You get what you teach, and quality counts…

Dr. Drew Miller is a Lecturer in Physical Education at the University of Newcastle in Australia. In October, he came to visit us at the University of Edinburgh to share some of his ideas around teaching PE in the primary school context, and to initiate a collaborative project with staff here at Edinburgh. This blog describes his research with primary class teachers in Australia, and how they developed their games teaching through engaging in a programme for teacher learning that focuses on ‘quality’ teaching. We hope that you find this blog interesting and stimulating. Please share any comments you have about this post and get in touch if you would like more information about the programme.

You get what you teach, and quality counts…

Over the last decade the purpose of practical physical education (PE) in primary schools has shifted towards a focus on health. This focus comes from a progressive decrease in physical activity (PA) and an increase in sedentary time among children. From a health perspective PE is an opportunity to develop the fundamental movement skills (FMS) linked to higher PA levels, and to increase the weekly PA of children. Whilst these are very valuable outcomes within PE classes, we may be missing the forest for the trees, with children missing out on the skills that contribute to involvement in play. By skills, I am not just referring to the ability to throw, catch or kick (physical skills), but also the skills of how to play the game (game skills), and the social skills that encourage participation (socio-cultural skills).


If we accept that PE should be more than a focus on health, then physical, game and socio-cultural skills should all be valued within PE. The question then comes up, how do we make this happen?

We recently ran several studies called Professional Learning for Understanding Games Education (PLUNGE), in which we helped generalist primary school teachers to teach whilst valuing physical, game and socio-cultural outcomes through the teaching of games. We gave information, then worked with them in their classes, with the focus to improve the student outcomes through the promotion of high quality teaching. These programs involved:

A positive classroom environment:

We spoke to students to redefine what PE was about. In our classes, a quality activity was one where:

  • Everyone was valued and involved, regardless of skill level or gender
  • Students are supported if they make a mistake


The games we used:

  • promoted throwing / catching or kicking / receiving
  • never excluded players
  • started as simple games (throwing at moving targets) and got more (3 attackers vs 1 defender) complex through the program
  • (mostly) involved decision making (one or more defenders) and team-work

PE content knowledge:

We worked with the teachers to recognise learning opportunities within the activities, based around:

  • physical skills – mature version of a movement (e.g. rotating when throwing long)
  • game skills – support (e.g. can they be passed to), and decision making (e.g. looking for open players)
  • socio-cultural skills – participating fairly and supporting each other (e.g. giving encouragement rather than groaning at mistakes)

Pedagogical knowledge:

We worked with teachers on the way the games were undertaken, promoting that:

  • games start as quickly as possible and are modified to provide a fair and flowing activity
  • after evaluation (above) games were stopped to promote learning about the identified opportunity by:
    • questioning students (e.g. why did the game stop? How could we change this?)
    • recognition of quality performance in relation to an outcome (e.g. everyone was helping the ball carrier, behaviour was in line with our definition of quality PE)

This program had a broad focus on the outcomes that could be developed within games-based PE classes, and the use of quality teaching to achieve these outcomes. The program resulted in lessons considered to be higher in quality, and as a result, students significantly improved their FMS (throw, catch & kick), significantly improved their game play skills (support & decision making), and students undertook significantly greater PA during classes. The message here is that a focus on the quality of teaching and a valuing of multiple outcomes that contribute to a child’s involvement in PE also achieved the outcomes considered important from a health perspective. The teachers told us of changes within their students as a result of the focus on a positive environment within PE. Teachers also spoke of far greater involvement from many students, and that these children were also getting involved in activities during break-times at school. Children learnt physical skills, skills to play games, and developed the socio-cultural skills we would like to think bring people into games and sports, and this transferred into participation. In these classes, quality mattered, and non generalist primary teachers were able to produce quality lessons that bought about tremendous positive change.

Dr. Drew Miller, University of Newcastle, Australia


Useful Reference:

Miller, A., Christensen, Eather, N., Gray, S., Sproule, J., Keay., J. and Lubans, D. (2015). Can physical education and physical activity outcomes be developed simultaneously using a game-centered approach? European Physical Education Review, doi: 10.1177/1356336X15594548

3 thoughts on “You get what you teach, and quality counts…

    • Hi there,
      It looks as though we are putting together a research bid to trial the program in Scottish schools in 2016-17. We would really like to expand to other content areas from this.

      The core elements of the program from a teaching perspective generally remain very stable for other physical subject areas: i) creation of a positive motivational and classroom environment, ii) presentation of content that is high in intellectual quality (particularly higher-order thinking), and iii) teaching within this environment (recognizing learning opportunities in activities, giving feedback and exploration through questioning). The major change is the content knowledge required for each subject area.

      I hope we can work with many teachers in the Scottish context to work together towards high quality PE and the outcomes that come with this.


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