Parkour – bold in more ways than one by Dr. Malcolm Thorburn

The recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2015, p. 9) report on improving schools highlights that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) ‘privileges learning and holistic understanding of what it means to be a young Scot growing up in today’s world.’ The current time is therefore considered as a ‘watershed’ moment (OECD, p. 100) for CfE, as policy has moved from a broad set of aspirations in 2010-2011 to a time when there is a major opportunity to enter a new phase with a heightened focus on more dynamic learning and teaching (OECD, 2015, p. 11). It short, what is being urged across the educational-political divide is that learning and teaching becomes bolder.

DavidVault-150x150This opens up questions about what types of changes might take place within physical education learning and teaching that would count as being bold? A recent news story offered one insight in this respect. The short video clip contained young learners at Northfield Academy in Aberdeen taking part in the new free movement sport of parkour. What was immediately observable was the high level of creativity, motivation and engagement learners showed when applying their movement skills. In the short clip only a limited time was available to hear from the learners but it was clear that they considered parkour bold, exciting and new. Arguably, even greater boldness was noticeable after listening to the teacher. He described how learners needed to focus on applying their skills, making good decisions and that the wider benefits of taking more responsibility for their learning was evident in learners improved confidence and general wellbeing. It was also mentioned that the learning and teaching culture had changed in the gymnasium from passive listening based on what learners could or could not do to an active learning culture based on a can do attitude.


This switch in approach seemed to provide a compelling salutogenic context for reviewing future curriculum developments in physical education and health and wellbeing more widely (Quennerstedt, 2008). In brief, salutogenic perspectives on health are multi-dimensional and consider health as holistic in nature and encompassing social, psychological and spiritual dimensions as well as a physical dimension. This positive construct aims to move beyond a restrictive focus on health as something which you have or have not to varying degrees to something which is more of an important prerequisite for achieving a range of life goals. Pedagogically, salutogenic (or strength-based) methods in physical education would be reflected in movement-based approaches which emphasize learners self-confidence, self-awareness and empathy for others as well as ‘knowledge in and about health in relation to movement cultures in a wide sense’ (Quennerstedt, 2011, p. 53). Conceived this way, it is possible to see the subject potential of physical education as a dynamic and positive endevour which is worthy of learners’ sustained commitment.

01020218 - 610x318Arguably, as well, following a strengths-based approach would help placate the concerns of Ecclestone and Hayes (2009) who are dismayed by the over protective nature of therapeutic-type interventions and teaching in schools, where the tendency is for learners to become over dependent on teachers to help them make decisions. In this context, a strengths-based approach to learning might be considered more constructive as it would focus, as it did in the parkour lesson, on learners making their own decisions based on the skills they had practiced and learned. Boldness personified.


Ecclestone, K. & Hayes, D. (2009) The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education. London: Routledge.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2015) Improving schools in Scotland: an OECD perspective. Retrieved from Schools-in-Scotland-An-OECD-Perspective.pdf

Quennerstedt, M. (2008) Exploring the relation between physical activity and health-a salutogenic approach to physical education, Sport Education and Society, 13, 267-283.

Quennerstedt, M. (2011) Warning: Physical Education can seriously harm your health, in:

Brown, S. (Ed) Issues and Controversies in Physical Education: Policy, Power and

Pedagogy (North Bay City, New Zealand: Pearson), 46-56.

Share Button