Few, if any people will have complete physical, mental and social wellbeing all the time. Trevor Smith, senior member of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, joins us every week to talk about health and wellbeing and this week he chats to Sue Wilkinson, chief of the Association for Physical Education

After looking at my own mental health last week, I have been exercising, taken some time to relax, spoke to family and focused on the future.

Earlier this month I attended the annual PE conference presented by Education Durham with a range of exceptional guest speakers.

Due to the current circumstances it was held virtually, however, this did not diminish the message or impact in any way.

One of the main speakers was Sue Wilkinson, the CEO at the Association for Physical Education (afPE) and I managed to catch up with Sue this week.

The Northern Echo:

Sue Wilkinson

How was your experience at the PE conference and what was the main message you wanted to get across?

“It is always a privilege to work with colleagues in County Durham. It is always so professional and well planned. The commitment to PE in Durham is outstanding with consistent messages being promoted. The key messages we would like colleagues to consider are; the need to plan a broad and balanced curriculum that works in their context, plan for a sustainable highly skilled workforce and ensure that PE is valued as central to any school provision.”

What are the long term aims and goals of the Association for Physical Education and how has the Covid pandemic affected that?

“We have put on hold our new strategic plan but kept the commitment to ensure PE is at the heart of school life with the best trained workforce to ensure high quality PE provision. During the pandemic we focussed on servicing the workforce and ensuring the sector had the support it needs. We put on free webinars based on requests from the workforce and members and 11,000 colleagues registered. afPE had already committed to creating a Task Force to address the decline in the status of PE and to upskilling the workforce. The pandemic had more of an effect on how we did that. The team responded in a very positive and proactive way enabling afPE to meet all its planned outcomes.”

The Youth Sport Trust report related to the current amount of PE delivery in schools for the autumn term was alarming, were you surprised?

“afPE had already raised concerns about the status of PE particularly when the School Sport and Activity Action plan didn’t include PE in the title but there are a lot of proposals and actions relating to PE. We had put out a survey about the amount of PE schools were providing at the start of this academic year and it had 1246 responses; seven per cent providing more PE than normal, 21 per cent less than usual and 72 per cent providing the same amount.

The Northern Echo:

A commitment to ensure PE is at the heart of school life with the best trained workforce to ensure high quality PE provision

“It is vital that we ensure pupils’ physical, emotional, social and cognitive well-being are at the heart of everything we do, and PE is the key to unlocking the garden of challenges.”

With additional restrictions currently in place in the North East, and the possibility of even further restrictions this week, what advice can you offer to schools in the region?

“Depending on the restrictions that maybe announced imminently; afPE will continue to update colleagues on guidance to ensure that they and their pupils remain safe. In the meantime, colleagues must follow their employer’s advice first and foremost, plan a broad and balanced offer, then adapt the curriculum to manage the employers advice about such things as hand hygiene and sanitisation processes relating to Covid. It is now more than ever important to ensure that pupils have access to regular PE lessons and plenty of opportunities to be physically active.”

What is the biggest challenge that you think the sector faces?

“That is a great question with a complex answer. Planning and teaching a ‘Covid curriculum’ is a problem as it could result in a narrowing of the curriculum. It is essential that the PE curriculum is a broad and balanced curriculum, which is sustainable. PE and sport is critical to the physical and emotional wellbeing of all children and young people but we do not want PE/sport to be blamed for any kind of Covid spike. However, it requires a common-sense whole school approach to managing Covid through appropriate hand hygiene and sanitisation. Teachers are planning lessons for the pupils that are in school, as well as planning online sessions for those that are isolating. The emotional health and wellbeing of the workforce is critical, otherwise there will not be the teachers available in the longer term.

“Others supporting and delivering clubs have a role to play in upskilling teachers but are finding it difficult to work in schools.”

Follow me on Twitter @TSmith_PE or email tsmith@premier-education.com