10 Essential questions to help you choose a scheme of work for Physical Education

  1. Why am I considering purchasing a scheme of work? If the answer to this question is lack of subject knowledge, then it is useful to determine what is meant by subject knowledge: Knowledge of the National Curriculum Programme of Study for PE; knowledge of child development and appropriate stage related activities; knowledge of how to teach PE (pedagogical content knowledge); knowledge of assessment related to standards/knowledge of assessment for learning; subject matter content e.g. knowledge of gymnastics (as a vehicle for developing national curriculum PE standards). A scheme of work will not provide all of the previous listed components and it is often better seeking CPD input from a different source(s).
  2. Is the scheme aligned to the purpose, 4 aims and standards outlined in the DfE (2013) National Curriculum PE Programme of Study? This is a statutory requirement for all state maintained schools. Many commercial companies do not understand the new expected (mastery) standards as the units of work that make up the scheme are focused on content rather than learners, their learning and learning standards. A scheme, therefore might be great for football, for netball, for gymnastics, for dance subject matter content etc., but if it does not align to the new standards then it is ‘not worth the paper it is written on’.
  3. Does the scheme scaffold units of work of sufficient length? Traditionally activities have been planned based on six half-term blocks of work. This is a limited approach, especially if lesson plans are included that focus on an approach that details one-skill per week. This is not a mastery approach (you wouldn’t focus on probability in maths for 40 minutes and then move on to something else). It doesn’t allow for assessment for learning practices and it doesn’t allow for a mastery approach. The six areas of activity are no longer a requirement and schemes that promote this remove flexibility and opportunity for teachers and learners to design bespoke PE programmes and learning sequences.
  4. Is the scheme of work adaptable? Teachers observe learners performing planned tasks. It is key that teachers are skilled at observing children moving, and analysing movement, otherwise, it becomes impossible to intervene effectively to make improvements. There are many teachers who are unskilled in this area, and I know where I would spend professional learning monies if I were still working in a school context. The alternative is teachers who use a prescribed unit of work that details lessons on a weekly basis and then teach them in a spoon-fed or ‘Postman Pat’ delivery style. Assessment in the form of observation to inform teaching and learning is absent in this example due to a focus on content and coverage.
  5. Does the scheme focus on holistic learning in PE not just skill? Too many schemes focus on only physical skills (psychomotor) and omit the cognitive and affective domains. Children learn and grow in all three domains and this learning is outlined in the PE programmes of study. If a scheme only focuses on skill, then it should be avoided.
  6. Does the scheme allow for horizontal as well as vertical coherence? When teachers focus on the learning standards to be achieved rather than focus on the activity and the content to be covered the issue of coherence becomes transparent. Many schemes order units of activity that include throwing and catching (e.g. netball type activities) in the autumn term and children do not get opportunity to practice throwing and catching again until 7 months later in the summer term in rounders type activities (horizontal coherence). This is not an approach that promotes coherence or continuity and therefore limits mastery learning. This situation is exacerbated when different activities are included year on year (vertical coherence) and no regard is shown for learning coherence.
  7. Does the scheme promote assessment without levels and avoid labelling? Any scheme that:
      • promotes labelling using old national curriculum level descriptors;
      • reinvents levels in any other guise (grades, numbers, rainbow colours, steps);
      • develops a series of surface learning statements such as “I can balance on one leg for 3 seconds”…Is not fit for purpose and the authors do not understand the reason why levels were removed in the first place.
  8. Is the scheme recognised by the national subject association for physical education? The Association for Physical Education (afPE) is the only national subject association recognised by the DfE. The subject association has a Professional Development Board (PDB) which receives product submissions from organisations. If organisations have received afPE endorsement, then they can state this and display the afPE logo. This is different to organisations that have joined afPE as a business associate.
  9. Is the Scheme of Work value for money? Considering all of the above, now compare prices and compare products from different commercial companies (if you haven’t already decided to develop your own overtime as an effective approach to CPD).
  10. What is the shelf-life of the Scheme of Work and is it future-proofed? Whether we like it or not we are working in a public service and as a result must follow government policy and legislation. Policy can therefore change every time the government changes or the term of office comes to an end. Some schemes of work include video resources of skill development etc., and these can often be used in conjunction with future government (physical) education policy and legislation, as what is expected at various stages of childhood growth and development do not change.

Excerpt from the book:

Frapwell, A. (2015). A Practical Guide to Assessing without Levels: Supporting and Safeguarding High Quality Achievement in Physical Education. Leeds: Coachwise.


Planning a Unit of Work Embedding

Assessment (Using the SOLO Approach)

At a planning meeting in Kosovo, while discussing planning resources to support teachers, on the table in front of me were more than 15 different templates for a medium-term plan. These ranged from several A4 documents of three or four pages to a nine-page epic. The nine-pager wasn’t actually a medium-term plan or unit of work; rather, it was a series of seven individual lesson plans that built learning on one skill per week. Interestingly, some meeting attendees were quite precious about a particular template, usually because it was theirs, and often because of the work that had gone into the detail. By using an approach that England Rugby World Cup 2003 winning coach Clive Woodward calls ‘white rooming’, we developed guidance to help teachers. This way of working involves imagining a room, and everything is removed from it – the furniture, furnishings and carpets – and it is then painted white. The room can only be painted another colour or items can only be brought back into it if they are fit for purpose. In our context, we asked key questions to determine fit for purpose:

  • What is a medium-term plan?
  • Who is it for?
  • What is its purpose?

‘Form’, as my now deceased father always used to inform me, ‘should always follow function’, and so it did.

What is a Medium-term Plan?

When analysed carefully, planning for learning involves a myriad of considerations about teaching and learning, pupils, their needs, their prior learning, equipment and facilities available, curriculum, content, context, objectives, activities and success criteria, but put quite simply it is the process of deciding what you will teach and how you will teach it. Short-term planning is usually accepted to be one or two lessons, and a medium-term plan is generally accepted to be one or more units of work that consist of learning planned over a number of hours or weeks. In England, this is traditionally a half or a full term consisting of 6–12 weeks.

In 1999, the QCA published a physical education scheme of work for KS1 and 2 and a scheme of work for KS3 and 4. These schemes of work, or long-term plans, consisted of a number of units of year-group-focused medium-term plans for primary, and link, development, intermediate and advanced units for secondary. Many of these units were planned for 12–18 hours. Other countries differ according to their contexts, but medium-term will generally range from 6–24 hours. Even though many definitions describe a medium-term plan as a sequence of learning planned, it is more realistic and appropriate that the plan details the learning expected, and lists possible content and contexts for this to be achieved. Formative assessment practice then informs the teacher about how to order or sequence the learning activities and experiences in order to best meet the outcomes/success criteria. A medium-term plan or unit of work is not a series of pre-planned lessons. Each successive medium-term unit or units planned should be constructed to align to and ‘progress’ learning towards the floor standards.

Who is It For?

A medium-term plan should be written for learners by the teacher. I am genuinely enthused by teachers who approach this positively and attempt to understand the process, rather than ask to be spoon-fed an approach to teaching and learning that has been written by someone else, or worse still, who purchase commercially produced plans and then make no attempt to adapt them to their learners.

The justification for not planning is almost entirely one of time. Teaching and learning will be most effective, however, when teachers themselves have given thought to the learning intentions, content and context, and resulting success criteria. To teach a unit ‘off plan’, a plan that someone else has developed, is akin to buying a property before it is constructed – it is difficult to understand aspects of the design or imagine what it might look like. The process of constructing the plan helps focus a teacher’s thoughts and ideas for their teaching in order to effectively progress each individual pupil’s learning within a group. The planning process is, therefore, by its very nature, a professional learning exercise. Consequently, a medium-term plan is a document written by a teacher for him or herself. As long as what is planned is constructively aligned and gives sufficient information for the teacher to create a picture of learning intended, then this is appropriate. There is no right or wrong way to do this. There are, however, less burdensome ways of doing it. If a unit of work has been provided by the school or department, it should be flexible enough for the teacher to think through the process, make adaptations and take ownership.

What is Its Purpose?

The purpose of ‘planning’ a medium-term plan comprises several aspects:

  • To outline the learning intended in order to build on and/or support prior learning.
  • To provide opportunity for teachers to clarify their thoughts and think deeply about teaching and learning.
  • To allow time for the teacher to ‘assess’ any equipment, resources, financial, safety or professional learning

implications of teaching the unit to reach the expected learning for all pupils.

  • To plan effective assessment strategies (see Section 5).
  • To monitor effective teaching in terms of pupil engagement and progress in achieving the unit outcomes.


Andrew Frapwell is the Association for Physical Education (afPE) National Lead for Assessment.