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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Social and Emotional Learning in Physical Education: From Policy to Practice by Paul M. Wright

niu_logoDr. Paul M. Wright is the Lane/Zimmerman Endowed Professor at Northern Illinois University in the United States. He is currently on sabbatical to conduct research as a Visiting Scholar in the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh. This post describes the research he is conducting during his time in Scotland. This study, conducted in partnership with Dr. Shirley Gray from the University of Edinburgh, has to do with the promotion of social and emotional learning in the context of practice. Scotland, like many other countries, includes such learning in the physical education curriculum, but how it is delivered by teachers and experienced by pupils is not well understood.

Physical Education: From Policy to Practice

Expectations for physical education (PE) and its contribution to the overall curriculum are changing in many countries. For example, in SEL-300x200the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, PE teachers are charged with promoting mental, social and emotional well-being (Scottish Government, 2004, 2009). While PE has traditionally included affective learning objectives, Scotland and other countries are making such expectations more explicit  in educational policy and curricular mandates. Scotland, the US, New Zealand, Canada, and Singapore, to name a few, have integrated a range of social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies in their national PE curriculum/standards. SEL competencies relate to self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, social skills, and responsible decision making (see The promotion of SEL competencies through PE is a major focus of my scholarship (e.g. Wright & Burton, 2008; Wright & Craig, 2011; Wright & Li, 2009; Wright, Li, Ding & Pickering; 2010) and I am currently on a research sabbatical to study this phenomenon in the Scottish context with Dr. Shirley Gray at the University of Edinburgh.Policy-1024x854

Research and practical experience tell us that changes in educational policy are not always implemented as planned. I have studied this issue in the US as it applies to PE policy changes intended to combat childhood obesity. In that research, conducted with Dr. John Amis of the Business School at University of Edinburgh, we found the way policy is formulated and interpreted greatly determines how it is implemented in the context of practice (Amis, Wright, Dyson, Vardaman & Ferry, 2012). Previous investigations by Dr. Gray and her colleagues in Scotland indicate the mandate for PE teachers to promote SEL was formulated with minimal involvement by practitioners and is perceived as somewhat ambiguous (Gray, Mulholland & MacLean, 2012; Horrell, Sproule & Gray, 2011). Therefore, we are conducting school-based research that will help us understand (1) how educational administers and PE teachers interpret this mandate, (2) how PE teachers promote SEL in their current practice, and (3) how pupils experience SEL in PE.

Our research approach involves mixed methods and include multiple stakeholder perspectives. We are working with several schools in Edinburgh and East Lothian. Data sources will include interviews with educational administrators, head teachers, PE teachers and pupils about SEL in PE. We will also be doing systematic observation of teaching practice and giving out surveys to pupils. We hope our findings will enable us to describe current practice regarding SEL in Scottish PE and to make recommendations for professional development and program improvement relative to this aspect of learning. More broadly, we hope to generate insights and recommendations regarding the translation of educational policy changes into practice. An exciting feature of this project is that we will use parallel methodology in the US and New Zealand so we can conduct a cross-cultural analysis of our findings.

This topic is of great interest to me as my primary line of scholarship has to do with the ). This model is strongly aligned with the SEL framework (Jacobs & Wright, 2014). I believe my practical experience designing, implementing and evaluating TPSR programs will be an asset in conducting the current study and interpreting our data. Another advantage is the opportunity I have to learn about the Scottish culture and context. I am eager to learn about best practices in Scottish PE by interacting with teachers, researchers and policy makers. I am also hoping to share my experiences and provide workshops or lectures on topics such as SEL and TPSR pedagogy.97807360947021_dflt


For more information:

Dr. Wright will be giving a presentation on this project for the Scottish Physical Education Research Network. The presentation will be at Strathclyde University in Glasgow on September 21, 2016. More details will follow via this blog, twitter and email.seralogo

To learn more about Dr. Wright’s perspective on the importance of social and emotional learning, see the following recent article on Voices, the British Council’s online magazine


Amis, J., Wright, P.M., Dyson, B., Vardaman, J., & Ferry, H. (2012). Implementing Childhood Obesity Policy in a New Educational Environment: The Cases of Mississippi and Tennessee. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 1406-1413.

Gray, S., Mulholland, R. and MacLean, J. (2012). The ebb and flow of curriculum construction in physical education: A Scottish narrative. The Curriculum Journal. 23, 59-78.

Hellison, 2011. Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility through Physical Activity, 3rd edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Horrell, A., Sproule, J., & Gray, S. (2011). Health and wellbeing: a policy context for physical education in Scotland. Sport, Education and Society, 17, 163-180.

Jacobs, J.M. & Wright, P.M. (2014). Social and Emotional Learning Policies and Physical Education. Strategies, 27, 42-44.

Scottish Government. (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Scottish Government. (2009). Curriculum for excellence: Health and wellbeing: Experiences and outcomes. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Wright, P.M., & Burton, S. (2008). Examining the implementation and immediate outcomes of a personal-social responsibility model program for urban high school students. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 27, 138-154.

Wright, P.M., & Craig, M.W. (2011). Tool for Assessing Responsibility-Based Education (TARE): Instrument Development and Reliability Testing. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 15, 1-16.

Wright, P.M., & Li, W. (2009). Exploring the relevance of a youth development orientation in urban physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 14, 241-251.

Wright, P.M., Li, W., Ding, S. & Pickering, M. (2010). Integrating a Personal-Social Responsibility Program into a Lifetime Wellness Course for Urban High School Students: Assessing Implementation and Educational Outcomes. Sport, Education, and Society, 15, 277-298.



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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.

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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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‘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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Inclusive and exclusive masculinities in physical education by Darren Campbell

Darren Campbell graduated from Moray House School of Education with a BEd PE (Hons) degree in 2015. For his final year Investigation, he explored the ways in which masculine identities are constructed and ‘enacted’ in the PE setting. During his probationary year, Darren continued to work on his paper and, in March 2016, it was published in one of the leading international journals in the field: Sport Education and Society. In this blog, Darren presents a summary of his work: his aims, key findings and implications for the profession.


Research into masculinities and gendered identities in school has been conflicted in recent times. Most evidence suggests a traditional ‘orthodox’ masculinity is still prevalent amongst boys, with displays of strength, pain tolerance, homophobia and misogyny appearing to play a major part in their identity construction.

rugby1  However, some recent research has suggested a new, more ‘inclusive’ form of masculinity is emerging. This research suggests that more liberal attitudes in society have allowed boys to perform a wider range of more ‘feminised’ behaviours that were previously unavailable to them. For this investigation, I undertook research in a secondary school in Glasgow to help uncover the current state of adolescent masculinity in a Scottish PE context.images-1


Aims and methods

I undertook a qualitative case study approach to examine the thoughts, beliefs and actions of 16 and 17 year old pupils in a real school context. I combined the use of observations inside and outside of the PE classroom with one-to-one pupil interviews. This allowed me to gain an insight into how children in this particular school understood and experienced the world in relation to gender. My particular focus was to uncover the ways in which boys perceived masculine ideals and how this impacted on the ways in which they performed in PE.


Key findings

The pupils in this school mostly displayed a traditional ‘orthodox’ form of masculinity that centred on strength, pain tolerance and the policing of others’ identities. Pupils not only verbalised their embodiment of these traits in interviews, but also performed them in PE through hard tackles, play fights and insults. The nature of PE provided a platform for pupils to perform such traits, with key sites being ‘invisible spaces’ where pupils could avoid teacher surveillance – for example on large playing fields or in changing rooms. Pupils that were successfully able to negotiate an identity that encompassed these masculine traits were rewarded with social capital and popularity among their peers. Generally, pupils who were unable to perform to masculine expectations had their identity questioned and stigmatised. This constrained boys into performing a narrow gender identity that conformed to traditional masculine norms.

220px-HK_堅尼地城_Kennedy_Town_士美非路市政大廈_Smithfield_Municipal_Services_Building_更衣室_changing_room_Sept-2011Interestingly, however, some pupils did manage to successfully perform an identity that aligned with some principles of inclusive masculinity. These pupils were friendly, kind and physically tactile with each other but were still able to maintain a high social status within the class. For example, boys frequently hugged each other and openly expressed their close friendship with other boys. They were able to do this without visibly losing any social capital or being stigmatised by other pupils. This suggested that pupils internalised a belief that orthodox behaviours were required to succeed in PE, but these behaviours were not as valued outside of a sporting context. Furthermore, it is important to note that the pupils who were able to perform traits of inclusive masculinity already held a high degree of social and physical capital through their successful embodiment of orthodox masculinity. This high degree of masculine capital may have allowed certain pupils to transgress orthodox norms without fear of being stigmatised.Footballers-hug

Implications for the PE profession

While there seems to be progress in challenging orthodox masculinity, more work may still need to be done in schools to allow children to perform a range of gendered identities without fear of being stigmatised. By improving their awareness of various forms of masculinity, teachers are better placed to challenge the dominant, orthodox norms prevalent in PE. Furthermore, by understanding how orthodox masculinity is maintained and reproduced, teachers can respond more consistently and appropriate to challenge pupils who use homophobic and misogynistic language. In this way, teachers are better equipped to create safer learning environments where inclusive masculinities can thrive and, as a result, pupils have a more positive learning (and wellbeing) experience in PE.


Campbell, D., Gray, S., Kelly, J. and MacIsaac, S. (2016). Inclusive and Exclusive Masculinities in Physical Education: a Scottish case study. Sport Education and Society.

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Intelligence, practice and virtue: prospects for physical education by Dr. Malcolm Thorburn

Dr. Malcolm Thorburn is a Lecturer in Physical Education at the University of Edinburgh. This post offers a highly thought-provoking critique of the role and value of physical education; a very topical issue in light of recent curricular developments in Scotland, UK and worldwide.

Intelligence, practice and virtue: prospects for physical education

When I was studying to be a teacher in the late 1970s there was a lot of talk about status and physical educations marginal curriculum presence. When I returned to be a lecturer twenty years later there was an awful lot of talk about exactly the same things. The problem all along was physical educations cognitive value claim, or more precisely its lack of cognitive value claim. For example, McNamee (2009, p. 17) claimed that ‘anyone attempting to argue for the educational value of physical education on the grounds that the playing of games conferred a wide-ranging cognitive perspective on the world would be barking up the wrong tree.’cognitive

Many of the difficulties physical education has faced arose from Peters (1966) highly influential analytical philosophical treatise which prioritized the development of the rational mind, and which considered games playing to be non-serious and morally unimportant. Peters (1966) discourse on educational values often merged with Hirst’s forms of knowledge critique, and this led to secondary school curriculum being framed according to categories of subjects: a development which posed two serious problems for physical education.

Firstly, for the newly emerging examinations awards, claims for curriculum worthiness were mostly based on concurring that the Peters-Hirst academic conception of education was essentially correct, yet with some careful adjustment and redefinition, physical education could be accommodated within it. This has not been without its challenges e.g., course arrangements which often encourage practically-based learning experiences but then rely for much of the assessment evidence on learners’ language-based written answers; a remit which has proved difficult to handle for all but the most capable learners.

Secondly, as far as the ‘core’ versions of physical education are concerned, it often placed the subject in a rather weak position with only limited learner contact time and modest school support. As if this outlook was not gloomy enough, physical educationalists often appear to confirm the Peters case by producing shallow, introductory-level, technique-laden, repetitive and rather anodyne and ineffective multi-activity curriculum programmes, where activity choice (rather than the drive to aspire) is the device used to try to keep learners interested (Kirk, 2010).y8x_curriculum_plan_peHowever, all is not necessarily lost: Julia Annas (2011) a leading philosopher has resurrected in a modern guise the ancient-historical idea that practical skills are similar to practical virtues. Therefore, as one becomes more skilful and expert through intelligent practice, the more one is able to make virtuous decisions. Virtues are not defined by measurement against a set of idealized rules but rather governed by the gaining of skills which are beneficial to our happiness and flourishing. Moreover, if we are sufficiently motivated, we will be keen to seek out ways of using our practical skills intelligently, just as we will be enthusiastic in thinking through our reasons for making the decisions we do as we interact with others.

At a stroke, the attractiveness of this line of thinking should be clear for physical educationalists: as arguments cultivated on this basis endorse the case that physical education can have both an intrinsic (in-subject) and instrumental (beyond-subject) value claim. This form of critique would be predicated on arguing that skillful practice can lead to the realization of higher performance and sporting standards and also that learners can develop expertise through practice, and as a result are more capable of making virtuous decisions in their lives.

The critique of Annas is of course not without its contested claims e.g. on whether there is a greater gap between skill and practical wisdom than Annas (2011) acknowledges and also whether the virtuesaccount of virtues provided by Annas (2011) is overly intellectualist, founded as it is on deliberation and certainty rather than more flexible, experiential and habituation accounts of skill.

In terms of curriculum planning, the most evident implication of the skills and virtues theorizing of Annas (2011) is in recognizing the importance of time, experience and practice for developing expertise. Therefore, curriculum that wished to apply the theorizing of Annas (2011) would typically contain fewer activities and a longer and deeper engagement with those that are part of programmes.


Annas, J. (2011). Intelligent Virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kirk, D. (2010). Physical Education Futures. London: Routledge.

McNamee, M. (2009). The nature and values of physical education. In R. Bailey & D. Kirk (Eds.),The Routledge reader in physical education (pp. 9-28). London: Routledge.

Peters, R. S. (1966). Ethics and Education. London: Allen & Unwin.


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Researching Primary Physical Education: Fascinating, Frustrating and Complex by Mike Jess

Mike Jess is Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.  He is also the director of the Developmental Physical Education Group (DPEG): a group of teacher educators and researchers whose focus is primary physical education curriculum, pedagogy and professional learning.  This blog gives an interesting insight into how Mike’s research ideas have developed over the years and how his work is now informing (and is informed by) practitioner inquiry, self-study and long term professional learning.images

Researching Primary Physical Education: Fascinating, Frustrating and Complex

Globally, I am delighted that primary physical education is currently experiencing a period of increased political, professional and academic attention.   However, while I have been genuinely fascinated in primary physical education for almost thirty years, my experiences have been such a mix of highs and frustrating lows that I wonder how I am still involved. Consequently, from a self-study perspective (see Samaras & Freese, 2011), my contribution to this series of blogs focuses on my personal reflections on how these different experiences have influenced my attempts to make sense of primary physical education from an integrated conceptual, professional and research perspective.

I came to primary physical education late having taught in high schools for eight years. For four years, I then worked in eight primary schools each month, teaching 2,000 children, liaising with 100 primary teachers and travelling hundreds of miles. I didn’t like it much to begin with: physical education was marginal in the schools, my knowledge of the children and the curriculum made my ‘specialist’ misnomer embarrassing and I felt very isolated. However, during my postgraduate studies, I came across a couple of David Gallahue’s books on developmentally-appropriate practices in physical education and it all changed. My classes became my laboratory as I explored the possibilities of basic movements and movement concepts. I was fascinated by this integrated approach but equally frustrated because I couldn’t see myself spending the next 30 years driving round eight schools every month.  I saw higher education as the route out because it seemed to offer the opportunity to delve deeper into the more conceptual world of developmental and 41HbNQeflVL._UY250_integrated primary physical education.

My opportunity came in 1991. While I received great support from my secondary physical education and sport science colleagues, the physical education community in the UK, with few exceptions, wasn’t really interested in developmental primary physical education. As a result, my first PhD attempt focused on young children’s movement development and I gradually moved into a world of linear relationships, statistical analysis and causality. Over a six year period, as my professional activities as a primary physical education lecturer went in one direction my research interests seemed to be in an alternate universe. I felt like I was living two separate lives and my decontextualized research efforts soon came to a halt.   As I approached my fifties, a potential career as a researcher and writer seemed pretty unlikely.

Conversations with Dawn Penney, David Kirk, Pamela Munn, Matt Atencio and others helped open up a new world of postmodernism, lifelong agendas, complexity thinking and self-study. Re-conceptualising primary physical education as a complex phenomenon became the driver. Between 2007 and 2011 I eventually wrote a PhD using complexity principles to reflect on almost 25 years trying to introduce new ideas into primary physical education. The transition from writing in the third person to the first person was awkward and uncomfortable to begin with but helped me recognise the potential that the individual’s voice has in shaping a more inclusive research agenda for the future. Self-organisation, emergence, ambiguous boundaries, edge of chaos, connectedness and nestedness all became the language of my integrated academic and professional work. More importantly, this language also became the language of the Developmental Physical Education Group (DPEG) at the University of Edinburgh and the catalyst for a collaborative self-study project that has been a regular feature of our work since 2012.


Recently, a joint paper with Jeanne Keay and Nicola Carse (Jess, Keay & Carse, 2014) has set out a complexity framework that now acts as the catalyst for our conceptual, professional and research work and is spawning a flurry of conceptual writing and research activity. Complexity-related papers and book chapters on primary physical education curriculum, pedagogy, professional learning, shifting perspectives and self-study are currently all being written, under review, in press or published and will hopefully act as the basis for professional learning activities with teachers and other professionals. In addition, this complexity thinking is now informing some of our undergraduate courses, being shared with teachers enrolled on the Postgraduate Certificate in 3-14 Physical Education and also with academic colleagues in the global physical education Specialist Interest Network in Complexity (SINC) that meets online on a regular basis.images

Reading back on these reflections makes me realise I am still in primary physical education because I just want to make sense of it and the only way I seem to be able to do this is by constantly revisiting ways to integrate my conceptual thinking, practice and research……with others!!

Useful References

Jess, M., Keay. J., & Carse, N. (2014) Primary physical education: a complex learning journey for children and teachers. Sport, Education and Society. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/13573322.2014.979142

Samaras, A.P., & Freese, A.R. (2011), Self-Study of Teaching Practices, Peter Lang Publishing, New York

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Social media, the body and physical education by Sarah MacIsaac

Happy New Year and welcome to our first post of 2016. This is a post from Sarah MacIsaac, a final-year PhD student (part-time) at the University of Edinburgh and a lecturer on the BEd and MA PE Programmes. Both her research and teaching explore sociocultural issues within PE. This blog introduces and explains the background to her PhD research and some of her findings to date.

Research aims and method

For my PhD research I wanted to explain contemporary body-related culture amongst young people and explore the implications of this for PE. I designed my research so that I could spend as much time within a school as possible as I was convinced that the best way of understanding pupils’ thoughts and social practices was to get to know the pupils themselves, to spend time interacting and building relationships with them so they could talk to me openly and honestly. Therefore, I conducted ethnographic research where I assumed the role of a PE teaching assistant within one school for a whole academic year. I mostly conducted ‘participant observation’ and engaged in informal conversation with pupils but also spoke to a variety of pupils in more formal focus group interviews. Participants ranged from S1-6 (22 girls and 19 boys).social_media_strategy111

I anticipated that my research focus would evolve as I spent time finding out what was important to the participants I was interacting with. Sure enough, I gradually became drawn towards certain aspects of pupil culture which I felt were important to investigate further and which had not yet received much attention within the PE literature. Principally, it became clear that the ingraining of online social interaction within young people’s lives was adding new dimensions to how young people interacted with each other, to how they viewed themselves and their bodies and to how they learnt and accessed knowledge.


My research uncovered three over-arching tenets of pupil culture: the centrality of the body and bodily appearances, the omnipresence of social media and the celebrification of the self. The first of these three tenets was not new and previous studies have shown that the body is highly symbolic within social interaction and influential to how individuals judge each other and negotiate power relations and social hierarchies.

Mona Lisa SelfieHowever, the omnipresence of social media and the celebrification of self were bolstering the salience of bodily appearances within pupil culture. Young people had almost constant access to social media and struggled to imagine life without it. Social media platforms allowed young people to engage in large and complex social networks of friends and ‘friends of friends’ which extended throughout the school and throughout the city.Here it was considered good to become known and be known to be known and certain pupils acted, and were treated like, celebrities and were renowned across large audiences. However, these three tenets of pupil culture also meant pupils negotiated a hyper-risky environment where their bodies were hyper-visible, hyper-scrutinised and therefore hyper-controllecyber-bullying-finalcolord. For many, these risks could be ‘devastating’, with identities being spoiled on a regular basis, for example, by being tagged in unflattering photos or shamed in front of large audiences and online ‘gossip’ pages.

Some thoughts and implications for PE

The online environment afforded young people with opportunities to carefully craft and establish idealised identities, particularly in relation to their bodily appearance as they had the resources and time to ensure that they were portrayed flatteringly. They therefore had unrealistic expectations of how they ‘should’ look and often felt feelings of envy, needing to be ‘better’ and needing to work harder on their own bodies. Like the online environment, the PE environment is place of increased bodily exposure but an exposure which in contrast is characterised by a lack of control. Within PE, young people cannot use apps, camera angles and filters to censor how others see them and the PE environment is a place where a carefully crafted bodily identity can quickly unravel. Further, what happens within the PE environment does not necessarily remain there. A young person’s ‘audience’ can include those who are not necessarily there when social situations occur. This can make offline environments even more ‘risky’ than ever before. The findings of my study revealed that intense focus and scrutiny of the body was very much framed in relation to the ‘healthy’ and ‘fit’ body.imgres

Young people were continually exposed to images of muscular, toned and lean bodies online which were virtuously presented as the results of eating ‘clean’ and working hard in the gym. As my participants claimed, ‘it’s like soooo fashionable right now to be healthy.’ It is tempting, as PE teachers to capitalise upon such ‘trends’ which circulate positively framed messages such as, ‘strong is the new skinny.’ Perhaps, we could argue, this will encourage some young people to engage more with PE, to become fit and healthy? However, the focus here is still very much on appearances and looking ‘healthy’ as opposed to being healthy, on never quite being perfect enough and on superficially judging others. Could we not instead challenge this body objectification and help young people re-define what they value about their bodies? Could PE be the ideal site for attempting this and be the place where young people gain an appreciation of what they can achieve and experience through their bodies as they learn to move?

Useful reference

Johnson, S., Gray, S., & Horrell, A., 2013. ‘‘I want to look like that’: healthism, the ideal body and physical education in a Scottish secondary school,’ Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 34 (3), 457-473. 10.1080/01596306.2012.717196

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