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Mixed gender PE - One year sample

In my previous blog I analysed the effectiveness of 4 week activity rotation blocks and now I am going to discuss another popular current topic - "Should PE be mixed gender?"

It is difficult today to name a sport that isn't gender specific without appearing as if you have little imagination or a sexist disbelief in either gender. It is 2018 and we should all know by now that this girl can and the ever changing gender neutral world we live in. For example, you may have taught an excellent group of boys Netball or likewise taught a successful rugby union girls team. Furthermore, it is widely reported that until the age of 13 males & females do have very equal strength, stamina and speed. So if both genders can access any sport and having equal fitness components why was my recent poll taken using twitter (seen below) so divided? 

In my own experience, I have always taught at schools that teach single gender PE classes but for the first time I have had a glimpse into mixed gender KS3 PE lessons as Ark Academy trialled a mixed gender academic year and here's what I have learnt...

The easiest transition was the new year 7 as these pupils knew no other way and coming from mixed gender primary PE the cohort took to our new approach to KS3 PE without question. We offered a good variety of activities (See curriculum map below) and after careful planning of how we would take registers and manage changing rooms** we have had a very successful year. During our end of year student voice survey students from both genders commented they had enjoyed mixed gender PE with a good majority stating it was a chance to get to know and make friends with the opposite sex (see below for exact figures). PE more than other subjects can lend itself to team/group activities with communication and teamwork a dominating theme throughout our SoWs. Like a "team building" workshop our mixed gender PE classes have provided countless opportunities for students at a delicate age to build friendly healthy relationships with the opposite gender. The significance however big or small these interactions develop our youngest students cannot be measured but would potentially be missed in a single gender class.

The year 8 transition was slightly more difficult with the first roll call having lots of students question that their timetable was incorrect when comparing classes and teachers with other students to find they had PE classes with the opposite gender. There were students who complained as this cohort had experienced single gender PE the year before and argued a number of reasons why this shift was incorrect. Be aware and expect if you are making the same change we opted for to hear a whole range of excuses from religious reasons, body consciousness & even one year 8 student complained catching "cooties". Now apart from that last reason a simple 1 on 1 conversation with the student backed up with experiencing the first mixed lesson all excuses will be quickly withdrawn. After the autumn term as a department we began to notice two distinct changes with this cohort. The girls were becoming more competitive and as our female PE teachers who had only seen these girls last year bluntly put it "the girls were becoming less lazy". The girls were showing more energy in lesson and were showing an improved willingness to participate, be persistence and generally input more effort. As the male teachers agree, the boys continued to show a high level of energy from year 7 to year 8 but had the boys subconsciously raised the pace and effort of the girls? The average/standard pace of the lesson had risen and the girls use to a previously slower pace suddenly picked up their energy levels. This opinion was mirrored in girls extra-curriculum teams as the year 8 girls were showing an improved competitive attitude. However, I am not stating mixed gender PE had this massive impact alone with lots of other contributing factors taking effect on these girls but the environment one performs in does alter ones behaviour and the girls were been opposed to a higher paced competitive environment and were showing similar traits. (this was very evident during mixed athletics as their was a strong motivation throughout of " lets beat the boys").

The second change we noticed with the year 8 boys again could be questioned as a natural maturing process as the students were now 2nd years and were older but there was less "silly behaviour" in lessons. Boys in year 8 became conscious of the opposite gender and behaviour such as making silly noises or chasing each other around play fighting that was never overly common in PE lessons completely seized to exist. There was now a different audience and instead of acting "the class clown" boys overall tried to impress and get the attention of the class not with a silly noise but with an excellence sporting display. Boys were looking to impress more than ever and this serves as great motivation to improve their skills and engage in a lesson. These slight improvements were the opinions of the department and none of these claims are researched or measured.

Year 9 was a big adjustment as this cohort had two previous years of single gender PE. The curriculum map we followed for the year can be seen below. I taught a lower ability class for one half of the year and our highest "GCSE ready" class on the opposite and the difference was intriguing. In the higher ability class the difference in speed & strength were becoming very noticeable and this created some problems. For example, in the Gaelic Football & Handball SoWs conditioned/competitive game play between the two sex's could become male dominate (I do say this with a fear of offending females but in this case the males student in this class are particularly strong and during these sports the male's increased strength and speed was a real advantage). You can introduce rules for example, "3 passes before you can shoot & both genders must touch the ball" which does improve the gameplay. However, do not be put off because of this as all drills taught were done without problem with mixed gender & in this case our 4 week rotation meant  when a sport was become strength/speed dominate this did not last for too long. Furthermore, there were lots of activities including Basketball, Badminton, Netball, Cricket & Rounders that this did not occur I just wanted to highlight this as a potential issue in some activities. In contrast the lower ability mixed gender class really triumphed and was without problems. The students with generally less competitive drive enjoyed playing with and against the opposite gender and at times during Rounders, Cricket, Badmintion & Ultimate Frisbee a really friendly game of girls vs boys created great motivation and drive. Similar to Year 7 students the team building and positive friendships that could be developed between genders must hold some value in the overall development of a student. 

In conclusion, all these views and opinions are of my own and are completely that - views and opinions and not facts. Every school evokes a variation of issues and caters for different pupils as it is unlikely one size will ever fit all in education. There are many different ways to fosters a competitive edge with KS3 females and likewise there are many interventions for creating a learning environment in which males show off with their sporting excellence but trailing mixed gender classes might help. You can only do what is right for your school and you will only know the results through trial and error. I hope this blog was useful to you and please if you have any further questions or want to talk about mixed gender PE please do reach out. After much department discussion our approach for next year is going to be a mixed gender year 7 & 8 with a single gender year 9 - I look forward to sharing the results with you all. 

** changing rooms - 4 members of staff (2 male and 2 female) taking 4 classes. Registers are done outside the changing rooms were notices are given, kit/injuries are checked before students given 8 minutes to get changed. Male and female teachers pair up together for example, class A&B boys will be in my changing room whilst class A&B girls are in paired females changing room. Very efficient and get to know more pupils too.  

Thank you for reading.

Written by Oliver Parkinson


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