The nature and practice of primary physical education: A study of the perceptions of subject leaders
AbstractMuch of the existing research on primary physical education (PE) has focused on the supposed importance and potential of the subject at this age range, rather than on its actual nature and practice. It is repeatedly claimed within the literature that the development of movement skills during early learning experiences is significant as it lays the foundation for continuing participation in health enhancing physical activity. While much of the existing research has focused on the supposed importance of primary PE, further study in this area expresses concerns about the deficiencies in the preparation of primary generalists to teach the subject; over the quality of learning and teaching within the subject; and over a perceived lack of investment (in the long term) in the primary age phase. In the light of the comparatively limited research relating to primary PE, the reported issues which surround the provision of the subject and the current emphasis on its promotion through the PE and Sport Premium, the study aimed to examine change alongside continuity in what has been identified, rhetorically at least, as an important area of PE. Drawing upon data gathered from one-to-one interviews with 36 subject leaders (SLs), this study sought to describe and explain the nature and practice of primary PE and develop a more adequate understanding of what is actually happening in the name of the subject. The analysis of primary PE was undertaken through the use of a case study of one School Sport Partnership (SSP) in the north-west of England, with the theoretical framework for this study being formed by the figurational sociological perspective. The findings revealed that the most common model for the delivery of PE involved responsibility being shared between the generalist class teacher and either a sports coach or specialist PE teacher. The SLs recognised strengths and weaknesses in all of the three main approaches used. However, while they favoured the use of specialist teachers because of their subject knowledge and expertise, the more prosaic constraints of cost and flexibility meant that the use of coaches had become increasingly popular. Whether or not, the growth of coaches is de-professionalizing the delivery of PE, it certainly appears to be exacerbating any existing tendency to turn primary PE into a pale imitation of the sport-biased curricular of secondary schools. Ironically, the apparent ‘threat’ to the status of PE in the primary curriculum (as well as the status of PE specialists) posed by the growth of coaches in curricular PE in primary schools may well be exaggerated by the primary PE and Sport Premium which appears to have added momentum to a change of direction regarding staffing the subject – towards sports coaches and away from generalist classroom teachers and PE specialists. The data also showed that while the pedagogical approaches adopted in primary PE lessons did include some inclusive and developmentally appropriate methods, the overriding focus was on didactic teaching approaches being used to achieve narrow skills based outcomes. The historical dominance of games, the inclusion of primary teachers in lengthening chains of interdependence with sporting groups and individuals, and the conflation of sport with PE were all thought to have influenced the adoption of a teaching model that is unduly influenced by sport. It was also clear from SLs responses, that the prevalence of teaching methods that bind didactic and skill based pedagogy are unlikely to be challenged by the greater inclusion of sports coaches within primary PE. Finally, the contents of primary PE lessons were shown, by the data, to be dominated by sport and traditional team games; and to be organised around the timings of the major inter-school competitions and tournaments. Overall it was argued that the portents of a future with sports coaches as the main deliverers of primary ‘sport’ lessons are there for all to see, and that this apparent change is best understood by locating the subject leaders of PE in the networks of interdependent relationships that they have with others.
CitationJones, L. I. (2015). The nature and practice of primary physical education: A study of the perceptions of subject leaders (Doctoral dissertation). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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