountable for its failure to implement standards and assessment. But before this school can be held accountable, these standards and this assessment must exist.
This is a conversation about external stakeholders caring enough to make emboldened changes to the physical education narrative, that will demonstrate accountability for this subject. It begins with assessment, recording and reporting.
‘Assessment is the key to making positive changes in physical education programmes; documenting student learning with data instead of relying on anecdotal evidence demonstrates that physical education is indeed a subject worthy of space in the school curriculum’ (Lund & Kirk 2020).
Accountability through assessment in physical education is not a question of why, but of what, how and who.