Accelerating Progress in Physical Education - Organic, Efficient Teaching

This blog is underpinned by a commitment to making teaching as efficient as possible through effective, rapid formative assessment, that supports accelerated progress whilst maximising the impact of feedback.

As you may have read in my previous blogs, I am strong advocate for organic teaching. Schemes of work can sometimes be restrictive in the sense that time is allocated to the requirements of the scheme of work as opposed the needs of the students. Whilst I appreciate the need for schemes of work, it is essential that the first lesson of each unit is used to rapidly assess the needs of the group and I have some ideas to share that may help. I have seen a range of schemes of work/unit plans in various PE departments. Some models have a skills focus throughout, some focus on skills in Year 7, tactics in Year 8 and Leadership in Year 9 onwards. In the worst examples, a basketball scheme of work may allocate one lesson to working on lay-ups in Year 7, another lesson in Year 8 and 9, and by Year 10 the expectation is that they have mastered the skill.

Reflection Question 1: How often is a football lesson on passing/shooting taught in year 7, where 90% of the group are already proficient at the skill? I much prefer schemes of learning which are designed to articulate the progression from novice to expert as opposed to restricting content to discrete units. This allows teachers to differentiate starting points – particularly when dealing with large ability spectrums.

Summative Assessment

As PE Teachers we have all got to the end of a unit, set up a game situation and then stood for the majority of the lesson, looking at a complex and subjective assessment criteria, allocating grades to students. The reality is, assessment in Physical Education is inherently intuitive. If you think of a moderation day, when we observe a group of students we make a rapid assessment:

  • Who is my top performer?
  • Who is my weakest performer?
  • Rank order the rest of the students after benchmarking the top and weakest student.

When we go through this process it is not based on every detail of the assessment criteria, instead it is an instinctive judgement made by referencing everything you see in the performance, with everything you know about the sport, then making a judgement about their efficacy. In short, we can usually identify a weak, average, good or excellent performer with very little reference to assessment criteria.

Reflection Question 2: How much does information gained in such summative assessments, influence future teaching?

In many schools, it is probably the case that assessment also takes place at the beginning of the unit in order to compare with the terminal assessment to gauge progress. However, the key reflection point is, how much does teaching evolve as result of that initial assessment?

Formative and Feedback

Formative assessment should result in a consequence for the teacher, student or both – if it is done correctly. In order to do this quickly and effectively, the assessment criteria for individual sports is often too expansive and comprehensive, and can be too broad to identify the most pressing needs of a group. Below are two quick examples of distilling the assessment criteria into the key aspects that would limit a student’s performance – eg there is no point working on groundstrokes if a student’s footwork stops them from getting to the ball effectively. The two simple formative trackers below are designed to be hierarchical and so only one column will be ticked to keep the process quick and effective (I appreciate that this may be subjective but it is merely to illustrate a point).

Fundamental Limiting Factors

Student Limiting Factors Tables To make feedback more effective, it would make sense to identify the one fundamental area that is limiting progress for each student. Firstly, there would then be no doubt in any student’s mind about the one area that they need to improve. Secondly, it would allow you to modify your practice in the ways listed below.

Ideas for efficient teaching.

  1. Bespoke unit plan that accelerates progress – Lessons for the remainder of the unit will be tailored to meet the specific needs of the group.
  2. Closing common gaps – Where there are common limiting aspects, each lesson in a unit may include a specific drill or practice to address the weakness. For example, if the majority of a low ability group were struggling with ball control, each lesson may start with a 10 minute drill designed to address the skill deficit.
  3. Easier to cater for large ability spectrums – Students can be grouped by their key area for development allowing teachers to set up multiple practices that work on different elements. A series of lessons could be constructed where three groups of students all work on different skill practices – for example, one group on ball control, one group on passing and one more able group on defending in pairs.
  4. Conditions on competitive practices can be better differentiated – In Tennis, for example, students who have fundamental weaknesses in footwork, ground strokes or volleying, are potentially wasting their time trying to serve the ball from the baseline. Therefore those groups of students may only serve from the back of the service box to ensure that the ball goes over the net and that ultimately a rally is then taking place to allow them to improve their footwork, ground strokes or volleys.


In my experience, when I ask students what they need to do to improve in a sport, the answers often lack detail and may not necessarily be linked to their biggest areas of need. At least by focusing on the one fundamental limiting factor, students will know definitively what they are working on and why they need to improve it.

If you have any thoughts on improving the efficiency of teaching to support accelerated progress, please let me know. Thanks for reading,