Functional movement systems: the future of physical education in schools

Jo Hackett, director of sport at Loughborough Schools Foundation, explores one of the changes that stuck, explaining why her school is running with a new type of sports curriculum.

The way students experience sports at schools has been dramatically different since Covid-19 hit. Jo Hackett, director of sport at Loughborough Schools Foundation, explores one of the changes that stuck, explaining why her school is running with a new type of sports curriculum.

Much of Covid-19’s disruptions were negative, but some of its modifications caused a shift in thinking that would, ultimately, bring about positive and permanent change.

Exercise became much more accessible, as did conversations around mental health – and using the former to manage the latter. A walk was a daily highlight during lockdowns, and an emotional lifeline for many.

Whether it was through Joe Wicks’ daily PE live streams, which aimed to ‘help us feel happier’, or the daily stroll outdoors, fitness was viewed through a new, compassionate lens. And although it’s a delight to see our school sports fields back open ‘as they were’, we should continue to celebrate simple movement and the benefits it can bring.

Removing competition 

Competitive sports such as rugby, cricket and lacrosse are ingrained into independent school culture, but given the full-contact nature of team sports like these, they were no longer feasible during the pandemic. At Loughborough Schools Foundation, we quickly adopted a Functional Movement Systems (FMS) based curriculum to keep our pupils active throughout the pandemic, in partnership with FMS UK.

FMS activities are a stark contrast to team sports – rather than adhering to rules or strategy to score points, the goal is to retrain the body and mind to improve movement efficiency. Aided by technology, classes can be performed both virtually and in-person, with no limit on group sizes.

But, just as mandatory remote working soon kick-started a hybrid revolution across the nation’s offices, we noticed a similar change in attitudes as we removed the competitive nature of physical education. Of course, there are many benefits to team sports we can’t overlook – yet we also mustn’t discount those who experience that environment differently.

Focus on the individual 

Nationwide studies show that this changing mindset goes beyond our own school gates. A survey by Women in Sport from March 2022 found that more than one million girls who considered themselves ‘sporty’ in primary school lost interest in it as a teenager – and 68% of those said it was due to a fear of feeling judged. By focussing on the individual, this pressure to be the best and keep up with others on the team is removed.

In our new curriculum, every student has an FMS profile which is logged on a digital dashboard. Just as tutors in other subjects like maths, English or history might work with a pupil to identify areas where they need to improve, this works in a similar way. These areas could include strength, balance, mobility and even teaching students techniques for breathing more efficiently.

The bigger picture 

Beyond keeping fit, these self-defined lessons can have far-ranging benefits. Working on developing good posture and breathing can have a positive impact on confidence – that first job interview may become a lot easier after months of practising crocodile breathing patterns. Pupils who aren’t the best at scoring goals, for example, can also have an equal experience during FMS activities, boosting their morale which will soon be visible across other subjects too.

Myself and all other leaders at Loughborough Schools Foundation are continuously looking for ways to support our pupils’ wellbeing, while also giving them the skills they need to do well beyond their education, into their future professions  – the two go hand-in-hand.

Across the Foundation, we believe that developing a good student into a well-rounded adult starts from the very beginning. For example, after noticing significantly that more of our early years pupils were showing signs of anxiety after the pandemic, we introduced yoga and mindfulness sessions into our nursery. The aim was to nurture their wellbeing and independence, while also alleviating immediate pressure on the milestones expected of them, like learning to read and write. It is our hope that these early learnings will stand them in good stead for whatever future endeavours they may face in life.

For some students, nothing can beat the buzz of match-day energy, comradery with teammates and post-match debriefs – and there will always be clubs for that if they so choose that route. But what about those students who can’t keep up with their teammates? Putting pressure on them to do so as part of their everyday curriculum is unnecessary, and potentially harmful to their self-confidence. Why not use this time to do what’s best for the individual, and their future?

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