Physical education since 1945

There are a variety of important changes that have taken place within Physical Education (PE) in order that it can be the educational subject that it is at present. Some of these changes are so crucial that there may not have even been an academic subject called Physical Education to speak about. This essay shall aim to uncover the principle changes the subject has gone through since 1945 and also provide insight into why these changes did and had to occur. I shall endeavour to tackle these principle changes in a chronological order although some have to be considered as an issue on their own.

Firstly, however, before uncovering the changes in PE post-1945 it is important to know what was going on in this subject pre-1945. A good place to start is in the 1800s in Rugby school where a gentleman named Dr Thomas Arnold was headmaster. He arrived at this public school when boys were taking part in traditional country outdoor activities such as shooting and fishing, though in rebellion of the law. Arnold wished to confine the boys at Rugby to take part in activities within the confines of the school grounds, this meant team games such as Rugby, Cricket and Football.

He allowed these team games, where the boys would often get hurt and covered in mud, to go on because he believed that they also served an educational role, a means of developing one’s character (Goodwin, 1984). He understood that these games would develop traits in a boy such as courage, loyalty, self-sacrifice, unselfishness, co-operation, a sense of honour and the ability to accept defeat, “be a good loser” (Goodwin, 1984). These games were however very much confined to the public schools.

In 1872 an Education (Scotland) Act was passed that introduced compulsory schooling for children aged 5-13. Though this helped children receive an education, there was no mention of PE, or sport of any kind within the document (Thomson, 1978). In order that these children could receive some sort of physical activity, drill was introduced to encourage sharp obedience, smartness, cleanliness and order. It was however recognized that other forms of physical activity had to occur for the health of the nation.

This was the time when therapeutic Swedish gymnastics appeared in order that it would counteract disease and ill health. Physical training and education had become part of the wider developments in health education in the school medical service of 1909 (Thomson, 1978). PE therefore from about 1872-1945 was no longer about discipline but about health. It is very important before continuing to have a definition of what Physical Education actually is, from reading the literature it is hard to determine one true designation.

The Oxford Dictionary (1999) offers the following, “(PE is) the instruction in physical exercise and games, especially in schools”. Whereas Webster’s New International Dictionary (1986) offers this description stating that PE is “education in methods designed to promote the development and care of the body and usually involving instruction in hygiene and systematic exercises and in sports and games”. As can be seen from the two descriptions the Oxford dictionary does not even mention the word education and instead contends that PE is all about games and sports.

This proponent of PE began to surface after 1945. After 1945 and around the mid 1960s more significant educational changes began to emerge. In 1945 an Education of Scotland Act was passed which increased the school leaving age to 15 years old. PE at this time was a compulsory part of schooling, so with this change more children took part in PE for longer. PE started to move towards the more aesthetic elements of the curriculum; dance and movement were particularly popular.

This aesthetic aspect towards PE fashioned a movement characteristic, thus maintaining its physical nature (Hoyle, 1986). At this time the majority of PE teachers were female and these teachers pushed towards more qualitative gymnastics and aesthetics promoting that it was a part of self-discovery and expression in their pupils. These female PE teachers came from a very restricted physical education establishment in the form of specialist teacher training colleges. These were confined mainly with women and gymnastics until the end of the Second World War (Holt, 1989).

It was also suggested that this type of PE placed a certain level of demand on pupils’ intelligence levels and helped to develop cognitive activity (Fletcher, 1984). Male PE teachers argued that this type of expressionist PE was not the way forward and instead pursued the idea that PE should be competition based. The male physical educators took on board Olympic Gymnastics as opposed to the more qualitative recreational sort. They supported scientific principles and skill development as the best form of education.

The popularity of this approach grew as the numbers of male PE teachers increased. The males criticised the females, suggesting that their approach contained a lack of teacher involvement and direction and that it was mainly based around the pupils teaching themselves (Fletcher, 1984). With the introduction of other activities into the curriculum the debate surrounding educational or Olympic gymnastics died down (Fletcher, 1984). It would not be until 1988 that male and female PE teachers would teach the same thing.

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