Thank you for that kind introduction Eileen.
As everyone here will be able to tell, I am a keen sportsman…. You may be surprised to hear that I have even been mistaken for a Swiss ski instructor (although this could be more to do with the colour of my ski jacket than my skiing prowess…).
So, it is an enormous pleasure to be here and I am grateful to the Association for giving me the opportunity to set out the Government’s commitment to PE in schools.
But before I begin, I want to take a step back and thank Eileen and her team (and particularly Sue Wilkinson) for their positive, thoughtful engagement with the government over the development of the draft PE programme of study.
I would also like to congratulate all the teachers here today for their hard work and application over the last few years. As far as I am concerned, PE is the great leveller of all the subjects on the National Curriculum.
It is uniquely inclusive and democratic, bringing pupils of every conceivable background together. It challenges young people in a way no other subject can, testing both physical and mental capabilities. It also holds a singularly important and elevated place in the school week by virtue of the skills it develops and the values it teaches.
On a day-to-day basis, you inspire children to reach new heights (literally in the case of the high jump) and to explore their capabilities with confidence.
You give them the skills to work creatively and efficiently both in teams and as individuals. You teach them to be good winners and gracious losers. You provide them with the skills and techniques they will need to enjoy and take part in sport for many years after leaving school.
I have been privileged enough to see the fruits of this labour at first hand many times over the past two years, including the wonderful School Games in Manchester last July, and two weeks ago at the London 2012 World Sport Day in Brighton, involving some 24,000 young people from 60 different schools in the town.
I know none of these events would have been possible without the hard work and endeavour of PE teachers so let me congratulate you and can I ask you to please pass on my warmest thanks to your teams and colleagues around the country.
I am going to talk briefly today about the progress we are making on the PE programme of study, and say a few words about the invaluable work the Association has done in publishing the new guidance on safe practice in PE and sport.
But I wanted to begin by looking at the wider work we are doing as a Government to provide teachers with greater autonomy and flexibility over lesson planning.
As many here will know, this Government’s approach to education is based on the fact that teachers are best positioned to design lessons that meet the needs of their pupils, not politicians.
Over and over again, international evidence shows that professional autonomy is an essential feature of every high performing state education system. To quote from the OECD: ‘In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.’
We are currently reforming the curriculum to make it more stable and less cluttered; focused more tightly on the essential core of knowledge that every pupil should be taught.
We want the new curriculum to focus on the fundamentals that give children today (and tomorrow) the best possible start to their future.
Just as importantly, we want teachers to ‘go back to their roots’ - to paraphrase from today’s conference title - and enjoy far greater professional flexibility over how and what they teach within far less prescriptive boundaries.
So, although we are clear we want PE, swimming and competitive sport to be a compulsory part of the curriculum at each of the four key stages, the new Programme of Study, when it comes out, will be shorter, simpler and far less prescriptive to allow for the maximum level of innovation in schools.
In return, we need you to seize the opportunity to be creative, to inspire young people to engage with PE and help them understand the enormous benefits it offers. In particular, we all need to think long and hard about how we engage those children who insist they ‘don’t do exercise’ or whose only experience of competitive sport is on a games console.
How do we inspire these young people to pull on a pair of trainers for the first time? How do we appeal to those who are not interested in traditional sports like tennis, cricket, hockey, netball or rugby? What are the methods we should be deploying to boost young people’s confidence in competitive sport? How do we get them on a football pitch so the English team can string a pass together at the next world cup…?
These are the sorts of thorny questions we all need to be answering and I am hugely grateful to Eileen and her team for the solutions they have been working up following the call to evidence last June, and the subsequent consultation period.
As many of you will know, the Government has made it absolutely clear that the PE programme of study will be geared towards engaging more young people in physical activity. We will not allow pupils to become draft dodgers.
But our ultimate ambition is to ensure you have much greater freedom to use your professional expertise to tailor PE lessons to individual pupils and classes, rather than ask you to work towards arbitrary targets set by politicians and policy wonks.
It is clear to me, and I think to most right thinking people, that what makes for an appropriate and popular PE class for a primary school in Devon, may not easily fit the mould in an inner city school in London.
Thanks to the Association, we are making good progress and I am pleased to say we are on target to publish the draft PE programme of study by September next year, and to introduce it for teaching into schools by September 2014, along with those for English, maths and science.
As you would expect, we will continue to consult with the sector over the coming months on the detail and I want to strongly encourage everyone here to make their voices heard.
There will be a statutory consultation on all National Curriculum subjects later this year - when the time comes, please collect your thoughts with colleagues and make sure you feed back so that we are in as strong a position as we possibly can be on the development of the PE programme.
The other, related, area where we are extremely keen for the Association and its members to really take charge is in the early scoping work it has been doing on self-assessment.
As you will all know, Ofsted is working towards a more focused scrutiny of schools’ performance, with inspectors concentrating on key basics such as the quality of teaching - instead of overwhelming staff with superfluous demands for information and time.
The agency is also looking specifically at how well leaders and managers ensure that the curriculum is broad and balanced, and it will continue to produce three-yearly subject reports to help ensure the health of subjects like PE in our schools.
This sharper, more intelligent accountability provides an opportunity for organisations like the Association to step up and provide their own options for self-assessment.
Eileen and her team have been amongst the most fleet footed (as you might expect from PE teachers) of any organisation to put forward proposals for awarding and issuing quality marks for teaching along the lines of kite marks.
We will be paying very close interest as you develop those plans over the coming months but in the meantime, I want to congratulate you on seizing the initiative so enthusiastically. There is every reason to suggest that external benchmarking of this kind would prove enormously useful for parents, and provide important recognition to hard working, innovative schools and their staff.
Similarly, I would like to thank the Association for the leadership it has shown in amending and re-publishing the guidance on safe practice in PE and sport. I understand that it has proved so popular you have had to arrange another print run. I know schools value it tremendously, as do officials in my own Department who use it as a bible for safe practice.
For our part, I want to assure you the Government will do everything in its power to provide a similarly high level of support to schools, particularly in the wider work we are doing to strip back disempowering bureaucracy in the education system, and to support more effective behaviour management.
Over the last two years, we have set about tackling needless regulation and red tape with great vim and vigour: in total, the Department has removed 75 per cent of centrally-issued guidance - some 20,000 pages.
Behaviour and bullying guidance has been slimmed from 600 pages to 50; admissions guidance down from 160 pages to 50; health and safety guidance from 150 pages to just 6.
On top of this, we have scrapped the requirements on schools to set annual absence and performance targets; to consult on changes to the school day; and to publish school profiles.
And we have removed a host of non-statutory requirements like the self evaluation form, replaced the bureaucratic financial management standard, stopped 10 data collections and clarified that neither the Department, nor Ofsted, require written lesson plans to be in place for every lesson.
From September, we will be introducing further measures to remove or reduce some of the bureaucracy around teacher standards, admissions and school governance.
At the same time, we want to support you in every way we can to improve behaviour in schools. We are clear that no teacher should have to put up with aggressive, confrontational or abusive behaviour from the children in their classes, whether in the classroom or on the playing field.
Over the last two years, we have introduced a series of measures to support heads and teachers in managing poorly behaved pupils; and we expect heads, in turn, to support you at every corner.
Since the start of last month, schools have had increased search powers for items which they believe will lead to disruption. We have clarified headteachers’ authority to discipline pupils beyond the school gates, including for bullying outside of school. And we have given teachers the ability to issue no notice detentions.
We’ve also given teachers extra protection from malicious accusations, ensuring they always have a legal right to anonymity until the point they are charged with an offence.
Finally of course, we have revised guidance to local authorities and schools to speed up the investigation process when a teacher or a member of staff is the subject of an allegation by a pupil.
These are substantial changes, designed to let you get on with the job in hand and to restore much needed professional respect and autonomy. In short, we want to give you back what has been taken away. We want to make the job of teaching easier, more rewarding, more flexible.
I hope you’ll agree this is the right direction. Importantly, we want to make and create these reforms in partnership with organisations like the Association wherever we can, not foist them on you.
So to end, let me offer a final thanks to Eileen, her team and to all the teachers here for their engagement with the Government in these last two years and for their inspiring work.
In 22 days, 10 hours, and roughly 29 minutes, two very important events are taking place. First, and most important, is the summer opening of Parliament. A red letter day in all our calendars I’m sure.
Second, of course, the Olympics kicks off with what promises to be a spectacular opening ceremony involving sheep, goats, BMX riders and Sir Paul McCartney - although in what exact order I don’t know.
Amidst all the pomp and pageantry, music and din, special effects and light shows, I hope PE teachers and schools are recognised and appreciated for the quiet way they have set about creating this Olympic legacy.
Under your auspices, we have seen more children and young people taking PE at GCSE and A Level than ever before. We have seen across the board improvements in standards, achievement, provision and leadership. And we have seen the quality of PE teaching, leadership and management judged good or outstanding in an incredible two thirds of all schools.
This is truly a victory of Olympian proportions and I hope everyone here takes enormous pride in their achievements. You are the true Olympic torch bearers for team GB.