Better Movers and Thinkers in the primary school context: innovation or good practice? By Jordan John Flynn

Jordan is a final year PE student at the University of Edinburgh. For his research ‘Investigation’ he explored primary school pupils’ experiences of BMT as it was introduced to them for the first time. Jordan carried out an excellent piece of research and his thesis was awarded the highest mark in his year. Below is a summary of his work.


For my final year Investigation, I aimed to understand the impact that Better Movers and Thinkers had on the ways in which primary school pupils understood, experienced and learned in physical education (PE).


Better Movers and Thinkers (BMT) is described by its founders as an ‘innovative’ approach to physical education that focuses on developing the links between movement and thinking (Dalziell, Boyle and Mutrie, 2015) and has recently been introduced to schools across all 32 local authorities in Scotland. However, whilst there is some evidence to support a positive impact on children’s executive functioning and acceptability in PE (Dalziell, Boyle and Mutrie, 2015), there remains a significant dearth of research in this area.images

Primary school PE (PPE) has historically been somewhat neglected both in terms of research in this field and school investment (Jess and Collins, 2003). The research that has been carried out in PPE often excludes children from the process, despite the valuable contributions into teaching and learning that they can offer (Dyson, 1995; Macdonald et al., 2005). Furthermore, the development of movement competencies in the early years is critical to future and lifelong engagement in physical activity (Jess et al., 2007). Indeed, the generally agreed worldwide consensus within academic literature suggests that PPE has the potential to set the foundations for all young people to lead physically active lifestyles (Penney and Jess, 2004). With the paucity of research into pupils’ perspectives of PPE generally, and specifically incorporating BMT, focussed research would appear currently relevant and appropriate.


The purpose of this study was to understand how primary school pupils experienced BMT as part of their PE curriculum. To do so, their perceptions of PE, their PE experiences and their learning in PE were explored both before and after a BMT programme was introduced for the first time. In this way, any commonalities and differences between the two teaching and learning context could be identified, thus potentially offering a very nuanced understanding of how the pupils experienced BMT.


An interpretative epistemological approach was adopted, as the aim of the investigation was to explore pupils’ subjective construction of the world around them (Glesne, 1999). Consistent with the interpretivist paradigm, qualitative approaches supported a phenomenological case study approach, focussing on a committed examination of how individuals conceptualise phenomena. Fourteen pupils (aged 11-12) in Primary 7 from one primary school in Scotland participated in this study. Semi-structured focus group interviews were implemented to obtain a rich and detailed insight, enabling pupils to talk openly about their experiences. Interviews were undertaken in December 2015 and then again in March 2016 following the implementation of BMT programme.


Key Findings

The results of the thematic data analysis revealed that the pupils understood the nature and purpose of PE in very similar ways both pre and post their BMT experience. Consistent with previous literature in this area, they understood PE in terms of health, sport, fun and developing friendships. However, post BMT, the pupils more clearly highlighted the links between classroom learning and skill learning in PE. Furthermore, after their BMT experience, the pupils’ responses indicated a more positive change towards an increase in challenge, engagement, activity levels and achievement, compared with ‘normal’ PE experiences. Evidently, BMT appeared to enhance pupils’ enjoyment of PE. However, it is important to note that many of the positive aspects of their BMT experiences were as a result of effective pedagogical practices that are not exclusive to BMT. The pupils simply identified aspects of quality teaching, aspects that are highlighted in many other teaching models, including Teaching Games for Understanding (Bunker and Thorpe, 1982), Cooperative Learning (Dyson and Casey, 2012) and Mastery Teaching and Learning approaches (see for example Morgan, Kingston and Sproule, 2005). Given exposure to such models, the pupils may have asserted similar experiences.






The findings of the study highlight the importance of listening to children in order to understand their experiences, inform reflection, develop knowledge and improve practice. This study has also highlighted the importance of teacher learning in terms of developing effective pedagogies, rather than implementing specific teaching models. This learning has the potential to enable them to create effective and flexible teaching environments, catering for the unique needs of their learners, rather than simply implementing a PE ‘programme’ or ‘model’. This applies not only to BMT, but to all the models that are currently advocated within the extensive ‘models-based practice’ literature.


Bunker, D., and Thorpe, R. (1982). A model for the teaching of games in the secondary school. Bulletin of Physical Education, 10, 9-16.

Dalziell, A., Boyle, J. and Mutrie, N. (2016) Better Movers and Thinkers (BMT): An Exploratory Study of an Innovative Approach to Physical Education. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 11 (4).

Dyson, B and Casey, A (2012) Cooperative learning in physical education: A research based approach. Routledge.

Dyson, B. (2006). Students’ perspectives of physical education. In D. Kirk, D. Macdonald and M. O’Sullivan (Eds.), Handbook of physical education (pp 326-346). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Glesne, C. (1999) Becoming Qualitative Researchers – An Introduction, 2nd ed, New York: Longman.

Graham, G. (1995) Physical Education through students’ eyes and students’ voices: Introduction. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 14, 364-371.

Jess, M and Collins, D. (2003). Primary Physical Education in Scotland: the Future in the Making, European Journal of Physical Education, 8:2, 103-118.

Jess, M., Haydn-Davies, D. and Pickup, I. (2007) Physical Education in the Primary School: A Developmental, Inclusive and Connected Future, Physical Education Matters, Vol. 2(1).

Macdonald, D., Rodger, S., Abbott, R., Ziviani, J., and Jones, J. (2005). ‘I could do with a pair of wings’: Perspectives on physical activity, bodies and health from young Australian children. Sport, Education and Society, 10(2), 195-209.

Morgan, K., Kingston, K. and Sproule, J. (2005b) Effects of different teaching styles, on the teacher behaviours that influence motivational climate in physical education. European Physical Education Review, 11(3), 257-286.

Penney, D. and Jess, M., (2004) Physical Education and Physically Active Lives: A lifelong approach to curriculum development. Sport, Education and Society, 9/2, 269-287.


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