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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