‘Health and wellbeing: a policy context for physical education in Scotland’ by Andrew Horrell

In this blog Andrew Horrell shares his thoughts on policy and issues related to the introduction of ‘Health and wellbeing’ (HWB) to the curriculum in Scotland.

Personal engagement with policy      citizenship

As a teacher working in England in the late nineties, I learned that ‘Citizenship’ would become a new and compulsory subject in schools. Another political incursion into curriculum the document was written in a way that I could not truthfully state that “I’m already doing this” and dismiss out of hand what was proposed. I would need to change what I was doing to ‘deliver’ citizenship and more recently physical education (PE) teachers in Scotland may have felt the same following the introduction of HWB.

Researching policy

As a teacher educator at the University of Edinburgh, HWB as an area of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) became a topic of interest. Attending a course taught by Professor Bob Lingard really helped sharpen my focus on issues of policy. We debated if the often cited gap between policy and practice reflects a restricted view of teachers in the process of education. Contexts for practice vary, therefore teachers need to make informed professional judgements about matters of practice if they are to lead to meaningful educationally worthwhile experiences. Seeking a perfect alignment between policy and practice privileges policymakers and reduces the importance of teacher’s professionalism. Teachers may not set the priorities for education but their expertise is of central importance to process of education in schools. Research about HWB policy, its origins and the basis for its inclusion in the curriculum can inform teacher’s practice.

Health and wellbeing in Scotland 723ab2ec4f1228348531eee587742177-1

The paper I wrote with colleagues in the Institute, provided an analysis of the broader policy context at national and global levels which led to the inclusion of HWB in CfE. Previously PE was located within the ‘Expressive Arts’ area of the curriculum and now it seemed to be central to the newly created curriculum area. I wondered why this had happened and if the introduction of HWB could potentially shift PE’s role in Scottish education.


Conducting this research brought into sharp focus for me that policies do not just appear, they represent an authoritative allocation of values, policy addresses more than one audience. Research has highlighted that teacher’s have often reported that policy does not provide a blueprint for practice. In the case of CfE, the government has set out what Mark Priestley has referred to as the ‘big ideas’, leaving teachers to determine how best to provide educational experiences and then judge the extent to which the outcome have been reached. What is the ‘big idea’ for HWB? Can PE teachers realistically align practice with policy?

We argued that the role for PE and the focus on schools to promote daily physical activity within the CfE masked the complexity of addressing the issues of HWB. There is more to HWB than the inclusion of two hours or two periods of PE in schools. In conclusion, we highlighted that in the interpretation and ‘implementation’ of policy there would be further issues for PE and as yet unknown consequences children and young people.

Concluding thoughts   gym-300x169

Since the publication of this paper in 2011, I have undertaken further research in this area with colleagues. I remain intrigued about teachers’ interpretation of HWB in the context of PE. What has struck me is that although there are strong messages about ill-health and obesity there is evidence to suggest teachers in schools have not transformed PE into a subject wholly focused on biomedical messages. Opportunities learn about HWB, allied to opportunities to develop HWB, do seem to be taking place in schools but more research is required if we are to understand how children and young adults understand HWB and use this to inform policy and practice.

You can read a full version of the paper for free here and respond via the comments feature below.

Suggested further reading:

Horrell, A. Sproule, J. & Gray, S. (2012) ‘Health and wellbeing: a policy context for physical education in Scotland’, Sport, Education and Society, vol 17, no. 2, pp. 163-180., 10.1080/13573322.2011.607948

Priestley, M. (2015) Milkmen or educators? CfE and the language of delivery


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