Primary Physical Education Blog


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How do teachers learn to use TPSR to develop social and emotional skills in PE? By Shirley Gray et al.

How do teachers learn to use TPSR to develop social and emotional skills in PE? by Shirley Gray with support from Paul Wright, Stuart Robertson and Richard Sievwright

In previous blogs on this site, writers Prof. Paul Wright and Richard Sievwright have given accounts of their perspectives on teaching social and emotional skills in PE through their use of Hellison’s model, Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility. For more detail about these posts and TPSR see: Teaching Social Wellbing in PE  and Social and Emotional Learning in Physical Education: From Policy to Practice 

My interest in TPSR came from my early discussions with Prof. Paul Wright, an expert in TPSR and, at the time, a visiting scholar at the University of Edinburgh. In our discussions, we began to articulate the relationship between TPSR and the PE curriculum in Scotland. In Scotland, PE teachers are guided by a broad curriculum framework aims to develop not only physical competences, but social and emotional skills such as confidence, self-esteem, respect and leadership (Education Scotland, 2017).  Similarly, TPSR aims to encourage pupils take responsibility for and develop skills related to the ways they conduct themselves (effort, control, self-determination) and interact with others (respect, care, leadership).

It was around the time of these discussions with Paul that we met two PE teachers from secondary schools in Scotland (Stuart and Richard). Paul had delivered a TPSR CPD session which both teachers had attended and afterwards, they approached us to discuss the connections that they could make between TPSR and their own experiences, values and aspirations. The result of this conversation was they each embarked upon an action research project to learn about TPSR, projects that both Paul and I were keen to be involved in. We were interested to know how the teachers learned to use TSPR, what it looked like and how it was experienced by their pupils.

As they embarked upon their action research, Paul and I became their critical friends, and were given opportunities to observe their lessons, support their reflections, offer advice and help them to interpret and understand their findings. The methods that the teachers used to gather data for their research included structured and collaborative reflections, peer and researcher observations and pupil interviews. The data from their research were analysed by the teachers and then discussed at length with Shirley, Paul and with each other. Below is a summary of some of the themes that emerged from these discussions.

A different approach

The teachers had to think differently about how they planned and taught their lessons. They became more explicit before, during and after their lessons about the social and emotional skills that they aimed to teach. They praised positive behavior and created numerous opportunities for their pupils interact positively with others. Both teachers also began to understand and embrace what they described as ‘teachable’ moments. In other words, they began to see social and emotional behaviours (both positive and negative) as opportunities for pupil learning, rather than as moments to be ignored, or moments were pupils had to be punished.

 A more democratic and positive learning environment

Both teachers believed that one of the main benefits of using TPSR was that it encouraged them to talk to their pupils more. This then helped them to develop more positive and respectful relationships that involved listening and responding to their views.

Pupils’ understanding of TPSR

Many of the pupils in Richard’s class were aware of his learning intentions and he observed small changes in levels of self-control and respect for some pupils. The boys in Stuart’s class recognised that this was a different experience from their ‘usual’ PE lessons, one that aimed to improve their behaviour in PE and the wider school context. This had a positive impact on their behavior in PE, although they struggled to transfer this to other contexts in the school.

Challenges, doubts and discomfort

Both teachers explained the difficulties they had in moving away from an approach that they were comfortable with. For example, they highlighted the discomfort they felt initially when ‘let certain behaviors go’ to create teachable moments so that they could deal with behaviors in a more positive and democratic way.

Learning and change over time

Richard and Stuart discussed how they felt like the change process was much slower than they expected, and that they have become more aware and accepting of the fact there may be significant periods of difficulty and challenge to overcome before any noticeable change takes place.


Despite these challenges, both teachers were (and still are) very positive about TPSR, describing how it aligns well with their values and beliefs about the goals of PE. Their experiences using TRSR have been challenging but have enabled them to explore their own learning and teaching. As a result, they now have the knowledge and skills to create learning experiences in PE that have the potential to develop not only physical competencies, but also social and emotional skills. Furthermore, both teachers continue to apply and investigate their use of TPSR, creating time to reflect on their learning with their pupils and their colleagues.


Hellison, D. (2011). Teaching responsibility through physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.



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Teaching Social Wellbeing in PE: a self-study by Richard Sievwright

Richard Sievwright is a PE teacher in an urban state secondary school located in Central Scotland. He is also currently undertaking a MEd in Leadership and Learning at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh. In this blog, he describes how his engagement in a self-study project as part of his Masters degree has encouraged a shift in his philosophy about what PE is and for.

Teaching Social Wellbeing in PE: a self-study

My teaching philosophy has always been to promote lifelong participation in physical activity through positive experiences and enjoyment in PE. This thinking is not uncommon and has perhaps been influenced by pervading political messages about the economic importance of addressing health issues relating to inactivity as a result of increasing cardiovascular disease (Johns, 2005). However, I have recently come to recognise that this can be problematic from a pedagogical perspective:

“When PE teachers uncritically accept and reproduce this healthism discourse, it can result in  a very narrow form of PE, one that focusses on developing skills and practices that primarily aim to promote physical activity participation for the improvement of physical health.” (Gray et al. 2015, p165).

I have always taught towards promoting physical wellbeing and, through engaging in a self-study project as part of my Masters degree, have become more aware that my lessons regularly focus on physical learning intentions, usually involving the development of skills and techniques through the game. Prior to engaging in a Masters degree, I had a very simplistic view of PE believing that as long as my pupils were engaged in physical activity, then a broad range of educational outcomes could be achieved. I now find myself questioning this belief – is it good enough to assume that personal qualities (motivation, respect, tolerance, communication, leadership) will be developed as a result of the social nature of PE? I would describe my teaching of these personal qualities as reactive, unlike my teaching of physical skills in PE when I am very explicit and nurture pupils’ development in an environment appropriate to individual needs.

The Sport Education Model (SEM) is used to teach the broad general education phase in my school (age 12-14 years). Considering the roles that are assigned to pupils in SEM (coach, warm up leader, kit manager etc), the personal qualities that pupils bring to lessons are central to its success. Unfortunately, I often find myself reverting back to behaviourist pedagogical approaches to manage pupil behaviour, which often distracts from the aims of SEM. I recognise this is in contrast with how I teach physical skills and wondered how I could help pupils improve their personal qualities. It was this stage of my self-study that I was introduced to a different approach to developing the personal qualities of my pupils –Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (Hellison, 2003).

Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) is a pedagogical approach that was developed with the explicit intention of using the contexts of physical activity and sport to help students to become more personally and socially responsible. The purpose of TPSR is to empower pupils to take responsibility for their own development and consider the wellbeing of others. There are five Levels of Responsibility that help teachers deliver the model; (1) respect, (2) effort and cooperation, (3) self-direction, (4) leadership and (5) the transfer of learning to other areas of students’ lives (Hellison, 2003). TPSR makes the social learning intention explicit and gives clear expectations of the way pupils should conduct themselves.  It takes into account attitudes, beliefs and values that can be discussed, and has provided me and my pupils with a context to evaluate learning and set targets for the future.

“One prominent model that appears to be almost a natural partner to TPSR within physical education is that of Sport Education.” (Gordon, 2009, p.13).

My early experience of teaching TPSR alongside SEM have been positive and helpful in identifying clear social responsibility learning intentions in exactly the same as I would teach physical skills. SEM has been useful for engaging pupils in my lessons and making it fun with situational learning experiences. TPSR has enlightened me to be proactive with the promotion of prosocial behaviour, and has encouraged me to set clear expectations which allow conversations to unfold with pupils in relation to the five levels of responsibility.

My self-study has led me to re-evaluate my teaching philosophy, which is now: to promote lifelong participation in physical activity and develop transferable life skills in a supportive environment. As part of my self-study, I carried out some interviews with my pupils and I found that they perceive PE as inherently physical and, after using TPSR, they recognised the value of the life skills that were being developed. If all pupils understand these values and recognise that PE is not solely about competition and games, then this could have long standing positive implications for some schools.


Gordon, B. (2009) Merging teaching personal and social responsibility with sport education: A marriage made in heaven or hell? ACHPER Health, Lifestyles Journal, 6(3/4),13-16.

Gray, S., Macisaac, S., & Jess, M. (2015). Teaching ‘health’ in physical education in a ‘healthy’ way. Retos, 28, 165-172.


Hellison, D. (2003). Teaching responsibility through physical activity. 3rd Edition Campaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Johns, D. P.(2005). Recontextualizing and delivering the biomedical model as a physical education curriculum. Sport, Education and Society, 10(1), 69-84.


Scottish Government (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.



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Social and Emotional Learning in Physical Education: From Policy to Practice by Paul M. Wright

Prof. Paul M. Wright is the Lane/Zimmerman Endowed Professor at Northern Illinois University in the United States. He is currently on sabbatical to conduct research as a Visiting Scholar in the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh. This post describes the research he is conducting during his time in Scotland. This study, conducted in partnership with Dr. Shirley Gray of the Physical Education faculty at University of Edinburgh, has to do with the promotion of social and emotional learning in the context of practice. Scotland, like many other countries, includes such learning in the physical education curriculum, but how it is delivered by teachers and experienced by pupils is not well understood.

Expectations for physical education (PE) and its contribution to the overall curriculum are changing in many countries. For example, in the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, PE teachers are charged with promoting mental, social and emotional well-being (Scottish Government, 2004, 2009). While PE has traditionally included affective learning objectives, Scotland and other countries are making such expectations more explicit in educational policy and curricular mandates. Scotland, the US, New Zealand, Canada, and Singapore, to name a few, have integrated a range of social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies in their national PE curriculum/standards. SEL competencies relate to self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, social skills, and responsible decision making (see The promotion of SEL competencies through PE is a major focus of my scholarship (e.g. Wright & Burton, 2008; Wright & Craig, 2011; Wright & Li, 2009; Wright, Li, Ding & Pickering; 2010) and I am currently on a research sabbatical to study this phenomenon in the Scottish context with Dr. Shirley Gray at the University of Edinburgh.

Research and practical experience tell us that changes in educational policy are not always implemented as planned. I have studied this issue in the US as it applies to PE policy changes intended to combat childhood obesity. In that research, conducted with Dr. John Amis of the Business School at University of Edinburgh, we found the way policy is formulated and interpreted greatly determines how it is implemented in the context of practice (Amis, Wright, Dyson, Vardaman & Ferry, 2012). Previous investigations by Dr. Gray and her colleagues in Scotland indicate the mandate for PE teachers to promote SEL was formulated with minimal involvement by practitioners and is perceived as somewhat ambiguous (Gray, Mulholland & MacLean, 2012; Horrell, Sproule & Gray, 2011). Therefore, we are conducting school-based research that will help us understand (1) how educational administers and PE teachers interpret this mandate, (2) how PE teachers promote SEL in their current practice, and (3) how pupils experience SEL in PE.

Our research approach involves mixed methods and include multiple stakeholder perspectives. We are working with several schools in Edinburgh and East Lothian. Data sources will include interviews with educational administrators, head teachers, PE teachers and pupils about SEL in PE. We will also be doing systematic observation of teaching practice and giving out surveys to pupils. We hope our findings will enable us to describe current practice regarding SEL in Scottish PE and to make recommendations for professional development and program improvement relative to this aspect of learning. More broadly, we hope to generate insights and recommendations regarding the translation of educational policy changes into practice. An exciting feature of this project is that we will use parallel methodology in the US and New Zealand so we can conduct a cross-cultural analysis of our findings.

This topic is of great interest to me as my primary line of scholarship has to do with the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model (TPSR: Hellison, 2011). This model is strongly aligned with the SEL framework (Jacobs & Wright, 2014). I believe my practical experience designing, implementing and evaluating TPSR programs will be an asset in conducting the current study and interpreting our data. Another advantage is the opportunity I have to learn about the Scottish culture and context. I am eager to learn about best practices in Scottish PE by interacting with teachers, researchers and policy makers. I am also hoping to share my experiences and provide workshops or lectures on topics such as SEL and TPSR pedagogy.


For more information:

Dr. Wright will be giving a presentation on this project for the Scottish Physical Education Research Network. The presentation will be at Strathclyde University in Glasgow on September 21, 2016. More details will follow via this blog, twitter and email.


To learn more about Dr. Wright’s perspective on the importance of social and emotional learning, see the following recent article on Voices, the British Council’s online magazine



Amis, J., Wright, P.M., Dyson, B., Vardaman, J., & Ferry, H. (2012). Implementing Childhood Obesity Policy in a New Educational Environment: The Cases of Mississippi and Tennessee. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 1406-1413.

Gray, S., Mulholland, R. and MacLean, J. (2012). The ebb and flow of curriculum construction in physical education: A Scottish narrative. The Curriculum Journal. 23, 59-78.

Hellison, 2011. Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility through Physical Activity, 3rd edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Horrell, A., Sproule, J., & Gray, S. (2011). Health and wellbeing: a policy context for physical education in Scotland. Sport, Education and Society, 17, 163-180.

Jacobs, J.M. & Wright, P.M. (2014). Social and Emotional Learning Policies and Physical Education. Strategies, 27, 42-44.

Scottish Government. (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Scottish Government. (2009). Curriculum for excellence: Health and wellbeing: Experiences and outcomes. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Wright, P.M., & Burton, S. (2008). Examining the implementation and immediate outcomes of a personal-social responsibility model program for urban high school students. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 27, 138-154.

Wright, P.M., & Craig, M.W. (2011). Tool for Assessing Responsibility-Based Education (TARE): Instrument Development and Reliability Testing. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 15, 1-16.

Wright, P.M., & Li, W. (2009). Exploring the relevance of a youth development orientation in urban physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 14, 241-251.

Wright, P.M., Li, W., Ding, S. & Pickering, M. (2010). Integrating a Personal-Social Responsibility Program into a Lifetime Wellness Course for Urban High School Students: Assessing Implementation and Educational Outcomes. Sport, Education, and Society, 15, 277-298.


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Learning to use an Activist Approach to teaching adolescent girls in physical education by Cara Lamb and colleagues

This blog is written by Cara Lamb, a PhD student, and Prof David Kirk, both from Strathclyde University. They write about their Activist project with Glasgow City Council teachers: Carrie MacDonald, Aisling Loch, Vicki Smedley and Rachael Ewing-Day, who have all contributed their reflections on using this approach with their PE classes.

Learning to use an Activist Approach to teaching adolescent girls in physical education

Between September 2015 and June 2016, five teachers in four Glasgow schools participated in a pilot project to implement an Activist Approach to working with adolescent girls in physical education. Kim Oliver and David Kirk developed a pedagogical model for this approach in their book Girls, Gender and Physical Education: An Activist Approach (Routledge, 2015) based on 20 years of Oliver’s work with girls and their teachers in school physical education. Four of the teachers continued with this work during the 2016-17 academic year.

The purpose of the project was to find out if teachers could learn to use this distinctive pedagogy with its four signature features: it is student-centred; it requires a focus on pedagogies of embodiment; girls are engaged in inquiry-based education centred in action; and teachers are supported to listen to respond to girls over time. The overarching goal for an Activist Approach is that girls will learn to value the physically active life, with an emphasis on valuing. They do this through learning to identify and name, critique, negotiate and where possible overcome barriers to their participation in physical activity. This emphasis on valuing in itself requires a particular pedagogical approach in which teachers and pupils co-construct the school physical education experience.

What the teachers learned from this study

Each of the teachers were able to articulate how this approach impacted them professionally as a teacher as well as the pupils they taught. Below is a brief statement from the teachers:

Carrie, Holyrood Secondary

They (the girls) enjoyed the fact that I had listened to their issues, for example, they did like taking part in competitive games but did not like the boys to be watching. They didn’t mind getting changed for PE but required a bit more time at the end of the period to get changed. They didn’t like the teacher screaming at them to work harder when the genuinely felt they were working hard but would appreciate more praise from the teacher and their peers. They felt respected that I had taken these points on board and acted upon them.

Aisling, Notre Dame Secondary

Taking part in the girls in sport project afforded me the opportunity to reflect on my current practice and be more student focused in my teaching. It was challenging at the beginning to let go of my own preconceived ideas of what a PE lesson should look like and be more open to new ideas. Being part of the project has had a big impact on the way I approach my Physical Education lessons. It has been a positive experience for all of us and I have learned a lot about myself and my teaching along the way. Pupil voice is key to understanding what the girls want to achieve and in turn ensures they will have a lifelong commitment to physical activity.

Vicki, Rosshall Academy

Using an activist approach to increase girls’ participation in my S3 class proved to be very successful. The main reason for this was the negotiation that took place between the group of girls themselves as well as between the girls and me. We reached a point where we were able to negotiate every aspect of their lessons and activity blocks. Spending time gathering the views of the whole class and subsequently allowing them to have responsibility for the creation of a class code completely changed the class dynamic. Previously I had been the one making all the decisions about the activities they did and how the lessons were delivered so this shift towards a student centred approach was very much welcomed by the girls and they responded openly and positively to it.

Cara, Lourdes Secondary

As a teacher when I was learning to use this approach myself, I worked with a small group of girls who were deemed as ‘disengaged’ from physical education. For me, it was necessary for me to really listen to what they had to say about what motivated them to be more active in both PE lessons and their daily lives. I soon learned that being in a class with boys made them feel very uncomfortable; that having teachers force them to wear particular kit turned them off of participating; and that continuing to do the same activities year on year was boring and repetitive. For me, it was necessary to create an environment where the girls were able to overcome some of these barriers and begin to find some joy in movement. However, this did not happen overnight. It was a process that took time. It took time for me to get to know them, it took time for them to learn to work with each other and it took time for the girls to understand how they could be more physically active in their daily lives

Rachael, Inverclyde Academy

Working alongside other teachers on the pilot offered me some much needed professional support and a network to share ideas. At first, the learners were very sceptical of the approach and it  did take me longer than other teachers to break down some barriers and build relationships. Nonetheless, in the end there were more positive aspects in my class environment than before. Personally, I believe the use of this approach strengthened my pedagogy and relationships with my learners. I was able to see that they felt more empowered (as they were given a voice) and more motivated to try in lessons. It certainly helped me to understand the reasons behind the girls lack of engagement and this, in turn, altered the strategies I used to address this.

What the research team learned from this study

This study sought to explore the experiences of school-based teacher professional learning (TPL) for these five teachers. Since no two schools are exactly alike, there can be no ‘magic formula’ for TPL or, as Liebermann (1995) states, no one-size-fits-all approach. Our findings demonstrated that TPL of an Activist Approach was both contextualised and a multi-dimensional process. Teachers learned that a positive class environment was vital to the girls feeling safe to fully engage in physical education and to trust others not to judge them. Furthermore, the learning culture shaped and was shaped by teachers’ everyday experiences as they worked with their colleagues and pupils to implement an Activist Approach and this was not always a simple process. Engaging in this process allowed the teachers to learn more effectively with and from each other rather than from ‘experts’ external to the school, which is consistent with Armour and Yelling’s (2007) claims. The teachers often found themselves pushing against the status quo of traditional forms of physical education in relation to specific aspects of their day-to-day work. As they were learning to use an Activist Approach, they found themselves challenging common and widespread assumptions about practice.

We set out in this project to create a network of Activist teachers in Glasgow schools who participated voluntarily, made their own choices and were agents in constructing their own versions of our Activist pedagogical model in order that they had ownership of their practice (Day and Townsend, 2009). The teachers were willing to share their experiences with us and each other and to learn from them. But we doubt that we managed to create a community of practice where collaboration is central to TPL on a day-to-day basis. Given the nature of school-based TPL as contextualised and multi-dimensional, we have learned from this that we cannot underestimate the challenge that creating networked communities of practice presents. One focus of our future research in school-based TPL will be then to explore ways in which such communities might be formed and sustained over time.


Armour, KA and Yelling, M (2007) Effective Professional Development for Physical Education Teachers: The Role of Informal, Collaborative Learning, Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 26, 177-200.

Day, C. and Townsend, C. (2009) Practitioner action research: building and sustaining success through networked learning communities, pp. 178-189 in Susan E. Noffke & Bridget Somekh (eds.) Handbook of Educational Action Research, London: Sage

Leiberman, A (1995) Practices that support teacher development, Phi Delta Kappan 76.8 (Apr 1995): 591.

Oliver, KL and Kirk, D (2015) Girls, Gender and Physical Education: Towards an Activist Approach. London and New York: Routledge.

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Supporting pupils to appreciate their bodies by Dr. Sarah MacIsaac

Most of us have been there: we have been handed notes that tell us Lucy can’t swim for the 3rd week in a row; we have felt conflicted when slim pupils have asked us, the ‘body experts’, how they can get rid of their ‘muffin tops’ or ‘bingo wings’; we have had to intervene upon overhearing John being called a ‘fatty’ and we may have a Jack in our class who refuses to change his t-shirt after a lesson in case the other boys call him chubby. Yes, we are aware that issues relating to bodily appearances can impact pupils’ experiences of, and engagements with, PE and we want to try and make things better for our pupils. But how? We may feel up against it, especially in an age where our pupils are surrounded by images of bodily perfection. We know that many of our pupils are constantly browsing Instagram, seeing those ‘gym selfies’, serene yoga poses and strong bodies performing Olympic lifts. Many of our pupils just do not feel that their own bodies are good enough. We also know our pupils are conflicted. They see images and slogans telling them to love their bodies but they are still trying to negotiate a context where the social rewards are given to those who look ‘good’.  In amongst all this, we have to consider whether or not PE is just another space that makes things worse or whether PE can be a context for transformation and empowerment. Research tells us that there are pupils who feel physically sick with anxiety before coming to PE, especially before entering the PE changing rooms (Atkinson and Kehler, 2012). However, research also alludes to the potential that PE teachers have to transform pupils’ relationships with their bodies and with each other (Fitzpatrick and Russell, 2015). Some papers suggest that we should encourage our pupils to become more critical of the body messages and images that they are exposed to and help them to question why certain bodies are valued by deconstructing dominant meanings and stereotypes (Oliver and Lalik, 2004). These papers give us lots of ideas: group projects, discussion and debate, reflective diaries and so on. However, many of these interventions are classroom based and, in Scotland, the majority of our PE is practical in nature. This is where we have an opportunity to really make a difference. Although these ‘thought based’ interventions have potential to help pupils change their perceptions, there is also research showing that critical interventions may be much more effective if they are embodied, focussing on mind and body (Liimakka, 2011; Scott and Derry, 2005). For example, it may be through activities such as dance that we can help pupils to question and disrupt bodily norms and express themselves and tell stories in new ways. We also have great opportunity within PE to support pupils to ‘re-learn’ to appreciate their bodies for the sensory experiences and feelings that their bodies afford them and we can help pupils discover that their bodies can perform physical skills that they never thought possible. These pupils, who are often immersed in an environment where they feel the need to look strong and fit, can feel strong and fit. It may be that we need to prompt them more to realise this. For example, a pupil who finally manages to vault over a box will feel amazing flying through the air but when they land, we are the ones who can reinforce to them just how awesome their bodies really are. We can remind them of the strength and coordination that was required and of how each of their body parts allowed the movement to ‘flow’. Nevertheless, if we are to have the opportunity to do any of that we need to first foster a safe social environment for our pupils. That is, an environment where our pupils do not feel fear of judgement or ridicule if they mess up and of where pupils work cooperatively to support and encourage one another. We also must continue to work on developing fitness and practicing skills, our bread and butter, if our pupils are going to be able to have these bodily experiences. It all seems very idealistic and we cannot change things overnight but, in my opinion, PE is one of the very best places to start.

Further reading:

Atkinson, M. & Kehler, M. 2012. ‘Boys, bullying and biopedagogies in physical education.’ Journal of Boyhood Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, pp 166-185.

Fitzpatrick, K. & Russell, D. 2015. ‘On being critical in health and physical education.’ Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, vol. 20, no. 2, pp 159-173.

Liimakka, S. 2011. I am my body: objectification, empowering embodiment, and physical activity in women’s studies student’s accounts. Sociology of Sport Journal, vol. 28, no. 4, pp 441-460.

Oliver, K. L. & Lalik, R. 2004. ‘Critical inquiry on the body in girls’ physical education classes: a critical poststructural perspective. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, vol. 23, no. 2, pp 162-195

Scott, B. A. & Derry, J. A. 2005. ‘Women in their bodies: challenging objectification through experiential learning.’ Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 33 no. 1/2, pp 188-209.




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Dealing with the diverse needs of practitioners in complex social-ecological settings by Prof. Mustafa Levent Ince

Professor Mustafa Levent Ince is a Professor of Physical Education and Sport at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey and is one of the four keynote speakers at the AIESEP World Congress hosted by the University of Edinburgh in 25th-28th July 2018. In this blog, he gives us a brief insight into the complexity of learning in social-ecological settings.

Dealing with the diverse needs of practitioners in complex social-ecological settings

During my professional career, my practitioner research interests have revolved around one personal grand challenge: how can I better support the learning of my students?  Along this career journey, I have worked with three main groups of learners; a) students/athletes (middle-high school students, university students, youth athletes), b) physical education (PE) teachers/coaches (prospective PE  teachers, PE teachers, PE teacher educators, youth sports coaches), and c) postgraduate students/researchers. My study setting with those learners has been quite chaotic due to the influence of high social-economic, cultural, and physical variations. This has been further complicated by the presence of conflicting educational and sports policies in a developing country context.

As my knowledge of subject matter has expanded by studying research, doing research, and observing in the field, I recognized that effectively meeting the learning needs of those groups requires critical knowledge of both educational settings and how to make educational decisions in practice. More specifically, this involves: 1) identifying the learner subsets and their specific needs, 2) having a comprehensive view of  the educational setting by considering the impact of social, physical, and policy settings over the learner and their learning, 3) connecting PE stakeholders (in my case, above mentioned learner groups and local policy makers) with the same ideals/aims to support each other meaningfully, 4) creating, sustaining, and supporting institutional, local, and global professional learning communities, 5) being future-oriented in educational decisions, and 6) being data-driven in the practice.  In my keynote presentation at the AIESEP World Congress in Edinburgh 2018, I will explore each of these issues in-depth. In this blog, I will briefly summarise my position on two of them: identifying the needs of learners and viewing the educational setting from a social-ecological perspective.

Identifying learner subsets and their needs

Learner subsets are usually categorized in the literature by gender, age, prior knowledge and skill levels, learning styles, and motivation. However, unique learners may have other specific subset characteristics that are not well defined, and we may need to analyze them in depth to understand better their needs 1, 2, 3, 4. Recently, we identified that learner subsets are very susceptible to local social-ecological changes (e.g., learners’ expectations, health and digital literacy, and social changes by immigration, economic crisis, and technological advances). Each subset also has variations that require an inclusive strategy to meet learners’ needs. Practitioners may develop a better understanding of their own learners by examining the learner characteristics that have been identified in this literature. This may also support them as they make decisions about how to adapt their instructional practices and monitor the impact of those practices.

Having a comprehensive view of educational setting by using social-ecological model

The social-ecological model provides a holistic view of the educational setting. Mapping learner characteristics solely in the educational setting to make instructional decisions is a reductionist approach, and may result in limited outcomes for learners. Our studies indicated that community mapping by using the social, physical, and educational policy setting, as well as the learner characteristics are efficient to improve the learners’ learning.5 Teachers and their learners, therefore, may benefit from taking account of all the layers of the social-ecological framework.

At the AIESEP World Congress, 2018 in Edinburgh, I will present a more in-depth analysis of all six issues identified at the beginning of this blog. I hope to see you there.References

  1. Muftuler M & Ince ML (2015) Use of trans-contextual model-based physical activity course in developing leisure-time physical activity behavior of university students. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 121, p.31-55.
  2. Kilic K & Ince ML (2015) Use of sports science knowledge by Turkish coaches. International Journal of Exercise Science, 8, p.21-37.
  3. Ince ML & Hunuk D (2013) Experienced physical education teachers’ health-related fitness knowledge level and knowledge internalization processes. Education and Science, 38, p.304-317.
  4. Semiz K & Ince ML (2012) Pre-service physical education teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge, technology integration self-efficacy and instructional technology outcome expectations. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28, p.1248-1265.
  5. Cengiz C & Ince ML (2014) Impact of social-ecologic intervention on physical activity knowledge and behaviors of rural students. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 11, p.1565-1572.


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‘Physical Education – What’s in a name?’ by Dr. Malcolm Thorburn

The rather lengthy two-volume, Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training in Scotland, ‘enquired into the requirements for physical training as a branch of national education’ (HMSO, 1903, p. 8). And, following numerous UK-wide school visits and 127 witness statements, the Commission decided over the course of 28 meetings that ‘improvement in regard to physical training will be brought about chiefly by a more intelligent conception of the proper aim of education, by recognition of the fact that the education cannot be based on sound principles which neglects the training and development of the bodily powers, and by judging results as they are shown over the whole of school life …’ (HMSO, 1903, p. 36). And so a subject was born. All that remained was to finalise the name. And in due course, just as the Carnegie Dunfermline College of Hygiene and Physical Training morphed into the Dunfermline College of Hygiene and Physical Education in 1914, so it was that in schools, ‘Physical Education’ became the settled subject name. And over the last century or so, nearly all young people in Scotland have experienced Physical Education, and some have moved onto study it and spend entire careers teaching it.

The concern now is that Physical Education has for many decades moved on from focusing on training and hygiene and warning of the catastrophic events which will be-set one’s life if exercise is not taken. As the great American philosopher John Dewey long ago noted, ‘A truly healthy life would indeed ‘prevent’ many troubles but it would occur to no one that its value lay in what it prevented. … Being better signifies something radically different to having less of a trouble. … Only education and re-education in normal conditions of growth accommodates anything positive and enduring’ (Dewey, 1923/1983, p. 44). These strengths-based health and wellbeing intentions are reflected in the holistic view of integrated physical mental, social and emotional wellbeing set out under Curriculum for Excellence. And, it is this development (as well as the various names used for new faculty management arrangements) which casts some doubt over the adequacy of the name ‘Physical Education’. For it might be that the name ‘Physical Education’ rather underappreciates the value of the integrated learning and teaching taking place in schools nowadays. Language is part of the problem in all of this, for as John Dewey again noted, there is ‘no word by which to name mind-body in a unified wholeness of operation’ (Dewey, 1928, p. 6). Consequently, when discussing body/mind relations ‘we still speak of body and mind and thus unconsciously perpetuate the very division we are striving to deny’ (Dewey, 1928, p. 6). Other languages have less of a problem, for example, in German it is possible linguistically to describe the lived body (Leib) separately from the physical body (Korper). So what to do? Is it really possible that ‘Physical Education’ could be renamed ‘Body/Mind Education? Maybe not, however, the distinctiveness of holistically-informed body/mind thinking and what it might mean for appreciating better the specific contribution of ‘Physical Education’ in the years ahead is a point worth communicating (and celebrating) at every opportunity.


Dewey, J. (1923/1983). Journals articles, essays and miscellany published in the period 1923-1924. In: J.A. Boydston (Ed.) John Dewey: The Middle Works (1899-1924) Volume 15, (Carbondale, Southern Illinois Press), 42-46.

Dewey, J. (1928). Anniversary Discourse: Body and Mind, Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine: 4 (1) 3-19.

Royal Commission on Physical Training in Scotland. (1903) Volume I: Report and Appendix. Volume II: Minutes of Evidence and Index. HMSO: Edinburgh.


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You get what you teach, and quality counts…

Dr. Drew Miller is a Lecturer in Physical Education at the University of Newcastle in Australia. In October, he came to visit us at the University of Edinburgh to share some of his ideas around teaching PE in the primary school context, and to initiate a collaborative project with staff here at Edinburgh. This blog describes his research with primary class teachers in Australia, and how they developed their games teaching through engaging in a programme for teacher learning that focuses on ‘quality’ teaching. We hope that you find this blog interesting and stimulating. Please share any comments you have about this post and get in touch if you would like more information about the programme.

You get what you teach, and quality counts…

Over the last decade the purpose of practical physical education (PE) in primary schools has shifted towards a focus on health. This focus comes from a progressive decrease in physical activity (PA) and an increase in sedentary time among children. From a health perspective PE is an opportunity to develop the fundamental movement skills (FMS) linked to higher PA levels, and to increase the weekly PA of children. Whilst these are very valuable outcomes within PE classes, we may be missing the forest for the trees, with children missing out on the skills that contribute to involvement in play. By skills, I am not just referring to the ability to throw, catch or kick (physical skills), but also the skills of how to play the game (game skills), and the social skills that encourage participation (socio-cultural skills).


If we accept that PE should be more than a focus on health, then physical, game and socio-cultural skills should all be valued within PE. The question then comes up, how do we make this happen?

We recently ran several studies called Professional Learning for Understanding Games Education (PLUNGE), in which we helped generalist primary school teachers to teach whilst valuing physical, game and socio-cultural outcomes through the teaching of games. We gave information, then worked with them in their classes, with the focus to improve the student outcomes through the promotion of high quality teaching. These programs involved:

A positive classroom environment:

We spoke to students to redefine what PE was about. In our classes, a quality activity was one where:

  • Everyone was valued and involved, regardless of skill level or gender
  • Students are supported if they make a mistake


The games we used:

  • promoted throwing / catching or kicking / receiving
  • never excluded players
  • started as simple games (throwing at moving targets) and got more (3 attackers vs 1 defender) complex through the program
  • (mostly) involved decision making (one or more defenders) and team-work

PE content knowledge:

We worked with the teachers to recognise learning opportunities within the activities, based around:

  • physical skills – mature version of a movement (e.g. rotating when throwing long)
  • game skills – support (e.g. can they be passed to), and decision making (e.g. looking for open players)
  • socio-cultural skills – participating fairly and supporting each other (e.g. giving encouragement rather than groaning at mistakes)

Pedagogical knowledge:

We worked with teachers on the way the games were undertaken, promoting that:

  • games start as quickly as possible and are modified to provide a fair and flowing activity
  • after evaluation (above) games were stopped to promote learning about the identified opportunity by:
    • questioning students (e.g. why did the game stop? How could we change this?)
    • recognition of quality performance in relation to an outcome (e.g. everyone was helping the ball carrier, behaviour was in line with our definition of quality PE)

This program had a broad focus on the outcomes that could be developed within games-based PE classes, and the use of quality teaching to achieve these outcomes. The program resulted in lessons considered to be higher in quality, and as a result, students significantly improved their FMS (throw, catch & kick), significantly improved their game play skills (support & decision making), and students undertook significantly greater PA during classes. The message here is that a focus on the quality of teaching and a valuing of multiple outcomes that contribute to a child’s involvement in PE also achieved the outcomes considered important from a health perspective. The teachers told us of changes within their students as a result of the focus on a positive environment within PE. Teachers also spoke of far greater involvement from many students, and that these children were also getting involved in activities during break-times at school. Children learnt physical skills, skills to play games, and developed the socio-cultural skills we would like to think bring people into games and sports, and this transferred into participation. In these classes, quality mattered, and non generalist primary teachers were able to produce quality lessons that bought about tremendous positive change.

Dr. Drew Miller, University of Newcastle, Australia


Useful Reference:

Miller, A., Christensen, Eather, N., Gray, S., Sproule, J., Keay., J. and Lubans, D. (2015). Can physical education and physical activity outcomes be developed simultaneously using a game-centered approach? European Physical Education Review, doi: 10.1177/1356336X15594548

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PE Research Digest: engaging teachers with research in physical education

Introduction and Welcome cropped-leonards-3.jpg

Hello and welcome to our research digest: engaging teachers with research in physical education (PE). You can see what it is we are trying to do from our title. We hope that over the next twelve months, our brief (but hopefully informative) monthly posts will introduce you to us and our research, and encourage you to think about how this research might impact on your knowledge and practice in PE.

Over the past year, I have had a number of discussions with many PE teachers and PE students from around Scotland, all telling me that they have an interest in research and a desire to engage in research. However, they also told me that they simply don’t have the resources or the time to devote to this, especially the time to read research articles. We hope that the short excerpts that we will post for around the next 12 months (sometimes in a video format) will support those of you who have this interest in engaging with research. We aim to inform you about the types of research that we do here at the University of Edinburgh, and of the research that is taking place in the field of physical education around the world. We also hope that this ‘blog-type’ format will enable and encourage you to engage with us and with our research. We would like you to read our posts with a critical eye and let us know how you feel about our research. Does it confuse or inspire? Will it make you think or act differently? Do you want to know more? Whateveryour question, dilemma or comment is, please let us know.

Over the months to come, you will see that our research themes are relatively broad and varied – but ultimately, we all have similar aims: to understand more about our subject so that we develop a knowledge base that promotes high quality teaching, learning and positive student experience. It seems appropriate that I begin by telling you a little bit about one of my research projects. As I have already mentioned, please read on with a critical eye so that we, or you, can begin to engage in discussions about what this means for you.

Pupils’ perceptions of and experiences, in team invasion games: A case study of a Scottish secondary school and its three feeder primary schools (Gray, Sproule and Wang, 2008)

Background to my research

The research project that I am about to describe was a small and introductory part of my PhD thesis, stemming from my personal interest in teaching and learning team invasion games. As a ‘younger’ adult I was a very keen, but not a very good rugby and hockey player. I could perform all the ‘taught’ skills during practice, but my decision-making abilities were always very poor. I just never knew what to do with the ball when I had it. As a PE teacher, a hockey coach and then a teaching fellow, I could see that many of the students that I worked with had similar problems. They didn’t know what to do when they had the ball and often lost it under pressure. Many of them did not cope well with this and ultimately came to dislike team invasion games and PE. I then began to get quite anxious when about 10 years ago, there was a convincing rhetoric from PE policy makers that team games were no longer relevant for students in schools, and that they should be replaced with more ‘life-time’ activities such as yoga and skateboarding. This was a concern because, for me, physical education has always been about student learning and it is my belief that team games – when taught well –  provide a rich, challenging and rewarding context for student learning, perhaps more so than ‘life-time’ activities. However, more worryingly, I could find no concrete evidence that this is what young people in schools in Scotland actually thought about team invasion games PE. Consequently, I decided to find out for myself.

What sort of research did I do?                      

I was clearly interested in asking students if they valued and enjoyed team invasion games in their PE curriculum, but after reading some of the literature in these areas, it also became apparent that one of the key factors in terms of motivating students in PE was their perception of competence in games. I selected a sample of students from a local secondary school (all the S2 and S4 students) and all of the P7 students from its three feeder primary schools to ask them to what extent they valued and enjoyed the team games in their PE curriculum. However, based on what I had learned from my reading, I also aimed to find out how competent they felt in team games and what experiences they had in PE that contributed to their perceptions. To do this, I used a mixed method design that involved collecting both quantitative and qualitative data relating to the themes of value, enjoyment and perception of competence. I surveyed a relatively large number of students (n=285) to get a general impression of their views and to see if there were any relationships between the various themes that I ‘measured’. However, from this larger group, I also selected a smaller sample of students (6 from each year group) that I could talk to face-to-face to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that affected their feelings about team invasion games within their PE curriculum.

What did I find?

As you might have expected, the primary school students valued team invasion games more than the secondary school students and the male students from all age groups valued team invasion games more than the female students. However, the questionnaire data also indicated that for all of the year groups in this study, there was a relationship between the value they placed on team games, their enjoyment of team games and their perception of competence in team games. In other words, regardless of the students’ age or gender, those students who felt that they were competent games players, enjoyed games more and valued games more. Those who felt less competent, enjoyed games less and valued games less. These findings were elaborated further by the qualitative data. Students talked about enjoyment in team games in relation to being involved, being challenged at an appropriate level and experiencing success. By contrast, they talked about negative experiences caused by negative evaluations by others and playing with or against more able students. In general, they did not enjoy being in situations where they were not experiencing any success. Interestingly and importantly, none of the students who were interviewed said that they did not value team games. They all recognised the important opportunities they offered for being part of a team and learning skills that would support their continued participation in PE, sport and physical activity.


So what? What do you think?

I’m really interested to know what you think about these findings, however, here are just a couple of the conclusions that I have come to. Firstly, they make me think very carefully about how I read policy. I am now forced to ask a number of questions when I am presented with a policy document. What evidence is policy based on? How involved have students and teachers been in the development of policy? What are the implications of rolling out policy based on a top-down model of policy development?

My second conclusion is more about what this means to you as a PE teacher and how you deal with disengaged students. I can’t help feel that often, when something is too difficult, we choose an easy option. As a PE teacher said to me not too long ago:

Team games are too difficult, especially for girls, so let’s just give them something that they can do. As long as they are moving then that’s enough?


Team invasion games are difficult and you can put in a lot of effort for not very much return. They are prime sites for experiencing negative feelings, including feelings of incompetence, especially when taught in a way that glorifies skill development, scoring and winning at all costs. I can see why in contexts like this, students can become disengaged from games and PE. Herein lies the challenge for PE teachers. How should team invasion games be taught so that all students can be successful? In my article, I make the suggestion that PE teachers should consider alternative approaches such as Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU) for the development of positive learning experiences in PE. I don’t wish to be prescriptive about how PE should be taught and I know that many teachers have adopted this approach already. However, I do think that there are some principles associated with TGfU that are worthy of further exploration. For example: the development of off-the-ball skill and decision-making, offering a meaningful and contextual rationale for each task, promoting a broader concept of ability (teaching/evaluating/praising social, cognitive and emotional skills), accepting mistakes as part of learning (developing patience and resilience), collaborative problem solving and so on. Not only would this exploration provide a more in-depth understanding of the pedagogical factors that contribute to student learning in games, but also the affective outcomes associated with positive and successful learning in games – something that is critical in a context where the promotion of student health and wellbeing is so important.

Shirley Gray, Lecturer in Physical Education, University of Edinburgh

Useful references:

Gray, S., Sproule, J. and Wang, C.K.J. (2008) Pupils’ perceptions of and experiences, in team invasion games: A case study of a Scottish secondary school and its three feeder primary schools European Journal of Physical Education, 4 (2), 179-201.

Gray, S., Sproule, J. and Morgan, K. (2009) Teaching team invasion games and motivational climate. European Journal of Physical Education, 15(1), 64-89.

Gray, S. and Sproule, J (2011) Developing pupils’ performance in team invasion games. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 16 (1), 15-32.


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