Why is Quality Physical Education important?

During my years of teaching in the Secondary school sector I have often been asked to justify the Health and Physical Education curriculum; most often this was in response to changes to timetable structure and therefore having to advocate for equitable time for HPE as per other ‘core’ subjects, or wanting to introduce new HPE courses and having to justify their worth as they might draw numbers of students away from other curriculum areas.

In the past year working more with primary and intermediate teachers, the challenge has been getting school leaders, teachers, and school communities, to see the value in quality physical education for their young people.  In an environment where teachers are doing their best to deliver the NZC, and at the same time meet the demands of National Standards, it is unfortunate but true that Physical Education is often the learning area that ends up at the bottom of the heap.

So I have begun gathering some ‘ammunition’ for when people ask the question ‘why is quality Physical Education important?’

This is by far my favourite response…

“Physical education is the most effective means of providing all children and youth with the skills, attitudes, values, knowledge and understanding for lifelong participation in society.”  The Declaration of Berlin 2013 – UNESCO’s World Sports Ministers Conference (MINEPS V)


There is often the perception that physical education is only about providing young people with the skills, attitudes, values, knowledge and understanding for lifelong participation in sport or physical activity; when in actual fact the learnings that take place during quality physical education experiences are preparing young people to be good citizens who are able to contribute to their own well-being, the well-being of those around them, and of wider society.

Further more…

“Quality Physical Education:

  • is the most effective and inclusive means of providing all children with the skills, attitudes, values, knowledge and understanding for life long participation in physical activity and sport;
  • helps to ensure integrated and rounded development of mind, body and spirit;
  • is the only school subject whose primary focus is on the body, physical activity, physical development and health;
  • helps children to develop the patterns of and interest in physical activity, which are essential for healthy development and which lay the foundations for adult healthy lifestyles;
  • helps children to develop respect for the body – both their own and others’;
  • develops understanding of the role of physical activity in promoting health;
  • contributes to children’s confidence and self esteem;
  • enhances social development by preparing children to cope with competition, winning and losing; and co-operation and collaboration;
  • provides the skills and knowledge for future work in sport, physical activity, recreation and leisure, a growing area of employment.”  Results and recommendations from the World Summit on Physical Education

UNESCO advocates for quality physical education policies all over the world as a tool to contribute to 21st century education and drive inclusion. The infographic illustrates the benefits of investing on quality physical education policies in opposition to the cost of NOT investing.


The recent ERO Report on Wellbeing for Young People’s Success at Secondary School has reinforced the importance of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum in supporting student wellbeing, and in turn student success.  It also highlights the importance of connecting learning areas with ‘sport, culture and leadership opportunities’.

Schools are in a unique position, utilising their HPE curriculum and co-curricular sports, to establish a culture where physical activity is valued, and student wellbeing is nurtured. Hauora (wellbeing) is one of the underlying concepts of the HPE curriculum. The benefits of physical activity on people’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing is well documented.

“According to the World Health Organization, engaging in physical activity through play, games, and sport gives young people natural opportunities to express themselves, develop self-confidence, relieve tension, achieve success, and interact with others as well as learning about the spirit of solidarity and fair play (World Health Organization, 2003b).

Team games and play foster students’ development of social skills and provide opportunities for them to learn group membership and leadership skills, attitudes, and behaviours. Physical activity can build students’ character because it provides opportunities to develop values such as dedication, honesty, courage, and fairness.

Participation in a range of physical activities encourages students and young people to take on challenges. Physical activity also offers them opportunities to develop resilience and realise their potential to excel within the scope of their own abilities.

Research, including that by Shephard (1997), Linder (1999; 2002), Tremblay et al. (2000), and Dwyer et al. (2001),has found that children who are more physically active demonstrate higher levels of academic achievement.

More recent New Zealand research undertaken by Clinton, Rensferd, and Willing (2006) confirms that students who are well nourished and engage in regular physical activity are in a better position to bene t from opportunities to learn.” Physical Activity For Healthy and Confident Kids’: Guidelines for Sustainable Physical Activity in Secondary School Communities (MoE, 2007)

The key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum align perfectly with the philosophy and content of the Health and Physical Education curriculum.  Physical Education provides a rich, relevant and meaningful context in which to explicitly teach the key competencies.

I could go on, quoting evidence from multiple sources but for today’s blog this is where I will leave it – the human body was made to move and quality physical education provides opportunities for people to experience the joy of movement.


One thought on “Why is Quality Physical Education important?

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Celia! This is a question I am often asked – what actually is Health and PE and why do we need it – and I am often stumped. I will refer people onto this post! I particularly enjoyed reading through the infographic you shared from UNESCO, and found it incredibly powerful. I would love to see more pictures like this included in your blogs! Awesome to see reference to research, I feel many teachers shy away from research, but this is what informs our practice! Look forward to reading more posts in the future.


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