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A Summary of Ofsted's PE Research Review for Teachers and Leaders (Physical Education)

Here is my summary of Ofsted’s PE research review which was released on the 18th March 2022. I must say that I think it is packed with logical points and makes a lot of sense, despite being quite a long document. I would fully encourage you to read the full thing (link here) especially as the examples given throughout the report are really illustrative of the points that are made. There is a clear emphasis throughout the report that PE is for all pupils and that all pupils can benefit from high-quality PE curriculum and teaching and learning - especially those with SEND and from disadvantaged backgrounds. The implications from the benefits to which the report refers are far-reaching and justify the significance and importance of PE to a school’s curriculum.

I hope my notes provide a useful summary of the main points for both teachers and leaders, and save you some time.

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What is PE?

  • PE is not the same as sport or physical activity. It draws on a range of disciplines to substantiate its body of knowledge - such as physiology, psychology and sociology. PE brings together the important knowledge from these different disciplines so that pupils can apply them competently and confidently.

  • Extra-curricular provision can and should enrich a school’s PE curriculum but it is not a substitute for the carefully considered provision that should be provided to all pupils.

⏰ Time and the Curriculum

  • There is no statutory guidance on time for PE but the Association for PE recommends allocating two hours per week.

  • In some schools, time spent on changing and setting up can reduce the amount of physical activity during the allocated time by as much as 50%

  • The time allocated should be sufficient to allow pupils to develop the ambitious competences the curriculum intends for them to achieve.

👇🏽PE which reduces inequalities

  • PE has a role in promoting physical activity. Some pupils might also benefit from additional physical activity and sport outside of the PE curriculum to complement their experiences of the formal school curriculum.

  • For some pupils, PE lessons are the opportunities that pupils have to acquire knowledge of physical activity. Some pupils also have far less experience of physical activity outside of school.

🏑 Competence

  • Competence is ‘the capacity of a pupil to interact with a given environment as a result of prolonged learning, to thrive in their phase at school’.

  • The aim of PE is not to prepare elite athletes; instead, it is to enable children to flourish at each stage of their education.

  • Developing competence is positively associated with motivation.

Pillars of Progression

  • Competence to participate is conceptualised as three pillars of progression.

🏊🏿‍♀️ Pillar 1: Motor competence

  • This is a person’s ability to make a range of physical actions which include co-ordinating fine and gross motor skills. These are fundamental to participate in everyday activities as well as playing and partaking in physical activity.

  • PE will be the first time that some pupils are taught how to make confident and controlled motor movements. For children with greater prior knowledge, they should be taught how to develop their existing competences.

  • Pupils require sufficient and well-designed opportunities to improve their motor competence which should come primarily from opportunities within the PE curriculum. Opportunities for additional practice at playtime and lunchtime can augment this offer.

  • There is a positive link between confidence and competence and levels of activity.

  • Schools should provide high-quality instruction, opportunities to practice, and feedback to enable all pupils to develop their motor competences in a wide range of physical activities.

🤺 Fundamental Movement Skills - FMS

  • Pupils need to develop a good level of fundamental movement skills in the early years.

  • FMS are the ‘basic, learned motor patterns that do not occur naturally’.

  • FMS can be categorised as:

    • locomotor skills - such as running and jumping

    • stability skills - such as twisting and balancing

    • manipulation skills - such as throwing and catching

  • Schools should consider the progression from simple to complex patterns of movement, and establishing security at each stage.

  • There are many benefits of establishing proficiency with FMS in the earlier stages as they support learning and proficiency with more complex activity beyond the initial area of practice.

  • It is suggested that FMS are best developed between 3 and 8 years old. EYFS and primary school curriculums have an importance role in developing children’s competences during this period.

  • School curriculums should intend that all pupils are taught to develop their FMS. This can be achieved through structured PE lessons.

  • To get better at PE, children need plentiful time for practice as well as feedback to refine their FMS before progressing to applying them in more complex situations.

  • Subject expertise is an important factor in being able to recognise which children might benefit from additional practice. This might be an issue for primary schools where specialist knowledge and expertise in PE can be lacking.

  • It is important that sufficient equipment is available to help develop these FMS in a range of contexts, such as throwing and catching balls of different shapes and sizes.

🏹 Beyond FMS

  • Proficiency in FMS is important for children to apply these skills in a range of more complex contexts. This means that teachers should be aware of which children might be struggling to develop these FMS during primary school, as inadequate development will impact on proficiency during more complex, specialised physical activity in later years.

🎳 Pillar 2: Rules, Strategies and Tactics

  • Pupils need to be taught how to move intelligently as well as competently. This involves responding to the needs of the context.

  • Pupils need to be explicitly taught the rules, strategies and tactics involved with different types of activities.

  • Tactics are the decisions people make about how, when and where to move. Tactics are closely related to motor competence; they are only successful if pupils can perform the necessary movement.

  • Some physical activities don’t have rules or tactics, but all have strategies for success. These are less time-dependent and can have a broader relevance beyond playing games.

🏅 Pillar 3: Healthy Participation

  • PE has a role to play to challenge and correct some misconceptions and knowledge that children have established outside of school.

  • It is important for pupils to make connections between their knowledge of health and how it applies to physical activity. Otherwise, pupils will struggle to make informed decisions about how to participate in physical activity in a healthy way.

  • Pupils’ interest can be increased by teaching how the body works, so that they can understand the relationships between activity and its effect on the body.

  • Developing knowledge of the broader aspects of physical activity allow pupils to be able to make informed choices about their own participation outside of school.

📖 Vocabulary

  • PE is a vocabulary-rich subject: it contains both specific terminology and informal terms which ‘chunk’ more complex instructions and feedback e.g. using ‘line’ to refer to an intended action during a game.

  • Pupils need to be taught the specific meaning of terms; a lack of a shared understanding can be a barrier to success and participation - it can exclude some pupils from some activities.

  • Using specific and precise terminology enables children t make more careful observations and enhances intelligent movement.

  • Teachers need to plan vocabulary development carefully so that pupils benefit from repeated encounters with words and so that they have the language required to access a full range of physical activities and sports.

🧠 Types of Knowledge

  • Declarative knowledge is ‘knowing what’. Procedural knowledge is ‘knowing how’. They are linked yet important in their own right.

  • Pupils need to be taught the links between both types of knowledge.

  • Curriculum designers should make careful selections of what should be taught and teachers should teach in way which brings together the two types of knowledge.

  • Teachers should highlight how what has been taught can be applied in particular circumstances.

📚 Declarative Knowledge

  • In PE, declarative knowledge includes factual knowledge about movement, rules, tactics, strategies, health and participation.

  • This knowledge is linked to the content being taught, rather than be a list of disconnected facts.

  • Declarative knowledge is insufficient in itself: it is not enough to know what to do if you are unable to do it.

⛹🏻‍♂️ Procedural Knowledge

  • This is knowing how to apply declarative knowledge and is best practised through demonstration or participation.

  • Pupils require a certain amount of declarative knowledge before they can apply it.

🎓 Curriculum Design - Domain Specificity

  • Skill development is domain-specific meaning that children need lots of opportunities for practice within one context in order the master the learning intended by the curriculum.

  • If children move too quickly between contexts - such as different physical spaces - they might not have sufficient opportunity to master the content, which will reduce their fluency.

  • Different types of games have different component knowledge and pupils will not necessarily transfer knowledge from one game to another. This means that component knowledge of each game should be explicitly taught and learned through sufficient practice.

👆🏼Curriculum Design - Content Selection

  • The National Curriculum provides a standard of breadth and ambition that all pupils have the right to access.

  • Schools might consider which knowledge is ‘individually necessary’ and which is ‘collectively sufficient’.

  • It is not possible to teach every sport or physical activity, neither is it possible to include the full body of content that could be taught. Schools can use the three pillars as a filter to decide what should be taught in terms of how it provides progression in each of these areas.

  • Content should be selected based on how well it meets the breadth and ambition of a school’s curriculum goals. Some content might offer more opportunities for progression across the three pillars than other content.

  • The curriculum aims cannot be met by games or competitive activities alone.

⏱ Curriculum Design - Time

  • It is important to avoid designing a curriculum which is ‘a mile wide and an inch thick’.

  • Pupils need sufficient time to be able to develop the competencies which build proficiency and motivation.

  • Depth of learning should not be sacrificed for variety of activity - otherwise it is likely that pupils will forget what they have been taught and develop gaps.

  • For some activities, pupils need hours of practice in order to develop their competencies. This might mean that progress should be considered across years as well as within teaching sequences.

🧬 Curriculum Design - Content Sequencing

  • Pupils need to make sense of their learning and organise it coherently with their existing schema.

  • The sequencing of curriculum content should maximise the likelihood of pupils making meaningful connections.

  • Making connections depends on securing prerequisite knowledge before moving on to more complex ideas.

  • Content should be sequenced so that knowledge builds over time and progresses from the simple to the complex.

  • Progression can occur through sequencing content so that pupils can compare and contrast knowledge between different contexts. These similarities and differences can be explicitly taught.

  • Vocabulary can be revisited in different contexts so that pupils appreciate the nuances of meaning and extend their associations with specific words. Intentional retrieval practice can support memorisation and vocabulary development.

🏀 Curriculum Design - Extra-Curricular Activities

  • Extra-curricular activities can be systematically planned and delivered to enable participation beyond PE lessons and provide additional time for practice, as well as opportunity to extend and refine the knowledge which has been taught in the formal curriculum.

  • This includes clues outside of school hours, as well as physical activity and sport during children’s playtimes.

🤔 Curriculum Design - Considerations for SEND learners

  • Schools should understand SEND pupils’ individual needs rather than treating them as a homogenous group. The curriculum should be ambitious for all pupils and should not limit what SEND pupils can achieve.

  • Inclusion should always be planned for and aspirations for SEND pupils should always be high: it might be better to make adaptations to the main activity, rather than plan for fully adapted practice.

  • SEND learners benefit from plentiful opportunity for practice, especially during their early years. Intervention at this point can reduce barriers in later years.


  • It is important that all teachers believe that all pupils are capable of getting better at PE - that they can know more and do more. It is equally important for pupils to believe they are capable of making progress, too.

👩🏼‍🏫 Expert Teacher Knowledge

  • Expert teachers draw on their subject and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) to teach effectively. This level of subject knowledge and PCK enables teachers to organise learning to tackle common misconceptions and structure learning in a way which enables substantial progress.

🏛 Teaching Novices

  • Most pupils in PE should be considered as novices - even those who are high attainers. Such pupils will rarely have the pre-existing knowledge to demonstrate competence across the full curriculum.

  • To develop their knowledge, novice learners require clear direction, step-by-step instruction, practice and feedback.

  • Participation alone is insufficient for pupils to develop complex skills.

  • Effective teaching include well-structured explanations, models, time for practice and feedback.

  • Pupils should have time to consolidate their learning; moving on too quickly can be detrimental to making progress.

  • Teachers can reduce scaffolding as pupils’ competences and knowledge increase.

💬 Modelling

  • It is important to demonstrate what success looks like by providing concrete examples.

  • Novices need accurate demonstrations which provide clear representations of the movements they need to imitate and compare their actions with.

  • It is important to check pupils’ understanding throughout this process.

  • Novices find it demanding to observe and imitate a demonstration. Teachers should break instruction down into small segments and draw pupils’ attention to key information.

  • Partial demonstrations can be useful to mitigate the cognitive demand on pupils, particularly when adequate time for practice is provided.

  • Metacognitive (thinking about thinking) strategies can also be explicitly taught and modelled - especially those of monitoring and evaluating.

  • When pupils have more prior knowledge, they can benefit from observing both novices and experts. Observing experts supports the development of a mental model of ideal movement; observing novices helps such pupils detect and correct errors. The effectiveness of this rests on the robustness of the prior knowledge.

🔁 Practice

  • The report reminds us of the direct link between amount of time spent practising and the learning that occurs. This helps explain why some pupils are ‘sporty’: they spend more time practising physical activity.

  • Practice should be sequential.

  • Moving from FMS to more specialised movements in different sports and activities requires instruction, guidance and sequentially designed practice.

  • It is important to master the movements at each stage before progressing to more complex patterns. Those who are struggling require more time practising the more basic movements. This applies throughout EYFS to KS4.

  • Episodes of practice should have a clear structure and provide enough time for precise practice with increasing independence.

  • It is important not to conflate practice with time spent being active: the practice needs to be intentional.

  • Children will need lots of repetition to learn the intended movements. Repetition will be less varied in the earlier stages of learning.

  • It is important not to move pupils on too quickly: instead, teachers can change the context and constrains of tasks to increase difficulty, rather than move on to new skills.

  • Practising to mastery is important to increase and secure engagement.

💬 Feedback

  • Teachers should provide pupils with clear and precise feedback which focuses on what they are doing well and how to develop, limiting any negative comments.

  • Feedback can be unhelpful if pupils lack a secure mental model with sufficient knowledge.

  • As pupils’ competency grows, teachers should slowly reduce the amount of instructional feedback they provide; pupils with more knowledge can also benefit from delayed verbal feedback.

  • When pupils have more developed knowledge, too much feedback or too detailed feedback can be ineffective and unhelpful. Pupils need to develop their own error-detection systems.

  • Teachers should focus on the key elements on which to provide feedback in order to avoid ‘paralysis by analysis’.

  • Clear, concise and positive feedback can help pupils make improvements quickly without worrying about failing.

⏱ Time being Physically Active

  • The Association for PE recommends pupils be active for between 50% and 80% of the available learning time.

  • Some activities require more activity than others.

  • Some time needs to be spent on developing pupils’ knowledge, but any non-active time should still be purposeful to achieving the curricular aim.

⛹🏻‍♂️ Competition

  • Using competition within PE can be useful but needs careful consideration.

  • During competitions, pupils draw on their domain knowledge and apply it to the context they are in.

  • Competition needs to be introduced at an appropriate time, otherwise it can be counter-productive or even unsafe.

  • Teachers should use competition strategically to provide different levels of challenge.

  • There needs to be enough instructional time for pupils to develop the required knowledge before applying it in the context of a competition, otherwise some pupils can be marginalised due to not being ready to fully participate.

  • Competition can be an important way of developing fair-play between pupils and to illustrate aspects of sporting etiquette - such as how to win or lose gracefully.

👨🏻‍🎓 SEND Pedagogy

  • The report suggests that there are gaps in teachers’ subject and pedagogical content knowledge for SEND-specific pedagogy.

  • Some lessons will require adaptations to be made to ensure that pupils with SEND access the curriculum alongside their peers.

  • There are many types of adaptations that could be made, depending on the specific needs of the pupils with SEND. This might be the colour, size or shape of a ball, or allowing additional time to complete a movement or response.

  • Discussing adaptions with pupils can help teachers make appropriate adaptations.

  • Pre-teaching of instructions and vocabulary might also be effective for some pupils with SEND.


  • Teachers should use a range of assessments to enable all pupils to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills. Insufficient consideration of assessment can lead to reducing pupils’ motivation and self-efficacy.

  • It is important to share what will be assessed with pupils and other stakeholders so that they understand what is valued.

  • Assessment tasks can additional consequences which can be both positive or negative and teachers should carefully consider these otherwise it makes ‘PE for all’ unachievable.

  • Teachers might need to make adaptations to assessment methods to make them appropriate for pupils with SEND - importantly, these methods should not limit what pupils with SEND can achieve.

  • It is important for assessment to be focused on identifying progress in competence and on what PE can be realistically held accountable for developing.

  • Formative assessment is an ongoing activity in PE.

  • Teachers should design assessments or select methods based on the specific content of what the pupils have been taught. They should share success criteria with pupils.

  • Most demonstration of knowledge will be assessed through what pupils do physically although non-physical means might be appropriate at times.

  • Throughout the learning journey, assessment should be used to identify and correct pupils’ misconceptions before they move to more complex content.

  • Information from assessments should enable pupils to develop their mental model of what success looks like in any given context.

  • Competitions might be useful to assess some knowledge - especially composite knowledge. They are not as useful for assessing smaller, isolated components of learning, especially for feeding back to pupils what they need to do to get better at PE.

  • Competitions can be useful for assessing pupils’ applications of tactics.

  • Assessment practices should be aligned with curricular goals and be linked to the specific content which is being taught and the contexts in which it is developed and applied. When assessment is based on generic skill progression, it is far less useful to pupils to inform them of how to get better.

  • Self- and peer-assessment needs to be explicitly taught. It can be useful in PE as pupils can learn through observing and analysing. It requires teachers to share the learning goals and success criteria so that pupils have a clear mental model of what success looks like within a specific context.

  • Pupils need to be explicitly taught how to assess, what to assess and how to give feedback.

  • Technology - such as using video to analyse movement - can be valuable to support assessment in PE, but this rests on pupils’ clarity and mental model of what success looks like.

🎳 Performance vs Learning

  • Physical performance does not necessarily indicate the quality of learning. It might also appear to regress as pupils practise more complex movements.

  • Teachers need to provide carefully planned opportunities for pupils to recall and review important knowledge to ensure they remember what they have been taught.

⛳️ Maturation

  • Some pupils have physical advantages in certain activities due to their height or build.

  • Teachers should design assessment approaches which consider these advantages and which can accurately reflect what it means to get better at PE despite them. For example, a taller person might be able to jump further in a long jump just by virtue of their leg length; assessment approaches might take into account improvement of technique or record the distance jumped relative to height, in order to assess the pupils’ progress.

Subject Leadership

  • Subject leadership affects the quality of a PE curriculum and effective leadership creates the conditions for teachers to be successful.

  • Subject leaders require time to actively engage in important subject matters.

⁉️ Outsourcing in Primary PE

  • PE in primary has not typically been taught by subject-specialists.

  • There is some evidence to suggest that external providers provide higher-quality planning, instruction and management of activities.

  • Since the introduction of the Sports Premium, there’s been an increase in schools having a specialist PE teachers, although having a specialist does not guarantee having a high-quality programme of PE.

  • It is important to consider what is meant when referring to external providers as experts or as providing expertise, as this can very specific and not fully reflect the body of knowledge that a broad and balanced curriculum would contain.

  • Schools must not let the PE curriculum be narrowed by reducing PE to ‘sport’ only, or to being dictated by intra- and inter-school competitions.

  • Commercially bought programmes should be critically reviewed by subject leaders to ensure they will provide the high-quality instruction, practice and feedback.

  • Schools must monitor the quality of curriculum implementation in PE robustly - especially when using externally developed curriculums or when outsourcing teaching.

  • Teachers and TAs should not just observe in lessons which are being outsourced - they should be active participants in the lesson and contribute to helping pupils achieve curriculum goals.

  • Trainee teachers must have opportunities to develop their practice in teaching PE.

🎓 Effective CPD

  • CPD should not be a bolt-on: it should be an ongoing and sustained process. It should have clear and specific goals and aims, and match the experience of the teachers involved. Evidence of achieving these goals should also be identified.

  • Careful auditing can support the identification of CPD needs.

  • CPD programmes that focus on content and pedagogical knowledge - both through information sessions and in-class mentoring - can be more effective for generalist primary school teachers.

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A Summary of Ofsted's PE Research Report
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