Access Key Definitions
Skip navigation
Access key details
Home page
Latest updates
Site map
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Terms and conditions
National Curriculum

Physical education key stage 4 - Programme of study

Statutory content

Programme of study for key stage 4

See related downloads and key actions

Download the full programme of study [pdf 1mb]

The programme of learning is made up of:

Importance of Physical education key stage 4

PE develops students’ competence and confidence to take part in a range of physical activities that become a central part of their lives, both in and out of school.

A high-quality PE curriculum enables all students to enjoy and succeed in many kinds of physical activity. They develop a wide range of skills and the ability to use tactics, strategies and compositional ideas to perform successfully. When they are performing, they think about what they are doing, analyse the situation and make decisions. They also reflect on their own and others’ performances and find ways to improve them. As a result, they develop the confidence to take part in different physical activities and learn about the value of healthy, active lifestyles. Discovering what they like to do and what their aptitudes are at school, and how and where to get involved in physical activity helps them make informed choices about lifelong physical activity.

PE helps students develop personally and socially. They work as individuals, in groups and in teams, developing concepts of fairness and of personal and social responsibility. They take on different roles and responsibilities, including leadership, coaching and officiating. Through the range of experiences that PE offers, they learn how to be effective in competitive, creative and challenging situations.


Key concepts of Physical education key stage 4

There are a number of key concepts that underpin the study of PE.

Students need to understand these concepts in order to deepen and broaden their knowledge, skills and understanding.

1.1 Competence

  1. Developing control of whole-body skills and fine manipulation skills.

  2. Selecting and using skills, tactics and compositional ideas effectively in different types of physical activity.

  3. Responding with body and mind to the demands of an activity.

  4. Adapting to a widening range of familiar and unfamiliar contexts.

1.2 Performance

  1. Understanding how the components of competence combine and applying them to produce effective outcomes.

  2. Knowing and understanding what needs to be achieved, critically evaluating how well it has been achieved and finding ways to improve.

  3. Appreciating how to make adjustments and adaptations when performing in different contexts and when working individually, in groups and teams.

  4. Understanding the nature of success in different types of activity.

1.3 Creativity

  1. Using imaginative ways to express and communicate ideas, solve problems and overcome challenges.

  2. Exploring and experimenting with techniques, tactics and compositional ideas to produce efficient and effective outcomes.

1.4 Healthy, active lifestyles

  1. Understanding that physical activity contributes to the healthy functioning of the body and mind and is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle.

  2. Recognising that regular physical activity that is fit for purpose, safe and enjoyable has the greatest impact on physical, mental and social wellbeing.

Explanatory text

Competence: This is the relationship between: skill; the selection and application of skills, tactics, strategies and compositional ideas; and the readiness of the body and mind to cope with the activity. It requires an understanding of how these combine to produce effective performances in different activities and contexts.

Whole-body skills: These enable the body to move and be agile, for example walking, throwing, balancing, rolling, bending or twisting.

Fine manipulation skills: These enable handling of equipment, use of gesture or writing.

Selecting and using skills: This includes:

  • tactics – specific approaches to tackling a task or challenge, such as changing speed in a game or producing a safe jump in an athletic competition

  • strategies – broad approaches to tackling a task or challenge, such as ensuring there are sufficient technically demanding techniques in a gymnastic sequence or using a specific formation in a game

  • compositional ideas – the design principles that inform the composition of a sequence or the choreographing of a dance. These include the use of space, height, speed, dynamics, shape, relationships or direction.

Body and mind: This includes:

  • stamina, strength and suppleness

  • confidence, determination to succeed, mental alertness and dealing with emotions.

Performance: This includes:

  • having a desire to achieve and improve

  • being willing to take part in a range of competitive, creative and challenge-type activities, both as individuals and as part of a team or group.

Key processes of Physical education key stage 4

These are the essential skills and processes in PE that students need to learn to make progress.

2.1 Developing skills in physical activity

Students should be able to:

  1. improve the range, difficulty and quality of their skills and techniques

  2. develop the consistency with which they use and perform skills with precision, control and fluency.

2.2 Making and applying decisions

Students should be able to:

  1. select and use tactics, strategies and compositional ideas imaginatively in complex and demanding creative, competitive and challenge-type contexts

  2. design original and effective plans that improve their own and others’ performance

  3. respond effectively and imaginatively to changing circumstances as they arise during a performance.

  4. organise and manage the environment they are working in to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of themselves and others.

2.3 Developing physical and mental capacity

Students should be able to:

  1. analyse how mental and physical capacity affects performance

  2. maintain and develop their physical strength, stamina, speed and flexibility to cope with the demands of different activities and active lifestyles

  3. prepare mentally for successful involvement in physical activity, performance and engagement in healthy, active lifestyles.

2.4 Evaluating and improving

Students should be able to:

  1. critically evaluate, analyse and judge the quality and effectiveness of performances

  2. make informed decisions about how to improve the quality and effectiveness of their own and others’ performances

  3. develop and implement imaginative action plans to improve the quality and effectiveness of performances

  4. design original and effective plans that improve the quality of their own and others’ involvement in healthy, active lifestyles.

2.5 Making informed choices about healthy, active lifestyles

Students should be able to:

  1. identify the types of physical activity available to them and the roles they would like to take on

  2. link physical activity with diet, work and rest for personal health and wellbeing

  3. make informed decisions about getting involved in a lifetime of healthy physical activities that suit their needs.

Explanatory text

Techniques: These include whole-body skills and fine manipulation skills that need refining and adapting for:

  • dynamically challenging environments, such as adjusting body position in the air in response to a poor bounce, or adjusting a move at the very last minute to compensate for an error in timing, speed or use of space

  • sport-specific techniques defined by the rules of the sport and its equipment, such as how to strike a ball when using a tennis racket, cricket bat, rounders bat or golf club

  • different purposes, such as running in a sprint race, for a vault or in a dance.

Physical strength, stamina, speed and flexibility: This includes:

  • strength to deal with the efforts and loads placed on the body

  • stamina to maintain effort (both cardiovascular and muscular)

  • speed to contract muscles quickly and slowly

  • flexibility to move joints through their full range

  • balance to maintain control, shape and alignment

  • coordination for balanced and effective interaction of movements

  • agility to move quickly and nimbly

  • using aerobic and anaerobic body systems

  • understanding what their bodies can and cannot do as they go through periods of change and development

  • understanding the benefits of training and preparing for activity and the types of general and specific training methods.

Prepare mentally: This includes:

  • the place of motivation, anxiety, arousal and tension in effective performance

  • the confidence to get involved

  • the determination to face up to challenges and keep going

  • expressing and dealing with emotions

  • the desire to achieve success for oneself and others.

Effectiveness of performances: This includes critically analysing:

  • the quality of a performance in relation to the range and quality of skills and the range and effectiveness of tactics, strategies or compositional ideas used

  • how effectively the body and mind respond to the challenges.

It also includes identifying what actions are needed and either communicating these to others or carrying them out in order to improve their own performance.

Healthy, active lifestyles: This includes maintaining and increasing their involvement in PE, sport, dance and healthy physical activity to meet government targets for PE school sport and club links.

Roles: These include performer, leader and official. They also include different performance roles within an activity, for example an attacking rather than a defending role, supporter rather than supported in a gymnastic or dance activity.

Range and content of Physical education key stage 4

This section outlines the breadth of the subject on which teachers should draw when teaching the key concepts and key processes.

The study of PE should include activities that cover at least two of the following:

  1. outwitting opponents, as in games activities

  2. accurate replication of actions, phrases and sequences, as in gymnastic activities

  3. exploring and communicating ideas, concepts and emotions, as in dance activities

  4. performing at maximum levels in relation to speed, height, distance, strength or accuracy, as in athletic activities

  5. identifying and solving problems to overcome challenges of an adventurous nature, as in life saving and personal survival in swimming and outdoor activities

  6. exercising safely and effectively to improve health and wellbeing, as in fitness and health activities.

Explanatory text

Outwitting opponents: This includes activities in which the concept of success is to overcome an opponent or opponents in a face-to-face competition. Opponents can directly affect each other’s performance and the key is to outwit the opposition. For example:

  • invasion games (eg water polo, netball, football, rugby, Gaelic football, American football, polo and hockey)

  • net/wall games (eg volleyball, tennis, table tennis and squash)

  • striking/fielding games (eg rounders, softball, stoolball, cricket, table cricket)

  • combat activities (eg fencing, judo and karate).

Accurate replication: This includes activities in which success is judged on the ability to repeat actions, phrases and sequences of movement as perfectly as possible. Examples include: synchronised swimming, diving, rebound tumbling, competition ballroom dancing, gymnastics and skateboarding.

Exploring and communicating ideas, concepts and emotions: This includes activities in which success is considered in relation to how well a performer or choreographer expresses ideas, feeling, concepts or emotions to communicate artistic or choreographic intentions to an audience. Dance styles could include capoeira, contemporary dance, country dancing, ballet, Indian hand dance and street dance.

Performing at maximum levels: This includes activities in which success is measured by personal best scores or times, and in competition by direct comparison with others’ scores or times. Examples include racing in the swimming pool or on a skateboard, or having a low score in golf or a high score in archery.

Identifying and solving problems: This includes activities in which success is judged on how efficiently and safely challenges are overcome. Examples include orienteering, personal survival, life saving, and expeditions involving walking or using transport such as boats and canoes.

Exercising safely and effectively: This includes activities such as aqua aerobics, weight training, jogging and power walking in which success is related to improving feelings of health, fitness and wellbeing. Goals might include emotional wellbeing, healthy weight management, toned muscles, healthy skin and a healthy heart.

Curriculum opportunities of Physical education key stage 4

During the key stage students should be offered the following opportunities that are integral to their learning and enhance their engagement with the concepts, processes and content of the subject.

The curriculum should provide opportunities for students to:

  1. get involved in a broad range of different activities that, in combination, develop the whole body

  2. experience a range of roles within a physical activity

  3. specialise in specific activities and roles, taking accredited courses and qualifications where appropriate

  4. follow pathways to other activities in and beyond school and, where possible, work with sportsmen and women, coaches and other specialists

  5. perform as an individual, in a group or as part of a team in formal competitions or performances to audiences beyond the class

  6. make links between PE and other subjects and areas of the curriculum

  7. use ICT to assist in planning for improvement and involvement in physical activity

  8. work with others to organise, manage, officiate and run festivals, tournaments, competitions and events, both in school and the local community.

Explanatory text

Range of different activities: This includes activities that develop the strength, stamina, suppleness and speed of the upper body and arms, and lower body and legs. This can be achieved through at least two hours of focused weekly activities in curriculum time.

Specialise in specific activities and roles: This includes activities that reflect local, national and international cultures and traditions, and the full range of performance, leader and official roles, including coaching, judging, refereeing, mentoring and choreographing.

Follow pathways: This may involve:

  • regularly getting involved in PE, sport, dance and healthy physical activity

  • taking part in school and community sport and dance opportunities

  • deciding to become a performer, leader or official and working towards accreditation

  • being involved in increasingly complex and challenging tasks and activities

  • reaching the highest possible standards of involvement in physical activity and following career and volunteering pathways

  • pursuing routes into sport through volunteering.

ICT: This includes:

  • using performance analysis software and hardware

  • using ICT to record and analyse performance

  • using ICT to track participation, involvement and improvement in  physical activity

  • creating multimedia films and productions in conjunction with other curriculum areas.

Quick links

How physical education links to

Back to top