Primary Physical Education Blog


Click here to read blogs by Mike Jess on Primary Physical Education.

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“PE won’t give me abs”: Understanding Factors Influencing Girls in Physical Activity and Physical Education by Iona Holmes

Iona was a BEd PE student at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in July 2017. This blog is a summary of her year 4 Investigation that explored the experiences of physically active girls in PE, and in their after-school physical activity contexts.


Girls’ low levels of engagement in both Physical Education (PE) and physical activity (PA) has been a particular concern for society and teachers over the years (Pate et al, 2007; Whitehead & Biddle, 2008). Sociological research in this area has been dominated by Foucauldian inspired studies that explore girls’ how girls (re)produce dominant gender discourse (Paetcher, 2013), where a slim, attractive and feminine ‘look’ claims superiority (Barr-Anderson et al., 2008). However, feminist research has acknowledged the impact of modernism on a shift in discourse and production of new femininities in the PA context. Here, women strive to be healthy, fit and powerful and excel in conventionally male contexts (Azzarito, 2010). This is important because, while young women’s involvement in PA is increasing, the literature continues to report that young females remain disinterested in PE (Brooks & Magnusson, 2007; Flintoff & Scraton, 2001). Understanding the factors that motivate girls to participate in PA, may be useful in the development of PE contexts that aim to be more positive and engaging for female students. Consequently, this investigation aimed to explore the factors that influence physically active adolescent females’ motivations and experiences of both PA and PE.


Welks’ (1999) Youth Physical Activity Promotion model was adopted as a social ecological approach to provide understanding of young people’s PA behaviour in relation to individual, social and environmental factors. Three focus group interviews were carried out with physically active girls (n=10) from one state secondary school in Scotland.



The girls in this study were reflective of modern femininities, empowered by PA, yet also influenced by fitness and health discourses. These girls did not express feelings of restriction in their PA, although their motivations for PA were unequivocally to get fit, lose weight and get in shape. These societal pressures were linked to desires to display competence in this new era that expects girls to be athletic yet remain desirable. An interesting finding was the value the girls ascribed to PE. The subject was largely discredited due to its’ inability to produce sufficient exercise or induce bodily changes. Several girls outlined the need to ‘sweat’ and work hard in order for exercise to be ‘worth it’ otherwise risk feeling guilty.

Social and Environmental

Recreational PA was facilitated by friendships and relaxed settings, for example- the gym. Spaces such as the gym offered the girls anonymity where they could exercise without the pressures of judged by people they knew. By contrast, their PE classes were subsumed by peer culture, social capital and expectations to publicly demonstrate competence. These active girls did not entirely dismiss PE but explained how they reduced the amount of effort they put into it because of the social nature of the subject, and because of its position in the timetable. Getting ‘sweaty’ during exercise was considered essential but not plausible in a school environment where the pressures of looking good for the rest of the day were more important.

Social Media

As social ecological models are often used in these types of studies, the aim of this investigation was to explore any contemporary social or cultural influences that may impact adolescent girls. Social media was immediately highlighted in the girls’ dialogues. It served as a source of inspiration for girls who would look at pictures and videos of fitness models and attempt to replicate their workouts. However, equally, girls used it as a platform to showcase their fitness efforts and monitor others with one participant claiming, “If you didn’t take a picture of it, did it really happen?”


Although the sample size of this study was small, it highlights some of the factors that positively impact adolescent girls’ participation in PA, and the factors that constraints their participation in PE. Teachers who are able to recognise the modern discourses surrounding girls’ engagement in PA and PE, will have a better understanding of the ways in which they can act on students’ experience, and foster more positive and engaging learning environments for girls.



  • Azzarito, L., (2010). ‘Future Girls, transcendent femininities and new pedagogies: towards girls’ hybird bodies?’, Sport, Education and Society.15 (3) 261-275.
  • Barr-Anderson, D, J., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Lytle, L.,Schmitz, K, H., Ward, S, D., Conway, T, L., Pratt, C., Bagget, C, D., Pate, R,R., (2008). ‘But I Like PE’, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 79 (1), 18-27.
  • Brooks, F., and J. Magnusson. (2006). ‘Taking Part Counts: Adolescents’ Experiences of the Transition from Inactivity to Active Participation in School-Based Physical Education.’ Health Education Research 21 (6): 872 –88
  • Flintoff, A., and Scraton, S., (2001), ‘Stepping into Active Leisure? Young Women’s Perceptions of Active Lifestyles and their Experiences of School Physical Education’, Sport, Education and Society. 6 (1), 5-21.
  • Paetcher, C. (2013). ‘Girls and their bodies: approaching a more emancipatory physical education’,Pedagogy, Culture & Society. 21 (2), 261-277.
  • Pate, R, R., Dowda, M., O’Neill J,R., Ward, D, S., (2007) ‘Change in physical activity participation among adolescent girls from 8th to 12th grade’. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 4, 3–16.
  • Welk, G, J., (1999). ‘The Youth Physical Activity Promotion Model: A Conceptual Bridge Between Theory and Practice’, Quest, 51:1, 5-23.
  • Whitehead, S. and Biddle, S. (2008). Adolescent girls’ perceptions of physical activity: A focus group study. European Physical Education Review 14(2), 243-62.


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Developing Social Wellbeing within Physical Education by Katheryn Walker

Katheryn is a year 4 BEd PE student at the University of Edinburgh. In this blog, she provides a brief account of her final year Investigation that explored the way teachers understand, and attempt to develop, social wellbeing in PE.

Developing Social Wellbeing within Physical Education

Researchers within education have become increasingly interested in studying children’s health and wellbeing, especially in the context of attainment (Bradshaw et al., 2007). Although many agree that the term health and wellbeing incorporates interrelated dimensions of physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing,  researchers have paid relatively little attention to studying the dimension of social wellbeing (Muller, 2012).

Arguably, the development of social wellbeing could be an educational goal in itself. This is particularly the case in PE, where ‘effectiveness’ is often associated with social interaction and collaboration between learners, their peers and teachers (Bailey et al., 2009). However, studying social wellbeing in the context of education has been complicated by the debate about how it is defined, given the wide range of contextually-based concepts, skills and attitudes it encompasses. Within the Scottish context of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) (Scottish Government, 2009), social wellbeing is defined as “being and feeling secure in relationships with family, friends and community, having a sense of belonging and recognising and understanding our contribution in society” (p.19) .

This description reflects the three dimensions proposed  by Keyes (1998), namely: of social integration, social contribution and social acceptance

The issue of what constitutes social wellbeing gives rise to questions of how it can be developed and formed the basis of a study exploring the perceptions of PE teachers, within a Scottish secondary school, in relation to the efficacy of a models-based approach to promote pupils’ social wellbeing. The results of this qualitative study indicated that the teachers defined social wellbeing in terms of skills, attitudes and qualities such as leadership, confidence, communication, self-regulation, problem-solving and the ability to work cooperatively within a group. These skills are described as “personal qualities” within the Scottish CfE Benchmarks document (Education Scotland, 2016, p.19), a key resource which some of the teachers identified as ‘driving’ the development of social wellbeing. Creating an ethos of social integration, inclusion and peer acceptance within PE classes was recognised by the teachers as being a key role in the development of social wellbeing within and beyond school.

The teachers within the study all emphasised the shift in their pedagogy towards more learner-centred approaches. Integrating core learning with different pedagogical models such as Sport Education (Siedentop et al., 2004) and strategies from Cooperative Learning (Casey, 2016) was viewed as being a highly effective way to promote the skills which contribute to social wellbeing. The underlying principles of individual accountability, responsibility and team work, which are shared by both models, was attributed to the promotion of interpersonal skills such as leadership, communication and cooperation.

Although CfE policy documents recommend using a “variety of approaches” to promote effective teaching and learning (Scottish Government, 2009, p.6), the teachers in the study highlighted a number of practical constraints which influence the approaches they use.

Factors included limited availability of resources and the amount of time required for curriculum planning and differentiation. This was viewed as being particularly relevant for PE within the context of CfE, as pupils are given an increasingly wider choice of physical activities experienced across varied learning contexts which can have implications for teachers’ own professional development needs. The teachers emphasised the need for more opportunities for professional development, dialogue and observations of colleagues using different models to promote social wellbeing through interdisciplinary learning. Access to research which supports teachers to implement changes to their pedagogy was also highlighted.

Although the scale of study was small, the data nevertheless can be used to inform those responsible for the development of Initial Teacher Education, and perhaps points to an area for further research to understand the perceptions of pupils in relation to their social experience of models-based learning within the PE setting.


Bailey, R., Armour, K., Kirk, D., Jess, M., Pickup, L. and Sandford, R. (2009) The educational benefits claimed for physical education and school sport: An academic review, Research Papers in Education, 24(1) 1-27.

Bradshaw, J., Hoelscher, P. and Richardson, D. (2007) An index of child wellbeing in the European Union, Social Indicators Research, 80(1) 133-177.

Casey, A. (2016) Models-Based Practice. In: Routledge Handbook of Physical Education Pedagogies. London: Routledge.

Education Scotland (2016) Benchmarks Physical Education. Retrieved January, 2017 from:

Keyes, C.L.M. (1998) Social Wellbeing, Social Psychology Quarterly, 61(2) 121-140.

Muller, M.L. (2012) Social Wellbeing: Investigating the relation of social aspects to optimal functioning in society. Retrieved January, 2017 from:

Scottish Government (2009) Curriculum for excellence: health and wellbeing: experiences and outcomes, Glasgow Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Siedentop, D., Hastie, P.A. and van der Mars, H. (2004) Complete guide to sport education. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics.


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Re-engaging disengaged pupils in physical education: success stories from the field by Shirley Gray

In a recent post about primary PE, Dr. Mike Jess made a plea for PE practitioners to share more of their success stories. While this blog is not specifically about primary PE, it is my attempt to ‘Accentuate the Positive’.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to spend much of my career working with PE teachers and PE students in schools in Scotland. Part of my role is to understand what it is that they do, why they do it, and how their practice impacts on the experiences of their pupils. Through my research, and the research of my colleagues (see PERF), I have learned that many teachers have positive stories to tell, inspired by their endeavors to ensure that all of their pupils have successful and meaningful learning experiences in PE. To give an example of this from my own research, along with my colleague Dr. Jenn Treacy, we recently worked with PE teachers from three local secondary schools to understand the ways in which they attempted to motivate and re-engage those pupils who had become disengaged from PE. We also aimed to explore the impact that their engagement in the project had on their professional learning.

What did we do?

Over a period of around 6 months, we invited PE teachers from 3 secondary schools to explore and share their ideas about how they had successfully re-engaged pupils who had been previously disengaged from PE. We also asked their ‘previously disengaged’ pupils to share their positive experiences in a series of focus group interviews. The teachers from all three schools were then invited to work together to share their findings, discuss the pupils’ perspectives and to create new ideas that would build on their success stories.

What did we find?

We found that the teachers were already engaging in pedagogies that focused on the needs of their learners. They were adopting learner-centered and problem-solving pedagogies, facilitating learner-designed programmes and offering contemporary activities such as ‘capture the flag’ and trampolining. There was also a distinct emphasis on differentiated learning to ensure the successful learning for all of their pupils. However, what was really interesting, were the reasons why the teachers applied these strategies. For example, the teachers explained that they planned pupil-centred teaching approaches, or pupil-designed programmes, to encourage the pupils to take responsibility for both what they learned and how they learned. They emphasized the importance of ensuring that all pupils had opportunities to be successful – a socially relevant form of success that mattered to them. Key to this was that the teachers listened to their pupils and involved them in the decision-making processes. In fact, time and space for discussions with pupils were embedded into many of the programmes in each school. In order for this to work, both the teachers and the pupils emphasized and recognized the efforts that were made to develop positive relationships. Trust was an extremely important factor, and the teachers frequently discussed how they attempted to build trust by, for example, talking to, listening to and responding to their pupils’ views, feelings and ideas. Importantly, this was also evidenced by the pupil discussions about their positive experiences in PE, where they clearly recognised their teachers attempts to engage with, listen to and respond to them.




Learning from the research process

The teachers involved in this study were already making attempts to understand, evaluate and change their practice in order to re-engage their disengaged pupils in PE. Therefore, it came as no surprise that they might invest effort to create time and space to talk to the researchers, talk to each other and engage in personal reflection. Importantly, this investment appears to have encouraged them to engage in a level of reflection that has led a greater understanding of their own practice and pupil experience. This was evidenced in their personal reflections and in the group discussions, where the teachers reported how much they valued the opportunity to investigate and reflect on their practice. Additionally, all of the teachers said that they would create more time in the future for personal and collaborative reflections. Their involvement in the research process also encouraged them to be involved in a follow-up study to examine their pedagogy in line with the development of pupils’ social and emotional learning (see Paul Wright).


This study was not an ‘intervention’ to test the effectiveness of a particular method or model. Nor was this study an attempt to expose current teaching practice as something to be ‘fixed’. On the contrary, we understood the teachers to be engaging in practices that had the capacity to re-engage disengaged pupils. In doing so, we were introduced to teachers who were highly motivated and committed to all of their pupils. The teachers had already completed a ‘first-draft’ of their success stories, but now they have enhanced their stories, and importantly, share their stories with others. This may encourage other teachers to make efforts to develop or change their practice, but I am sure that for many teachers, this will simply reinforce the fact that they are already engaging in innovative, meaningful and learner-centered practices. There are many more success stories out there (for more see the SATPE website) and while, like Dr. Jess, I agree that PE teachers have many challenges to face – I also believe that “not all is broken”. On the whole, PE in both secondary and primary schools in Scotland is in good hands.

For more information about this project and others, contact:

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Pedagogy: Exploring Definitions by Dr. Paul McMillan

In a previous blog post, entitled ‘The Rise of Pedagogy’, I tracked the way in which the term pedagogy has started to surface in Scottish education (click here to view my October 2016 entry). ‘Pedagogy’ has become “ubiquitous” in the field of physical education (Tinning, 2010). With so much talk about pedagogy it is not always easy to understand different definitions. At the risk of oversimplification, this blog post briefly examines two popular ways in which pedagogy is defined in physical education. It closes by contemplating how these definitions could start to inform the practices of teachers and researchers in schools.

 Who Has The ‘Real’ Pedagogy?

Given the ubiquity of the term pedagogy, and the diverse definitions that feature in the literature, readers of this blog may be inclined to ask, “Who has the ‘real’ pedagogy”? The answer is: no single, all-embracing definition exists. I am sorry to disappoint those seeking to find the ‘real’ pedagogy. It has progressed in so many overlapping directions that it is impossible to identify a unifying definition. While I will not be able to unveil the ‘real’ pedagogy here, I will move on to look at two of the main ways in which the term tends to be defined in physical education.

One popular way to define pedagogy is to recognise that a dynamic interplay exists within and between the teachers, the pupils, and the settings where educational activities take place. These types of definitions acknowledge that a teacher has to make sense of a great number of local and wider influences to decide on appropriate courses of action for her or his classes (see Armour, 2011). Another popular means of defining pedagogy is to recognise the need to actively challenge the ways in which education, knowledge, and politics shapes what happens (and what does not happen) in school settings. These types of definitions have become particularly prominent in the 21st century, bringing a ‘transformative’ edge to ideas about pedagogy. These definitions lead teachers to not only question the agenda(s) of those individuals endowed with the power to make decisions in educational settings, but also to investigate these norms with pupils to create a more democratic society (see Tinning, 2010).

I have outlined two popular ways in which pedagogy tends to be defined in physical education:

  1. Pedagogy as a dynamic interplay between teachers/learners/educational contexts.
  2. Pedagogy as interrogating the connections between education/knowledge/ politics in schools.

Moving from this theoretical overview of pedagogy, I want to consider briefly how these two quite different definitions could start to inform the thinking of teachers and researchers at an applied level.

Pedagogy: Possibilities For Practice

There is much ‘good’ practice currently taking place in physical education (McMillan, 2017). However, I do, also, understand the complex (and challenging) nature of teaching and learning. Indeed, the complexity is such that Ovens et al. (2013) question if it is even possible for teachers and researchers to grasp “the ‘messiness’ that is inherent in complex educational settings” (p. 1). In response to Ovens and colleagues, I suggest that definitions of pedagogy could provide helpful frameworks for teachers and researchers to better understand the “messiness” of teaching and learning. The definitions outlined in this blog post could provide similar, but slightly different, insights about teaching and learning for both parties.

For teachers, these definitions could, individually or collectively, provide a means to think about practice:

  • by presenting different insights into teaching and learning to those currently featuring in their practices;
  • by offering a shared language to discuss practice with colleagues (including researchers), and;
  • by making explicit the key features of practice – responsiveness, negotiation, and adaptability – required to bring these definitions to life.

For researchers, these definitions could, individually or collectively, provide a means to think about practice:

  • by recognising a more complex picture exists in educational settings than is currently conveyed in the literature;
  • by fostering a shared language to discuss practice with colleagues (including teachers), and;
  • by offering a lens for tolerating the ‘messy’ nature of practice and support efforts to capture the ‘good’ work currently taking place in schools.

Closing Remarks

While I stressed there was no all-embracing form of pedagogy, I shared two main ways in which the term tends to be defined in physical education. I suggested that there is scope for teachers and researchers to engage with the two definitions featuring in this blog post to throw light on the complex nature of our work in schools.

In this blog post there was limited scope to consider what either of these two definitions might actually look like in practice; that is, when teachers and pupils come together in a class. I could provide an outline sketch of these ideas in a future blog post about pedagogy: I’ll be back!



Armour, K. M. (2011) Sport Pedagogy: An Introduction for Teaching and Coaching. Harlow: Prentice Hall.

McMillan, P. (2017) Understanding Physical Education Teachers’ Day-To-Day Practice: Challenging the ‘Unfair’ Picture. In M. Thorburn, (Ed) Transforming Learning and Teaching in Physical Education. London, Routledge.

Ovens, A., Hopper, T. and Butler, J. (2013) Reframing Curriculum, Pedagogy and Research. In A. Ovens, T. Hopper and J. Butler (Eds.) Complexity Thinking in Physical Education: Reframing Curriculum, Pedagogy and Research (pp. 1-13). London: Routledge.

Tinning, R. (2010) Pedagogy and Human Movement: Theory, Practice, Research. London: Routledge.


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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’ skill 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.

If you would like to contact Richard, you can email him at:


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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“Learning to be Physical for Life and Being Physical to Learn for Life” by Dr. Mike Jess

Mike Jess is a senior lecturer in the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh.  His areas of interest include primary physical education, complexity thinking, curriculum, pedagogy, professional learning and policy.

This blog is the first in a series of primary physical education blogs. In this series, Mike sets out to develop and expand key ideas that are part of a shifting perspective agenda that supports the case for primary physical education as a significant part of children’s educational experience and lives.  The blogs will focus on a wide range of topics in an effort to fuel debate and discussion about primary physical education.  Issues to be discussed will include policy, stakeholders, curriculum, pedagogy, professional learning, children’s voices and many more.   However, running through the blogs will be two constant messages about primary physical education.  It is about “Learning to be Physical for Life and Being Physical to Learn for Life”.

Click on this link to access the first and future blogs: Primary Physical Education 

“Learning to be Physical for Life and Being Physical to Learn for Life”images

The last decade has witnessed a significant revival in the fortunes of primary physical education in many parts of the world.   Often positioned on the margins of primary education and playing second fiddle to secondary physical education, the evidence is pointing towards a more optimistic future.  Many governments are showing more support for primary physical education in both policy and financial terms with the result that the professional learning opportunities for primary teachers have become more frequent and, in some cases, are moving beyond the long-criticised ‘quick fix’ short course approach.  In the academic world, primary physical education is also becoming a more regular feature.  The European Primary Physical Education Network (EPPEN) for teacher educators came into being in 2016, while the first world seminar for primary physical education should take place in 2108 or 2019.  Special editions of journals focussed on primary physical education are becoming a more common occurrence, as are academic journal articles, while the first international handbook on primary physical education will be published later in 2017.  Developments certainly seem to be shifting in a positive direction.

From an educational perspective, however, there are a number of key issues that need to be negotiated and addressed before we are able to capitalise on the current good fortune.  While less positive comment about the nature and quality of primary physical education seem to come with the territory, a pressing issue is the need for the physical education profession to collectively come together and advocate to the widest possible audience for the educational value and potential of primary physical education.  Focussing on an educational agenda is critical for the future because the current attention on primary physical education seems to have its roots firmly in health and sport related agendas rather than the educational worth of the subject area.  This creates a ‘Catch 22’ situation for primary physical education.  On the positive side, it is extremely encouraging that primary physical education is receiving such positive support from the sport and health lobbies, particularly because this signposts the potential that the subject area has to connect with the lives of children and young people.  Professionals and volunteers working in these different sectors are great allies for primary physical education.  However, with the outsourcing of primary physical education to sports coaches, private companies and health workers becoming more common in an increasing number of countries it appears to be the sport and health sectors that are the drivers of the primary physical education agenda. pocket hercules 236

My point is quite simple: primary physical education should first be viewed as a valuable educational experience so that it can be used as the catalyst to positively influence children’s engagement in sport, physical activity and associated health-related activities across and throughout their lives.  In essence, primary physical education should be seen as the educational hub for lifelong learning and lifelong engagement in physical activity.  Primary physical education therefore has the potential to do two very important interconnected things.  First, by playing a significant role in the educational life of the primary school, it has the potential to enrich children’s learning across the school, and secondly, it can act as the foundation, or connective hub, for children’s lifelong and life-wide engagement in many different forms of physical activity.



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The Olympic Games’ Legacy: What does it mean for sport in Scotland? by JennTreacy

Jenn Treacy is a final year PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. Her PhD is an investigation into curricular sports programmes and positive youth development in a Scottish context. In this blog, she offers a critical analysis of UK sports development initiatives and in doing so, highlights the developmental and grass-roots approach adopted in Scotland.


The Olympics in Rio were deemed a very successful Olympic campaign for Team GB. It marked the first Olympics in history that a previous host nation was more successful in the following Olympic games. It was inevitable that increased media and research attention would be drawn toward the success of these games, and in particular, the funding figures for the event.

Since 2012, Team GB adopted a funding structure to support their ‘world class programmes’; controversially, only sports that were considered to be favourable for the medal table were included. In what Josh Halliday from the Guardian [1) called a ‘brutal but effective’ scheme, sports that did not meet their 2012 medal targets, such as wrestling and volleyball, saw their funding cut completely while sports such as cycling and gymnastics have seen a significant increase in their funding since 2012[2].

Team GB was able convincingly to challenge academic research that suggests that host nations never extend their medal success beyond their host games[3]. According to the UK Sport website from 2012-2016 the UK government, in conjunction with the National Lottery, provided over £274 million in funding for select elite sports[4]. With 27 gold medals in Rio 2016, it appears that the UK government spent approximately £4.1million per gold medal.  Therefore, it seems that the selective funding scheme, rewarding success and elite performance, was key to overcoming the ‘ex-host’ effect: a fate that has befallen all previous host countries.


These figures and the improved medal success rate again ask the question, whom and what is sport for? There have been critics of this funding scheme, especially at grassroots level. In reality, the ‘inspirational’ effect to undertake sport after witnessing Olympic success is considered a ‘fallacy’ by several researchers and reviews on the topic. For example, Mahtani et al. (2012) found little evidence to support the claim that hosting the Olympic games or Olympic success has had any positive impact on the uptake of physical or sporting activities[5].

In his 2012 opinion piece, Peter Wilby of The Guardian[6] presented some very thought-provoking statistics regarding the London 2012 Olympic games. First he dismantled the statement proclaimed at the opening ceremonies that ‘[sport] is for everyone’; with what he claiming that, nearly a quarter of Team GB athletes in 2012 were educated at fee-paying schools (attended by only 7% of the British population). In fact, as he put it, the two most favoured medal sports, sailing and equestrian, require moneyed backgrounds to even participate. Wilby presented one exception to this ‘class’ system of sport at the Olympics, football. Although Wilby did not provide any exact figures, his statement claiming that football “remains almost entirely dominated by state school alumni at the top level” is compelling. Interestingly, Team GB failed to field either a men’s or a women’s football team at Rio 2016.

David Cameron, in 2012, claimed that the dominance of medal winners from fee-paying schools was a result in the ‘failure’ of state schools to encourage sporting excellence[7} This statement, although controversial, leads the ‘home’ nations to consider just what their sporting priorities may be and whether or not their funding structures and programme organisation match these priorities?

Although included as a home nation in Team GB, ‘sport’ in Scotland has taken a slightly different approach than the performance-driven UK Sport. This key difference can be clearly seen when comparing funding strategies. Scotland takes a sport-for-all approach, focusing on health-promoting behaviours associated with sport participation (e.g. LMSMA strategy[8]). SportScotland has committed its new funding structure to ‘widening participation’ for all sports and in particular for women’s and disability sport[9]. For example, SportScotland has committed £5.3 million alone to developing girls’ participation in football through partnerships with the SFA.

Commitment to grassroots and school-sport funding, is an essential starting point for providing positive outcomes through sport. In addition to working to alleviate the financial barriers to sport participation, programmes supported by SportScotland, such as the ‘Schools Of’ programme, help to encourage participation through provision during the timetabled school day[10]. Studies such as the PASS study[11] found that time to participate in sport, with growing pressures on schoolwork and social commitments after school time were major barriers to physical activity participation for adolescence.

“We see a Scotland where sport is a way of life, where sport is at the heart of Scottish society and has a positive impact on you and your community”00488070



Scotland’s policy approaches have specifically shied away from the elite-sport approaches found in other parts of the UK[12].  Possibly because while this ‘brutal but effective’ funding scheme targeting elite sport performance has increased the UK’s Olympic goal medal account and perhaps the UK’s ‘elite sport prestige’, it does little to encourage participation at grassroots level, arguably the type of participation that produces positive developmental outcomes[13].  It is essential to begin to speculate on how this increased focus on elite-sport performance and performance-driven funding schemes will address national improvement indicators across the UK. Looking at Scotland’s national indicators[14], increasing the Gold medal count does not make the list; however, ‘increasing physical activity’ and ‘improving mental wellbeing’ do.


[1] Halliday, J. (2016 August 15) ‘Brutal but effective’: why Team GB has won so many Olympic medals. The Guardian. Retrieved from

[2] UK Sport (2016). Historical funding figures. Retrieved from

[3] Contreras, J. & Corvalan, A. (2014). Olympic Games: No legacy for sports. Economics Letters, 122(2), 268-271. doi:10.1016/j.econlet.2013.12.006

[4] UK Sport (2015). Current funding figures. Retrieved from

[5] Mahtani, K., Protheroe, J., Slight, S., Demarzo, M., Blakeman, T., Barton, C., … Roberts, N. (2013). Can the London 2012 Olympics “inspire a generation” to do more physical or sporting activities? An overview of systematic reviews. BMJ Open, 3(1), e002058–e002058. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002058

[6] Wilby, P. (2012, August 1). Aside from football, sport in Britain is still a game for the elite. The Guardian. Retrieved from

[7] Hope, C. (2012, July 5). London 2012 Olympics: David Cameron says too many top British athletes went to public school. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

[8] Scottish Executive (2003b). Let’s Make Scotland More Active. Retrieved from

[9]] SportScotland (2016) Raising the Bar: Corporate Plan 2015-2019. Retrieved from

[10] Scottish Football Association (2015) School of Football Brochure 2015/16. Retrieved from

[11] Inchley, J., Kirby, J., & Currie, C. (2008). Physical activity among adolescents in Scotland: Final Report of the PASS Study. Retrieved from Edinburgh:

[12] Reid, F. (2012). Increasing sports participation in Scotland: are voluntary sports clubs the answer? International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 4(2), 221-241. doi:10.1080/19406940.2012.662691

[13] Fraser-Thomas, J., Côté, J., & Deakin, J. (2005). Youth sport programs: an avenue to foster positive youth development. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 10(1), 19-40. doi:10.1080/1740898042000334890

[14] Scottish Government (2016) National Indicators. Retrieved from

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The Rise of Pedagogy by Dr. Paul McMillan

Dr. McMillan is a Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. In this insightful and thought provoking blog, he encourages us to engage in dialogue around what good teaching and learning means.

The Rise Of Pedagogy

Despite the fact that there has been a “…disregard for…pedagogy within…North America and the UK” (Waring and Evans, 2015. p. 27), the term has started to surface within Scottish education. Take, as one example, the views of Finn (2009), the then Chief Executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS):

…part of our job as a General Teaching Council is to promote discussion of what good learning and teaching means…I would like to see pedagogy being at the forefront of this discussion.gtc_778x436

Another, related, example can be seen in the GTCS’s recent update of the standards upholding Career-Long Professional Learning. Having been omitted previously, in these current standards (GTCS, 2012), ‘pedagogy’ – or the terms ‘pedagogies’ or ‘pedagogical’ – appear on 12 occasions throughout the 10 page document. From the perspective of the GTCS at least, who control access to, and maintain standards of, the profession, the term ‘pedagogy’ does appear to be an increasing part of Scottish education. It seems timely, therefore, for this blog post to engage with pedagogy. I will first highlight one major theoretical challenge ahead and then move on to point out the potential this term offers for supplementing existing conceptions of teachers and teaching.


Caution: Major Challenge Ahead!

A major challenge of pedagogy is the accessibility of the term. Many people, probably quite rightly, approach pedagogy with some trepidation: this is due partly to the fact that there is no all-embracing definition and partly to the ever-increasing use of complex ideas to define the term. Consequently, over 15 years ago, Stones (2000) identified the uneven nature of pedagogy’s theoretical development as a “conceptual fog” that has frustrated teachers and resulted in the term being little used in schools. Given the possibility that pedagogy could be abandoned in Scotland before its potential is realised, it seems important to make a case for how this term could be used: “to promote discussion of what good learning and teaching means” (Finn, 2009).

Pedagogy: The ‘Bigger Picture’?

Over 20 years ago, Alexander (1994) urged the education profession – teachers and researchers – to start making explicit:

…the educational ideas and assumptions in which…observable [teaching] practice is grounded. Without them practice is mindless, purposeless and random…

In this quotation, Alexander clearly is not suggesting teaching, and the work of teachers, to be “mindless, purposeless and random” pursuits, but rather it can be portrayed in this way by failing to recognise the “educational ideas and assumptions” that shape these practices.

tumblr_ncwpkbixfi1u0a051o3_540Alexander (2008) identifies pedagogy as providing this “bigger picture” interpretation of teaching. According to Alexander (2008), ‘teaching’ and ‘pedagogy’ are often conflated, but there are fundamental differences between these terms. Alexander (2008) separates ‘teaching’ from ‘pedagogy’ in the following way:

…teaching is an act while pedagogy is both act and discourse. Pedagogy encompasses the performance of teaching together with the theories, beliefs, policies and controversies that inform and shape it.

This quotation suggests that pedagogy can transform the act of teaching into a highly informed and thoughtfully driven process. Drawing upon pedagogy as a lens to look at teachers and teaching then, could have a number of benefits:

  1. It recognises the importance of teachers’ professional capabilities.
  2. It acknowledges that teachers have to make sense of their practice against the backdrop of school life and wider society.
  3. It could provide a frame for teachers to understand the reasons and purposes they draw upon to bring their practices to life and create a shared language to discuss practice with colleagues.iStock_000042781940_Double [SolStock] copy


Closing Remarks

While an interest in pedagogy has been displayed by the GTCS, I highlighted the risk of this term being entirely overlooked in schools. If the education profession – teachers and researchers – can find ways to understand the theoretical challenges of this term, and perhaps help each other to do so, the potential of Finn’s (2009) aspirations “to promote discussion of what good learning and teaching means” could come to fruition.

In this blog post there was limited scope to explore further contemporary definitions or look at what Physical Education literature has to say on these matters. I could discuss these issues and many more in future blog posts: to be continued…


Alexander, R. J. (1994) Analysing Practice. In: J. Bourne (Ed.) Thinking Through Primary Practice (pp. 16-21). London: Routledge.

Alexander, R. J. (2008) Essays on Pedagogy. London: Routledge.

Finn, A. (2009) The Language of Leadership. GTCS Education News Centre, Issues 28. Available at: Accessed on 12 August 2012 at 13:21.

GTCS (2012) The Standard for Career-Long Professional Learning: Supporting the Development of Teacher Professional Learning, General Teaching Council for Scotland. Edinburgh: GTC.

Hamilton, D. (2009) Blurred in Translation: Reflections on Pedagogy in Public Education, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, Vol. 17: 1, pp. 5-16.

Stones, E. (2000) Iconoclastes: Poor Pedagogy, Journal of Education for Teaching: International Research and Pedagogy, Vol. 26: 1, pp. 93-95.

Waring, M. and Evans, C. (2015) Understanding Pedagogy: Developing a Critical Approach to Teaching and Learning. London: Routledge.




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Teachers as Agents of Change in PE curricular Reform by Justine MacLean

Justine MacLean has worked as a lecturer in physical education at Moray House Institute, the School of Education of the University of Edinburgh since 1998. She has worked as a physical educator within comprehensive schools and within the commercial, charitable and voluntary sectors. Her teaching and research are in sociocultural issues within physical education.

 Policy and Curriculum Change

This blog examines the discourses on policy and curriculum change by analysing the complexities involved in enabling Physical Education teachers to enact new policy in schools utilising a flexible curriculum framework. Enactment in this case offers teachers the central role of ‘agents of change’, which requires them to translate, mould and recreate policy to fit within the opportunities of the school.  Policies generally do not tell the teacher exactly what to do: they seldom prescribe or define practice, but some more than others restrict the range of teacher response and involvement in the policy process. CfE sought to create a stronger component of ownership and creativity at school level and as such ‘reflects the growing body of evidence that teachers are among the most powerful influences on learning and are best placed to determine how best to meet the needs of their pupils’, (Donaldson, 2014, p.181).

Teachers as Agents of Changegrant_674b12e6-4549-4ae8-bc32-f94202541042

One way of understanding how teachers engage with and enact policy is to examine emerging research on agency, as this provides insight into how teachers relate to policy (Leansder & Osbourne, 2008). Teachers may use their agency to support new policy, develop a critical stance or even oppose educational change altogether (Sannino, 2010). Therefore, an understanding of what contributes to agency provides useful clues into the barriers and opportunities that can add or detract from a teacher’s ability to support new policy. Teacher agency has often been associated with capacity, which teachers either do or do not possess. However, agency, unlike capacity is not something that teachers have but rather something to be achieved in certain situations – it denotes a ‘quality’ of the engagement of actors with temporal-relational contexts for action, not quality of the actors themselves’ (Priestley, M., Biesta, G. & Robinson, S. 2013, p.3). The temporal nature of agency is emphasised and focuses on the factors that inhibit or promote a heightened sense of agency. Therefore, it defers emphasis away from what teachers have (capacity) onto what teachers do (by means of their environment that they act in and through). This demonstrates why ‘capacity’ is a misleading measure of teacher ability to enact policy, as it places value solely on teacher skills and knowledge rather than the interaction of what the teacher brings to the situation and the situation brings to the teacher.

Policy-1024x854In our research we considered the factors that enable teachers to achieve agency and the support mechanisms that were necessary for them to be able to enact new policy. Data was collected from 88 PE teachers from 16 local authorities and 17 PE teachers took part in interviews (MacLean, J., Mulholland, R., Gray, S. & Horrell, A. 2015).


These results indicated that the schools that possessed a collaborative culture that valued discussions on constructing policy ideas with other colleagues and created opportunities for cooperative learning felt supported in creating new ideas. The importance of teacher conversation and professional activity were crucial in assisting teachers to create policy.

Schools that contained a social structure that sought to improve external links to professional learning communities and internal links between subject areas in interdisciplinary work contributed to the teachers’ sense of agency. Teachers required an increase in material support, greater supportive leadership combined with guidance and feedback on individual curricular design. It became clear that teachers were able to enact new policy in schools when the correct support mechanisms were in place.

As educational policy moves from mandates to capacity building, there is an argument that more attention needs to be given to teachers, as in the end it is teachers’ commitment to the transformation of policy that shapes the success of initiatives.

Suggested further reading:

MacLean, J., Mulholland, R., Gray, S. & Horrell, A. (2015). Enabling curriculum change in physical education: the interplay between policy constructors and practitioners. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 20(1), 79-96.

Book Chapter :  MacLean, J. (2017) In press Chapter Six ‘Physical Education Teachers as agents of policy and curriculum change’ in Thorburn, M. (Ed) (2017) Transformative Learning and Teaching in Physical Education. London: Routledge.

 References :

Donaldson, G. (2014). Teacher Education and Curriculum change in Scotland. European Journal of Education, 49(2), 178-191.

Leander, K.M. & Osborne, M.D. (2008). Complex positioning: Teachers as agents of curricular and pedagogical reform. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(1), 23-46.

Priestley, M., Biesta, G. & Robinson, S. (2013). Teachers as agents of change; teacher agency and emerging models of curriculum. In: M.Priestley & G. Biesta (eds) Reinventing the curriculum: new trends in curriculum policy and practice. London: Bloomsbury.

Sannino, A. (2010). Teachers’ talk of experiencing: Conflict, resistance and agency. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(4), 838-844.


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