If the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic was right in claiming that ‘the foundation of every state is the education of its youth’, then in primary school Physical Education (PE) those foundations must centre around securely developing Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS).
With no hint of cynicism at all, I genuinely believe that if we can give every child the necessary declarative and procedural knowledge to master the FMS, then we are giving them the best possible foundations to excel in the three pillars that run across Physical Education, School Sport and Physical Activity (PESSPA): motor competence; rules, strategies and tactics; and healthy participation.
The PESSPA Programme at my school is focused on the ultimate goal of developing a lifelong love of physical activity. This is unlikely to be achieved if we fail in teaching our children the FMS that everything else will then be built on. So, no pressure then!
Clearly, there is a wide variety of movement skills that we want our children to learn, which will provide them with the basic building blocks for the many different sports contexts and other physical activities that children will – hopefully – go on to participate in later life.
So, where do we begin, especially when the National Curriculum only gives us the guidance: ‘Pupils should develop fundamental movement skills’?
As Hanna Miller (Ofsted’s subject lead for PE) perfectly articulates: “For all children to have the best opportunity within their phase to participate and make progress in their physical development and also be well-equipped to participate in more specialised sporting and physical activity contexts as they grow older, the focus really needs to be on how and where and when these key composite movements are broken down into their component parts, systematically sequenced so that children develop relative fluency within these movements.’
This has to be a central part of what we are trying to achieve during the first few years of a child’s time in primary school because securing that relative fluency across all of the FMS – locomotion skills, stabilisation skills and object manipulation skills – is what will ensure that our children are in the best possible position to then develop their motor competency within more specialised physical activity and sport contexts later on through school and – hopefully and crucially – into the rest of their lives.
One of the barriers is that, too often, professionals and parents assume that motor competence develops naturally. If only it was that easy!
What are the Fundamental Movement Skills?
At my school, none of us felt that we had been adequately trained in this area; yet we also believed passionately that we had to develop a FMS Framework that would give every child the best possibility of succeeding. Having researched and analysed outstanding practice in teaching FMS globally (particularly in Australia, New Zealand and Canada), we identified twenty-two FMS that we consider to be essential if our pupils are going to successfully participate in the many physical activities, games and sports offered at our school and in life: balance on one foot; line or beam walk; climb; forward roll; sprint run; hop; skip; gallop; side-gallop; dodge; hand dribble; foot dribble; catch; underarm throw; overarm throw; and chest pass.
Each of these skills was selected because, collectively, they represent a solid formation for the development of specialised skills, enabling pupils to participate in a wide range of physical activities. Pleasingly, the Youth Sport Trust has endorsed our work with the Gold standard of the Youth Sport Trust Kitemark and Ofsted wrote that: ‘Curriculum plans are well thought through to ensure that pupils acquire the knowledge and skills required to make excellent progress. … In PE, study progression documents are extremely detailed. They identify precisely how activities will build upon those previously taught to enable pupils to make excellent progress.’
There is still much to be done though if we want to be successful in our aim of developing a lifelong love of physical activity for every child!
Developing Fundamental Movement Skills and Intervention
Even having the best FMS Framework (and I can’t imagine that anyone would be so bold as to claim that they have a perfect framework) will not guarantee success for every child and, for me, we have as much responsibility for physical intervention as we do intervention in English and mathematics. Our approach with our FMS Framework is to try and have this at the forefront of each teacher’s mind: identifying what children know and can remember and are able to do and, where required, addressing any gaps through fun and engaging intervention sessions that include purposeful practice and instruction with the aim of ensuring that all pupils secure the strong foundations that they will need throughout the rest of their lives.
It doesn’t take expert knowledge to understand that the pupils further up the school who are struggling in PE have not developed the necessary fluency and proficiency in their early stages of motor movement, which means that it is likely that the gaps will widen; much of the curriculum will become difficult to access; the child will become less engaged and less confident; and, quite likely, will not become a physically active teenager or adult. When you think about the potential long-term problems associated with a child not becoming physically competent, it makes the need to successfully teach FMS even more crucial, as well as finding time within the school timetable to provide additional support and intervention, as required. This includes during PE lessons further up the school. After all, ‘early movement’ isn’t about the age of the child. Although it may often refer to our youngest learners, it is actually about any child who is operating at an earlier level of motor competence.
At my school, all teachers have had training in our FMS Skills Framework and all teachers are expected – where necessary – to be able to break down FMS into their component parts, before moving on to more complex content. This is one of the key benefits of having a carefully set out FMS Framework: components for each skill are clearly identified so every member of staff and, ideally, every pupil should have the knowledge of what it looks like to be able to sprint successfully, dodge successfully, throw underarm successfully, etc.
Planning your FMS Framework
So, in short, I would implore all school leaders and teachers given the responsibility of coordinating PE (or, as is increasingly the case, leading all aspects of PESSPA) to work with staff to carefully plan their approach to teaching FMS as these are the essential building blocks that all pupils need to become proficient and – just as importantly – enthusiastic participants in the rich, engaging, broad and balanced variety of physical activities and sport contexts that they will encounter as they move through school and – hopefully – throughout the rest of their lives.
One final word of caution: at my school, we follow the Youth Sport Trust’s definition of physical literacy: ‘the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding that provides children with the movement foundation for lifelong participation in physical activity’ and we understand that ‘enabling children to be physically literate supports their development as competent, confident and healthy movers.’ When we are teaching FMS, we are developing motor competence in our children; however, if we just deliver physical literacy through FMS, our children will not get the whole picture. FMS have to be developed in the context of using them in the right space, selecting the right movement skill for the right environment, being aware of others in space, etc.
There is a lot to get right – and an increasing pressure on schools to try and get it all right – but there is much support out there to achieve this and, as we all know, of all subjects taught in school, PE is the only subject which, by its very nature, has the potential to affect how we feel every moment of every day for the rest of our lives.
With many thanks to Neil McAvoy for writing this blog and sharing his experience and advice.
Having worked with children in six countries across three continents, Neil McAvoy is now the Deputy Headteacher and Physical Education, School Sport and Physical Activity (PESSPA) Director at Clavering Primary School in Hartlepool. Neil believes passionately in the importance of PESSPA for children’s all-round development: physical, cognitive, social and emotional. He holds a variety of nationally-recognised leadership and PESSPA qualifications and regularly speaks at local and national conferences, as well as supporting schools and multi-academy trusts. In addition to working full-time at Clavering, Neil volunteers as an ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust and was a founding member of the Well Schools Movement.
He can be found on twitter at @Neil_McAvoy.