Amid the long-standing debate about the nature and purposes of physical education (PE) in schools, comparatively little research has examined the ways in which PE is viewed by young people themselves. This study set out, therefore, to explore young people's views on the nature and purposes of PE from a sociological perspective in the belief that a more adequate understanding of the process of PE requires us to appreciate something of the ways in which the subject is viewed and experienced in reality by pupils in schools. The study involved focus group interviews with 38 15–16-year-old white British young people (17 males; 21 females) from one secondary school in the north-west of England during February 2005. The main finding of the study was that young people held an amalgam of views regarding the nature and purposes of PE that centred, for the most part, upon perceptions of fun and enjoyment and the extent to which sociability is recurrently generated in lessons. In addition, young people also offered justifications based on the role of PE in health promotion and the development of game- and sport-related skills and knowledge of a kind more in tune with conventional justifications found in academic literature. It is argued that young people's views on the nature and purposes of PE are characterized by a number of well-understood, shared meanings that can only be adequately understood if we locate them within the networks of relationships characteristic of their lives more broadly. The paper concludes by arguing for the need to engage more in the realities of PE as practice, and to develop a more adequate understanding of what PE is for the young people involved, not least if government, policy-makers and teachers are to provide a more valuable and meaningful PE curriculum for them.