The 3 Hurdles of Alignment: Part 1

By John Parsons, Director of Innovation for PE and Sport

I read a book some time back called ‘The Magic Weaving Business’ by Sir John Jones. Essentially it is about the power of teaching and the life-changing influence teachers can have (positively and negatively) on young people. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend it to anyone involved in education (by this I don’t just mean teachers and schools).

I had many ‘light bulb’ moments when reading the book, but the one that stuck with me most was where Jones discusses the importance and challenge of aligning what you believe and value, with what you say and what you do. It sounds simple, obvious and downright common sense doesn’t it? But it’s often the simplest things that we miss or aren’t as simple as we think and common sense, as the saying often goes, isn’t that common! I frequently look back and think of how often there was a disconnect between what I thought I believed in and my actual practice when working with young people. I suppose this was part of my learning journey but I can’t help thinking that it would have been beneficial for the young people I was working with if this had been something that I’d been more aware of earlier, hence why we explore it on Day 1 of our real PE programme. Jones, to give context to the concept, gives numerous examples of where he has experienced a clear disconnect between what institutions say they believe and value and what they actually say and do in practice. I now find myself continually referring back to this alignment challenge both when visiting schools and in terms of my own practice.

So, the first hurdle, is to be really clear on what we believe and value and communicate this in as simple a way as possible. Sounds easy but many can and do ‘fall at the first’. I once sat in a meeting at a community club where I was told that the club could not have a shared philosophy as there were different managers involved who had their own philosophies. I responded that we are therefore no longer a club, but a collection of autonomous teams and therefore should say as much, otherwise how could parents and children make a decision as to whether the ‘club’ had a philosophy and values that was right for them? Similarly, I’ve worked with some schools who are very clear on their values and beliefs – they are often the first thing you see when you arrive in reception and say all the things you’d want a school to be about – but, perhaps, don’t see how PE and Sport fits into this ‘bigger picture’ and align to these beliefs and values. As a consequence, curriculums are often ‘sport led’ because of tradition, rather than ‘child and learning led’ (I’ll explore this more in Part 2), often because of a belief that ‘this is what we have to do isn’t it?’ As a consequence, PE and Sport has often been delivered in a way that is not always inclusive and often not personalised. In some schools, I have read how essential physical activity and development is to the development of every child within the school, yet PE is postponed during the months of November and December or missing PE is used as a way to manage poor behaviour.

As part of the real PE programme, we go back to basics and ask those attending why we do PE, why it’s important and what we are trying to achieve. The language may vary but the answers are consistent – to encourage and enable lifelong participation (which can lead to health and wellbeing benefits); to help young people maximise their potential and be the best they can be; to develop a range of life and learning skills that can also support whole school aims.

Having established why we do PE and what we’re trying to achieve, we can then look at what skills and abilities we need to develop in our children and young people to achieve these outcomes. When we explore this with teachers, coaches and others there is an overwhelming consensus as to what is most important. Nobody talks about sport specific skills as being the most important, but instead developing a broad range of skills and abilities, with personal, social and emotional abilities particularly important, things like confidence, self-esteem, determination, resilience, communication and the ability to work with and learn from others to name a few.

Without going through this process of really establishing what we believe and value first, we are in danger of then valuing what we measure rather than measuring what we value. I once worked for an organisation where the perceived key measure (or KPI as it was called) was the number of people worked with, with little or no reference to the quality of the support and the impact it made on these people. Because this was the measure, numbers became the key currency and a race to work with as many people as possible began, with the quality of the interaction and the impact it had of secondary importance. It really is worth taking the time to do this properly, as it should then influence everything else – your curriculum and broader offer, your teaching and learning methods, your assessment or in other words, what you say and what you do…

Part 2 will look at the challenges and importance of aligning what we say and what we do with what we believe and value (or hurdles 2 and 3!)