What might the COVID pandemic mean for the SERA PE network (ScotPERN). Blog by Nicola Carse and Shirley Gray

Towards the end of 2020, a speculative discussion on what the COVID-19 pandemic might mean for education will be published in the Scottish Educational Review. In this blog, the co-convenors of the SERA network ScotPERN, Dr Nicola Carse and Dr Shirley Gray (both University of Edinburgh) present their contribution to this discussion, highlighting some of the questions that the pandemic might raise for PE research in the Scottish context.

What might the COVID pandemic mean for the SERA PE network (ScotPERN)

For physical education (PE), the COVID-19 pandemic presents many challenges but also opportunities. Reflecting on the information we have on the way COVID-19 spreads and the associated social distancing measures in relation to PE, it emphasises the physical and social nature of the subject. As much of the teaching and learning in PE is based on interaction and collaboration it has made it difficult to envisage how to approach teaching the subject. However, during the initial phase of lockdown teachers made increasing use of technology to set physical challenges in an attempt to motivate and engage pupils and with the reopening of schools more use has been made of outdoor contexts for teaching.

During lockdown, the physical activity dimension of PE was also promoted through the emergence, of the phenomenon of: ‘Joe Wicks as the nation’s PE teacher’. We will not discuss this phenomenon in detail here, please see a recent BERA blog post by Stirrup, Hooper, Sandford, Harris, Casey, and Cale (2020) that discusses the implications of this for PE. The main concern for PE through this conflation with physical activity and physical health is that it reduces PE to simplistic notions of skills and fitness combined with uncritical understandings of health. This narrow perspective of PE limits the potential it holds for engaging pupils in a broad range of learning experiences. It also publicly reinforces traditionally held views that PE is primarily physical, non-cognitive, non-academic and, therefore, positioned on the margins of the curriculum.

Within a Scottish context the work of academics linked to the SERA PE network (ScotPERN) emphasises the complex nature of PE and the need for research within the area to enhance learning opportunities for pupils. Carse et al. (2018) explore the multiple stakeholders and understandings of PE circulating within society and emphasise the need for a renewed focus on the holistic and educational value of the subject. Recognsing the holistic nature of learning within PE, Gray, MacIsaac and Jess (2015) discuss the ways in which it is possible to reach a number of educational outcomes in PE, including those that are social, emotional and cognitive, by for example considering pupil-centred, critical and embodied pedagogies. Kirk and colleagues develop these ideas further by conducting research exploring how PE teachers in Scotland enact pedagogies of affect. That is, teaching approaches that promote the development of personal and social resources, supporting both learning and wellbeing in meaningful contexts (Teraoka et al., 2020). Described as a pedagogy of affect, the teaching model Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility has been investigated by Gray along with local secondary school teachers. This is a pedagogical model developed to promote social and emotional skills in PE, and is associated with a number of positive student outcomes including improved behaviour and attitudes as well as improved responsibility and life skills (Gray, Wright, Sievewright & Robertson, 2019).

This focus on pedagogy, along with the involvement of teachers in the research process, is a useful starting point for future research, as teachers in Scotland grapple with how to teach PE faced with the physical, environmental, social, emotional and personal challenges that living through a pandemic creates. Positively, within this context we see an opportunity for teachers to work alongside researchers and with pupils, to engage in reflective and critical inquiry processes that encourage them to consider, not only pedagogies of affect, but creative, innovative and inclusive practices that shift traditional conceptions of what PE is and who it is for. This collaborative approach offers the potential to develop curricula and pedagogies that provide pupils with opportunities to move, learn and connect in multiple contexts, for example rural, urban and even digital settings. This could also encourage more interdisciplinary learning opportunities, a key feature of Curriculum for Excellence that has had limited traction to date.

We conclude by considering where next for PE research, we suggest that COVID-19 poses questions in relation to:

  • digital learning and digital literacy within PE;
  • the conceptualisation and positioning of health and wellbeing within the curriculum and in relation to PE, and
  • new and creative approaches and spaces for teaching and learning within PE.



Carse, N., Jess, M., & Keay, J. (2018). Primary PE: Shifting perspectives to move forwards. European PE Review24(4), 487-502.

Gray, S., Wright, P., Sievwright, R., & Robertson, S. (2019). Learning to Use Teaching for Personal and Social Responsibility Through Action Research. Journal of Teaching in PE.

Gray, S., MacIsaac, S., & Jess, M. (2015). Teaching ‘Health’ in PE in a ‘Healthy’ Way. RETOS: Nuevas tendenies en Educacion Fisica Deportes y Recreacion, 28, 165-172. http://recyt.fecyt.es/index.php/retos/article/view/34950/19218

Stirrup, J., Hooper, O., Sandford, R., Harris, J., Casey, A. & Cale, L. (2020). BERA blog, part of series: Covid-19, education and educational research. 20/06/2020. ‘PE’ with Joe (Bloggs): The rise and risks of celebrity ‘teachers. [Online]. [08/09/2020]. Available from: https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/pe-with-joe-bloggs-the-rise-and-risks-of-celebrity-teachers

Teraoka, E., Ferreira, H. J., Kirk, D., & Bardid, F. (2020). Affective learning in PE: a systematic review. Journal of Teaching in PEhttps://doi.org/10.1123/jtpe.2019-0164