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Support needed to enhance PE provision for young people not in mainstream schooling – new study

New research has found that physical education (PE) provision away from the mainstream schooling system may not be supporting young people as effectively as it might, leading to them potentially missing out on positive developmental opportunities.

The study examined the role of physical education (PE) in alterative provisions settings, including academies, pupil referral units (PRUs), free schools, and hospital schools across England.

Conducted by Loughborough University’s Dr Oliver Hooper (Lecturer in Physical Education and Sport Coaching), Dr Thomas Quarmby, Professor Anthony Maher (both Leeds Beckett University), and supported by the Youth Sport Trust, findings showed that only 78% of alternative provision providers suggested that PE was compulsory.  

The report also found that many PE programmes did not have a dedicated PE teacher in place, with only 57% of those surveyed suggesting a specialist was in role.

Teacher confidence and competence were also highlighted as potential obstacles, with the study highlighting a ‘recruitment crisis’ across the board.

Additionally, a range of barriers were identified in the report, including the space available to deliver PE. Only 43% of respondents reported having access to an outdoor playground, while more than half (51%) did not have access to a dedicated indoor space.

The study also revealed that individual pupil needs and abilities, their behaviour, confidence and competence, and motivation resulted in challenges.

The research involved online surveys, interviews and focus groups with practitioners, as well as focus groups as part of case study visits with young people in alternative education settings.

Dr Hooper explained the importance of the findings: “We know that physical education has much potential for supporting young people’s holistic development, but what this novel study shows us is that those young people attending alternative provision contexts may not have the same opportunities as their peers in mainstream schooling.

“This is concerning as physical education may represent an opportune space for re-engaging these young people with learning as well as promoting their social and emotional development. Evidently, more needs to be done to ensure that physical education in alternative provision contexts is adequately supported so that young people in these settings can benefit from all it has to offer.”

Vicci Wells, Head of Sport at Youth Sport Trust, added: This report highlights the many barriers facing young people across the country attending alternative provision schools.

“We know that young people who participate in PE and sport tend to have better health related quality of life and mental health compared to non-participating peers. All children and young people deserve to have access to this, and we are determined to level up opportunities, without exception for those that need It most.

“Sport and PE can be a vehicle to foster a sense of belonging, value, acceptance and develop key life skills. I hope this report demonstrates that a sector-wide joined up approach is needed through government departments, schools and sports organisations.”

The report from the study can be downloaded in full by visiting here:

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/24

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’.

In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.