The 2016 A-Level PE Specifications

The subject criteria of A-level (and AS) Physical Education were released in July 2014  and they can be found here.

This is the content for the new specifications that we will begin teaching in September 2016. The exam boards have to follow this content in producing their specifications. There will be both AS and A-level examinations, but the AS will exist as a separate entity, and does not count towards the A-level. The way the criteria are structured makes it highly unlikely that centres can/will use AS as the first year of an A-level course. Whereas the current specification keep AS and A2 content almost entirely separate (there is some history overlap), in the new subject criteria, too many topics are initially studied at AS and then returned to in A-level. For example, anxiety, arousal, aggression and motivation at AS, but then self-efficacy, attributions and stress management at A-level

The subject criteria states that:

‘AS and A level specifications in physical education will require students to be assessed in one practical activity as either a player/performer or coach.’

So only one practical activity for both AS or A-level and no more officiating! Whether centres will deliver/teach this activity or allow students to choose and then teachers simply assess remains, as it does now, a centre decision. The criteria does not suggest/recommend what proportion of the subject is coursework. Currently AQA allocate 40% of the assessment to coursework. I can see this reducing to 30 or even 25% in the light of the need to make the subject acceptable for university entrance, especially for the Russell group universities.

The subject criteria requires students to:
• develop theoretical knowledge and understanding of the factors that underpin physical activity and sport and use this knowledge to improve performance
• understand how physiological and psychological states affect performance
• understand the key socio-cultural factors that influence people’s involvement in physical activity and sport
• understand the role of technology in physical activity and sport
• refine their ability to perform effectively in physical activity and sport by developing skills and techniques and selecting and using tactics, strategies and/or compositional ideas
• develop their ability to analyse and evaluate to improve performance
• understand the contribution which physical activity makes to health and fitness
• improve as effective and independent learners and as critical and reflective thinkers with curious and enquiring minds

The subject content is split into six areas. The stuff in bold type is for A-level only:

1. Applied anatomy and exercise physiology – split into the changes that occur in the following body systems before, during exercise of differing intensities and during recovery:
• musculo-skeletal systems
• cardio-respiratory systems
• neuromuscular systems
[energy systems]
And adaptations to body systems through changes in lifestyle and training and effects on efficiency of that system:
• diet and nutrition and their effect on physical activity and performance
• preparation and training methods in relation to maintaining and improving physical activity and performance
[injury prevention and the rehabilitation of injury]


2. Biomechanical movement
• biomechanical principles (Newton’s laws, force, centre of mass)
• levers (components, classes and mechanical advantage)
• analysis of movement in physical activities
[linear motion]
• [angular motion]
• [projectile motion]
• [fluid mechanics]


3. Skill Acquisition
• skills continuums and transfer of skills
• principles and theories of learning and performance
• how skill classification impacts on how practice is structured for learning
• use of guidance and feedback
[memory models]


4. Sport Psychology
• factors (personality, attitudes, arousal, anxiety, aggression, motivation and social facilitation) that can influence an individual in physical activities
• dynamics of a group/team and how they can influence the performance of an individual and/or team
• importance of goal setting
[attribution theory]
• [self-efficacy]
• [leadership]
• [confidence]
• [stress management]


5. Sport and society
• the factors leading to the emergence of modern sport through to the globalisation of sport in the 21st century
• the impact of sport on society and of society on sport
[the impact of ethics on sport and sporting ethics on society, including deviance in sport]
• [development routes from talent identification through to elite performance]
• [the impact of commercialisation on physical activity and sport]
• [the relationship between sport and the media]


6. The role of technology in physical activity and sport
• the use of technology to analyse physical activity and sport
[the development of equipment and facilities in physical activity and sport]
• [the role of technology in sport, for the performer and the audience]


The subject criteria also says that ‘Awarding organisations may increase depth, breadth or context within the specified topics.’

First thoughts, apart from the reduction in coursework (no second role or any officiating) is that not much has changed and I would expect AQA to maintain 90% of the detailed content!

From their perspective, the only new stuff I can see is:
• neuromuscular systems, where currently AQA does not require much detail of the neural side – synapses, transmission, action potentials, etc
• fluid mechanics – drag, Bernoulli effect, Magnus effect and spin – formerly, but not currently in AQA spec, and
• the use of technology to analyse physical activity and sport – now this could be a whole ‘can of worms’, because match analysis if continuously changing in terms of its complexity and validity – it will be interesting to see what AQA come up with here.

I also noticed that considerable early history (public schools, rational recreation and early state schools) has been excluded.

There is no breakdown of exam structure or types of question, again this is up to AQA, but the fewer the changes the better for most teachers; we can then use the old specification examination questions to test the students!

AQA has to juggle several balls at once to keep everybody happy. They must follow the subject criteria; they will want to increase their market share of A-level P.E. students by making the new specification interesting and marketable; they will want to make the new specification acceptable to universities; and they want to avoid putting teachers/centres off a new specification by making too many changes.

What do you want? More or less coursework; more or less difficult questions , which probably links with acceptability to higher education; many or few changes from the current specification – the more changes the greater your workload in the weeks leading up to September 2016!

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