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Wanted some inspiration because it just felt very dry, very repetitive”: Scottish primary teachers’ experiences of Physical Education, Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Professional Development

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It has been suggested that further research is needed to explore how non-specialist primary teachers approach and teach PE based on their personal school PE backgrounds, teacher education experiences, and ongoing professional development (Morgan and Hansen, 2009).

Autor(es):Lazarte Elliot, Dely; Atencio, Matthew; Campbell, Theresa; Jess, Mike
Entidades(es):University of Glasgow; University of Edinburgh
Congreso: congreso de la asociación internacional de escuelas superiores de educación física (AIESEP)
Úbeda A Coruña, 26-29 de Octubre de 2010
ISBN: 9788461499465
Palabras claves:Teachers’ beliefs; continuing professional development; initial teacher education; gender relations; teacher socialisation

Wanted some inspiration because it just felt very dry, very repetitive”: Scottish primary teachers’ experiences of Physical Education, Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Professional Development


It has been suggested that further research is needed to explore how non-specialist primary teachers approach and teach PE based on their personal school PE backgrounds, teacher education experiences, and ongoing professional development (Morgan and Hansen, 2009). This paper develops the socialisation model used by Lawson (1983) and others (see Curtner-Smith, 1999; 2001; Green 2000; 2002) in order to explore how primary classroom teachers’ experiences in various contexts influence how they come to view the field of PE in times of curricular change. Paying close attention to teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards PE is arguably important as it highlights how they approach the profession and ‘do the job’.

Furthermore, by examining the comments of primary classroom teachers who were seeking a post-graduate qualification in PE through programmes run by the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, we come to suggest that their views contrast greatly with existing studies focused on the experiences and values of beginner specialist PE teachers. While it has been suggested that specialist PE teachers based in secondary schools largely reproduce male-dominated practices related to sport and team game skill acquisition (Green, 2000), we argue that our study participants critiqued the strong influence of the ‘block’ model curriculum of PE.

It has been argued elsewhere that this ‘block’ model is based upon de-contextualised and abstracted elements of sport (Kirk, 2004) and lends itself to the acquisition of a narrow set of physical skills. Commentary from our study participants likewise suggested that the prevalent use of this model in their PE, ITE, and PE CPD contexts meant that they came away with minimal pedagogical guidance and a lack of in-depth content knowledge.


It has been suggested by Bailey et al. (2009) that globally these are ‘interesting times’ for physical education due to the plethora of recent policies and initiatives aimed at positively contributing to schools, children, and society more generally (pp.1-2). In Scotland, physical education has likewise received unprecedented attention from government policy makers in recent years; numerous policy statements and guidelines have positioned physical education as a platform for improving young people’s capacity to be fit, healthy, and physically active throughout their lifespan (Scottish Executive, 2003a; Scottish Executive, 2003b; Scottish Executive, 2004). Indeed, the principal driver underpinning the recent demand for improved physical education provision in Scotland is the notion that young children are receiving mediocre quality PE and are thus subject to poor physical and even mental health (Scottish Executive, 2003a; Scottish Executive, 2003b).

Calls for an improved and more effective curriculum have been aimed at the primary sector, where it has been found that only approximately one-third of primary schools provide ‘very good’ physical education programmes (HMIE, 2001). This trend in primary PE provision has been noted worldwide, due to numerous factors such as poor training opportunities, limited support and resources, lack of interest and time (Morgan and Bourke, 2008). Morgan and Bourke (2008) suggest that despite the positive contributions that primary PE can offer children in terms of physical, emotional, cognitive and social development, ‘a significant number of classroom and non-specialist teachers have difficulty teaching PE’ (p.2).

In this paper we discuss research that further investigates the conditions of primary PE, particularly in relation to how non-specialist teachers who participated in a postgraduate certification course in primary PE came to approach the teaching of the subject. We pay close attention to their personal school experiences and how these influenced their participation in initial teacher education (ITE) and professional development programmes. This approach draws upon Lawson’s (1983) ‘occupational socialisation’ model that has been used to describe the social factors and relationships that influence PE teachers’ beliefs and practices. This model has been used to examine PE and generalist teachers’ development of perspectives and approaches in a range of international contexts, at the primary, secondary, undergraduate, post-graduate and higher degree levels (Curtner-Smith, 1999, 2001; Green, 2000; 2002; Macdonald et al., 1999; Morgan and Bourke, 2008).

In the context of curricular innovation taking place in Scottish primary PE, we use the socialisation model to examine how practitioners came to negotiate curricular reform in relation to personal and professional socialisation processes associated with their personal PE and ITE experiences as well as their professional involvements PE CPD.


Renewed focus has been placed on revising and improving the Scottish physical education curriculum. In 2004, the Report of the Review Group on Physical Education recommended that improving the curriculum was necessary to achieve ‘the greatest impact in terms of potential outcomes’ (Scottish Executive, 2004, p.27). An improved curriculum was thus seen as core for enhancing ‘the role and status of physical education in developing the young person’ (ibid, p.10). The recent Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) that emerged in conjunction with calls for curricular reform in Scotland across all subject areas similarly conceptualises the physical education curriculum as not just a medium for increasing physical activity levels and acquiring physical skills, but also crucially links this subject with the development of learners’ personal and social skills, talents, positive attitudes, mental skills (Scottish Executive, 2006).

The physical education curriculum has been singled out to provide cooperative, pupil-centred, personally engaging, and cross-curricular contributions to pupils’ learning. In the CfE, physical education is regarded as being ‘a core activity linked to healthy lifestyles, lifelong learning, improved health, an inclusive society’ (Scottish Executive, 2004, p.2) and identified as the only subject area that comes with a specific timetable recommendation (e.g. two hours each week for pupils between five and sixteen years) (ibid, p.10). Such a remit has implications for the number of teaching staff and their concomitant professional development (Scottish Executive, 2004); meeting this demand meant that 400 additional teachers were needed to deliver physical education by 2008. In conjunction with calls for improving the state of primary physical education in Scotland through curricular innovation and associated requirements to increase the number of teaching professionals, the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh were commissioned to develop a nationwide initiative.

The Postgraduate Certificate in Primary Physical Education (PGCPPE) was delivered in local authorities in western Scotland by the University of Glasgow, while the University of Edinburgh offered the 3-14 Physical Education Programme to primary teachers located in Eastern Scotland1. These programmes provide non-specialist classroom teachers the opportunity to develop a specialism in primary PE. An accompanying research study, the Scottish Primary Physical Education Project (SPPEP), was developed to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of this PE CPD programme. The SPPEP is primarily concerned with reporting on how the postgraduate courses offered by the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow address the needs of participating teachers.

Furthermore, a significant research component involves investigating how teachers come to negotiate knowledges and practices associated with the new Curriculum for Excellence. In this context, Curtner-Smith (1999) reminds us that few PE researchers have evaluated the ways in which curricular innovation becomes implemented, particularly in relation to individual teachers. Furthermore, while research is growing into the experiences of beginner PE teachers who deal with curricular innovation (Curtner-Smith, 2001; Smyth, 1995; Solmon et al, 1993), there is a lack of research into how both beginner and mid-career primary generalist teachers come to negotiate curricular reform as well as PE CPD (Tsangaridou, 2008). This research is particular compelling as it has been found that primary school teachers generally lack in confidence in comparison to PE specialist teachers, because they do not feel that they have ‘the knowledge, skills, or time’ to improve their limited PE programmes (Morgan and Bourke, 2009, p. 386). Kirk (2005) and Tsangaridou (2008) also remind us that primary PE provision is generally of a lower standard than secondary PE that is directed by specialists, and that increasing pressures aligned with lack of support and resources (including PE CPD) make it unlikely that primary PE can achieve the aims outlined in emerging curricular initiatives.

As part of understanding the needs of primary teachers taking part in the PGCPPE and the 3-14 programmes, study participants were encouraged to reflect upon their previous PE participation, Initial Teacher Education (ITE) training, and formal and informal PE CPD participation. The teachers’ personal experiences along with their professional training were considered highly influential in their journey and development as practitioners and as influential to their decision to pursue a specialism in primary PE. This view follows the notion that teachers have been ‘socialised’ in relation to primary physical education. Lawson (1983) describes how PE teachers’ beliefs, attitudes, and practices are shaped by personal and professional experiences.

He suggests that teachers are ‘acculturised’ through their own early PE and ITE experiences, and then subsequently become socialised through professional and occupational contexts (including PE CPD). Curtner-Smith (1999) and others (see Green, 2000; 2002; Macdonald et al., 1999; O’Bryant et al., 2000) have used this model to suggest that PE teachers’ personal experiences as well as their ITE and inservice training greatly impacts upon how they engage with the PE field as professionals. We seek to extend the findings into PE socialisation by paying closer attention to how primary teachers negotiate PE CPD contexts as part of obtaining a qualification to teach PE. Indeed, Tsangaridou (2008) has suggested that more research is needed to demonstrate how PE CPD programmes impact upon primary teachers, and how primary teachers come to take up particular beliefs and practices through PE CPD that are integrally linked with their personal experiences of PE and physical activity.

Furthermore, from the perspective that primary classroom teachers are overwhelmingly female (Morgan and Bourke, 2009), we suggest that gender is a crucial discourse that impacts upon teacher socialisation. Lawson (1983) has suggested that male and female physical education teachers often have divergent experiences in physical education and sport, and concomitantly become imbued with differing views about the nature and purpose of PE. Tsangaridou (2008) has gone on to demonstrate how female primary teachers construct beliefs and practices that reflect a more critical view of prevailing PE content and delivery when compared to their male counterparts.


Research design and subjects

The design of this national study utilised mixed-method quantitative and qualitative studies with a longitudinal focus consisting of the use of a baseline and two follow-up questionnaires as well as semi-structured individual interviews with teachers and key stakeholders. Following ITE studies in PE such as Flintoff et al., (2008) which utilised both surveys and follow-up interviews in generating ‘important’ insights as well as ‘rich’ and ‘in depth’ knowledge, this paper will report on the quantitative and qualitative data obtained from the complementary baseline questionnaire and selected follow-up individual interviews. Indeed, Curtner-Smith (1999) reminds us that survey research is only partially useful in determining how curricular innovation in PE becomes implemented, and that qualitative inquiry is also needed to overcome limitations.

While the primary purpose of the baseline questionnaire survey was to assess teachers’ knowledge and skills prior to participation in the programme, the questionnaire and the follow-up interviews were used to provide information regarding the teachers’ decisions to pursue a further qualification in primary PE. The large-scale study combined closed and open-ended questions in the questionnaire and afforded a mixture of both quantitative and qualitative data for generating the baseline component of the study. The questionnaire was also used to identify interview participants for a more in-depth exploration of key issues. Six hundred and fifty teachers who registered on the PGCPPE or 3-14 Programme between 2006 and 2009 in either the University of Glasgow or the University of Edinburgh were invited to complete a paper or a web-based questionnaire at the outset of the programme.

These teachers work for all of the thirtytwo Educational Authorities in Scotland giving a proportional representation depending on the size of the authority. Of those who consented to be contacted further and interviewed, sixteen teachers from various educational authorities were selected using a systematic sampling technique (Cohen et al., 2000). During the interviews, participants were asked a range of questions including questions about their early PE backgrounds and professional learning experiences. Furthermore, questions were asked in relation to teachers’ specific duties and roles in their schools, their views on PE as a profession and its place in their school, as well as the structures and stakeholders who influenced their ability to teach PE. In carrying out the data analysis, SPSS was employed in organising the quantitative data and exploring the relationships amongst a range of variables.

The qualitative aspects generated through the follow-up interviews were audio-recorded and fully transcribed prior to using a qualitative data management tool. NVivo was employed to organise, manage, create codes, and discover emergent themes and concepts leading to investigation of the relationships between concepts. Triangulation by using more than one method or source of data (Bryman, 2004) was applied by considering the findings acquired through both the quantitative and the qualitative means. The data analysis in this paper focuses on the baseline data and was primarily drawn from the Phase 1 dataset (n=327) generated from the questionnaires completed by PE student cohorts who completed either the PGCPPE or 3-14 Physical Education programmes.

The response rate achieved was moderately good; there were 327 (50%) completed questionnaires out of 650 participants2. Eighty-three percent of the study participants were female teachers, a gender imbalance which is a reflection of the Scottish teaching workforce (see Riddell et al., 2005) and also in primary teaching more specifically (Morgan and Hansen, 2009). Thus, the issues raised in this paper have a gender bias and reflect the views of a largely female cohort. Of the female cohort (n=271), nearly half (44%) taught Primary 4 to 7 while about a quarter (24%) taught Primary 1 to 3 and less than 2% comprised those who taught Pre-school or were Whole school PE specialists. Representation (20%) was also obtained from development managers, learning support teachers, supply teachers and additional support needs teachers.

According to the questionnaire respondents, the majority (171, 52%) of the study participants were responsible for teaching their own class. Whereas a fifth (61, 19%) took responsibility not only for teaching their own but also for other classes, a small proportion (34, 10%) claimed to be responsible for all the PE classes in their respective schools. The remaining teachers (13%) cited a wide range of examples regarding their remit, including teaching additional subjects. Of the 327 participants, more than half of the respondents (53%) studied a Bachelor in Education whereas almost two fifths (38%) pursued either a PGCE or a PGDE3 after completing their first degree.

Findings: Primary teachers’ experiences of PE, ITE, and PE/ 95% confidence level that the margin of error is ±4. 3 PGCE stands for Postgraduate Certificate in Education whereas PGDE means Professional Graduate Diploma in Education. The first is used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland whereas the latter is used in Scotland. Degree holders who aspire to become teachers can either pursue the one-year PGCE or PGDE, consisting of a combination of lectures, tutorials and practical teaching experience in schools.


Teachers’ personal PE experiences in primary and secondary school

Results were similar when the teachers rated their personal PE experiences as primary and secondary pupils. Approximately half of them thought that they received ‘good’ PE whilst almost a third considered their experience to be ‘very good’. Less than a fifth deemed it to be either ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ quality. ‘Insert Table 1 here’ Some of the comments indicated that primary PE was considered enjoyable because it involved active participation, competition and sport performance. One female classroom teacher, for instance, commented that this ‘element of competition’ and performing ‘well’ gave her a sense of accomplishment and the respect of her fellow pupils.

However, even though some of the teachers felt that their primary PE experiences were ‘good’ or ‘very good’ because they involved active participation, emphasised competition, and provided an introduction to team sport, there was also an associated criticism of the predominant use of competitive sport-based activities. One female classroom teacher contended that PE tended to focus too much on ‘high achievement’ rather than ‘enjoyment’, leading to the exclusion of some pupils. Indeed, the following comments illustrate how activities based on competitive team sport were often disliked by the participants.

One male classroom teacher expressed a dislike of competitive team sport: ‘I wasn’t particularly gifted and suffered from asthma. [Therefore, I] tended to be last to be picked for football’. Likewise, a female classroom teacher explained ‘[I] could not run fast enough, was not chosen for games, was shy in front of others’. Other classroom teachers remarked directly on the low quality of the primary 1334 13 PE curriculum they experienced. According to them, PE did not consist of ‘taught lessons’ and lacked consistency because it simply provided physical activities underpinned by random sport elements. Thus, even though participants felt active and busy and generally found the experience positive, the criticism was often made that they were not ‘being “taught” anything’ tangible, as suggested by one female participant.

The lack of a structured and coherent curriculum was often mentioned, as teachers mostly employed games and/or contests derived from sport (e.g. ‘rounders’, football, and races). A female PT noted: ‘I loved it, but on reflection I don’t think that I learned a lot. I think it was more physical activity’. Along similar sentiments, a male classroom teacher reflected ‘[I] cannot remember any great lessons or being inspired to try a new activity. PE usually consisted of races/team games, not taught lessons’. Morgan and Hansen (2009) have similarly found that primary PE is regularly used as simpy an ‘opportunity to get children outside and expend some energy’ (p. 382). In this context, lessons are informally prepared and are typically intended to ‘get children “outside and moving” rather than following any lesson plan or attempting to achieve syllabus outcomes’ (p.382).

Even though study participants sometimes enjoyed the prevailing curricular practices of their primary PE, and even sometimes found it ‘enjoyable’, they still reported that they came away with little understanding of the subject and what it meant to be physically active and healthy. Thus, we would argue that the primary PE experiences of teachers, despite being described as generally ‘good’ or ‘very good’, seemed to inadequate in fostering pupils with a sense of lifewide and lifelong learning in relation to physical activity (Penney and Jess, 2004). As Penney (2008) maintains, ‘instilling a commitment to lifelong learning, enabling and encouraging people to become lifelong learners, providing them with opportunities to develop ‘life skills’ 1335 14 (p.38) are key curricular agendas for physical education. Secondary PE was similarly rated as being generally ‘good’ or ‘very good’, and was sometimes viewed as an extension of primary PE even as it was characterised more by ‘inter school sports’ (Male, classroom teacher), ‘house/school teams’ (Female, classroom teacher), and a ‘more structured curriculum’ (Male, PT). Participants also remarked that secondary PE was the ‘same as primary school’ (Male, classroom teacher).

Yet, in the secondary PE context there was more of an emphasised divide between those who were considered capable and those were labelled as being either incapable or unwilling. Due to the enhanced sport focus, two participants noted that PE teachers sometimes selected their ‘favourites’ (Female, classroom teacher). It was thus believed that some of the teachers were uninterested in those pupils (mostly young women) who were not deemed ‘sporty’ enough (Female, classroom teacher). As noted by Wright (1996) girls in secondary PE are often characterised as being resistant and uninterested, while the boys are generally viewed as being more compliant, particularly ‘when physical education is conflated with games and sports-related areas’ (p.67).

According to the participants, a variety of factors also contributed to female secondary pupils losing their enthusiasm, becoming less inspired and experiencing boredom, dissatisfaction and being discouraged from participating. These comments were mostly provided by female classroom teachers and were underpinned by a range of explanations, including: 1) not getting any real coaching or help; 2) less competitive students were considered of ‘no use’ and were largely ‘ignored’; 3) experiencing feelings of inadequacy; 4) being weight and ‘body conscious’; 5) the playground ‘often felt like a bullying ground’; and 6) male teachers holding malevolent feelings and attitudes towards female pupils learners.

Such factors led to 1336 15 practices representing gender discrimination: … teachers made those who were not strong in PE feel even less confident by making jokes are their expense [and] this discouraged participation. Only if you were good at a sport were you made to feel comfortable. (Female, classroom teacher) The gendered practices outlined above can be considered as ‘dividing practices’ (Foucault, 1983): I have studied the objectivizing of the subject in what I shall call ‘dividing practices.’ The subject is either divided inside himself (sic) or divided from others. This process objectivizes him. (p.208) From this perspective, particular social practices work to categorise and isolate female pupils from their male counterparts.

Secondary PE classes thus work as sites where dividing practices work to construct male-dominated hierarchies. The perceived exclusivity of secondary PE was thus made evident through the increased existence of pedagogical practices that led to ‘sex segregation’ in co-educational classes (Female, classroom teacher), with favour given to males and less opportunities afforded to females. As noted by Wright (1999), the equal opportunity approach, which underpins co-educational or integrated physical education has done little to provide meaningful participation for females. Indeed, she argues that ‘the evidence that girls’ experiences in coeducation were not the same as boys’ soon become (sic) evident to many who taught these classes’ (p.182).

She notes that ‘teachers gave disparate amounts of attention to students in their classes on the basis of their sex… studies showed that boys had more of the teachers’ attention and tended to dominate in games 1337 16 situations’ (p.182). As a result, girls often came to be considered ‘problems’, who had ‘less skill and less enthusiasm’ (p.182), and they consequently become embarrassed and joked about. In an earlier work, Wright (1996) referred to interviews with male teachers to demonstrate how perceptions of ‘female incompetence’ are generally opposed to ‘male competence, toughness, and superior ability’ (p.66).

Such a notion is linked to the idea that men hold higher positions of power in physical education due to their perception of being the ‘macho men’ in schools (Skelton, 1993, p.291). As exemplified in the following remarks, male teachers and students in secondary PE worked to create conditions whereby girls came to feel excluded and marginalised: [I] felt challenged appropriately by female staff but felt pressure to underachieve in later secondary career due to climate established by male ‘macho’ PE teacher. He did not value girls that were able to be competitive.

Programme was structured with girls only having dance as an option for some blocks! (Female, Classroom teacher) [There are] not many activities available for girls, all male teachers, focus was on football, rugby, cricket, etc. Activities such as dance and gymnastics were low on the priority list so again [I felt] disengaged. (Female, Classroom teacher) It has been extensively noted (see Penney & Jess, 2003; Kirk, 2004) that the multiactivity model of PE, where abstracted and decontextualised elements of sport have been taught in short-term and compartmentalised ‘blocks’, has dominated both and secondary PE curriculum.

Kirk (2004) argues that this approach leads to poor retention, marginalises students who are not skillful at certain sports as well as those who are generally uninterested in competitive sport, and prioritises the learning of specific skills. According to many of the SPPEP study participants, suggests that secondary PE is more strongly underpinned by competitive team sport in comparison to primary PE. Under these conditions, a gender divide emerged whereby females tended to be dissuaded from ‘full’ and enjoyable PE participation (Macdonald et al., 1999).

Initial Teacher Education experiences

After discussing their previous PE experiences in both primary and secondary settings, the teachers described their initial teacher education (ITE) experiences. Teacher participants graduated from a number of colleges and universities in Scotland, UK, Europe, and other international locations dating from the 1960’s and as recently as 2007. Participants were asked to rate their perceptions of the ITE experiences, particularly the perceived adequacy and appropriateness of the curriculum received. ‘Insert Table 2 about here’ The overwhelming majority of the teachers (77%) regarded their ITE curriculum to be either ‘appropriate’ or ‘very appropriate’ in terms of providing opportunities to engage with the basic understanding of sport and physical activity.

However, 24% still noted that it was either ‘inappropriate’ or ‘very inappropriate’. Additionally, a significant number of teachers (45%) commented that their programmes did not go far enough to prepare them adequately in their future roles as teachers. Taken together, this lack can be partially traced to the limited time devoted for PE-specific training in the primary generalist teachers’ overall ITE. Whereas ninety-three participants (32%) said that more than 30 hours had been allocated for teaching PE during their ITE, more than two-thirds (69%) indicated that only 30 hours or less had been given, with 45% emphasising the ‘0 to 15 hours’ allocation. As noted by one female classroom teacher, ‘During my PGCE year I think we had around four hours of PE input. When I came to start teaching I really didn’t know what I was doing’.

A number of teachers explained that their ITE experience provided them with only a rudimentary starting point on how to teach PE. However, it was often mentioned that the curriculum was lacking in the depth needed to give them confidence to deliver the subject. A male classroom teacher evaluated his experience as follows: ‘It was appropriate in starting to meet my needs but was not in depth enough or sufficiently broad ranging to equip me to fully deliver PE’. Two female classroom teachers also commented on the inadequacy of training received: ‘It was appropriate in the sense that it was a practical course but this needed to be balanced with more in depth knowledge and understanding of the developing child’ and ‘You weren’t taught how to teach PE, it was more activity based where we were participating in a sport/game. The actual methodology of teaching PE was not really gone into’.

These observations were summarised by another female classroom teacher who asserted that ‘[t]he tutorials were useful and appropriate, but greatly lacking in quantity to enable teachers to teach PE at a high standard’. Teachers claimed to have been equipped with basic skills that were transferable to many areas of PE, although the coverage was merely ‘scratching the surface at times’ (Female, classroom teacher). In particular, the emphasis on the multi-activity ‘block’ model of teaching, which they were often familiar with from their own previous primary and secondary PE experiences, meant that they learned how to understand and even participate in sport-oriented games and physical activity but did not know enough about content and how to teach PE per se.

As noted above, the short amount of time given to PE training and the emphasis on learning about team sport meant that many teachers felt unable to teach effectively once they became employed. As a result, it seemed that the teachers often had to learn ‘on the job’. It has generally been found that specialist PE teachers ‘do not arrive for teacher training as tabula rasa. Rather, they arrive with particular dispositions, or habituses’ (Green, 2010, p. 69). Green suggests that ‘By the time many teachers reach the training stage they have, more or less wittingly, become accustomed to associating PE primarily with “sport in schools”’ (p.69).

The classroom teachers in our study had previous experience with sport-based models of PE and came away from their ITE generally sceptical about the use of the approach in primary PE. There is a significant difference between this critical view and the general views held by PE specialist teachers who generally enter PE ITE confident that ‘they already know what they need to be able to teach’ (Morgan and Hansen, 2009, p.373), due to their immersion and enjoyment of sport-based PE. ‘Occupational socialisation’ thus became a very important process for the teachers in our study, since many of them had minimal and insufficient PE ITE experiences and mostly learned how to teach the subject once they were ‘on the job’ and through PE CPD. The apparent lack of quality ITE seems to explain why many of the respondents (44%) confirmed getting other specialist courses and qualifications related to PE during their ITE years.

These included participation in ‘Basic Moves’ movement training provided by the University of Edinburgh, and coaching awards ranging from football, rugby, netball, and outdoor education (e.g. Alpine skiing, kayaking, and hillwalking). A female classroom teacher highlighted the importance of taking the initiative in participating in other specialist courses whilst doing her ITE because ‘little time was spent on PE’. This trend of searching outside of established teacher education contexts in order to enhance one’s teaching skills, knowledges, and practices was also apparent once teachers became ensconced in the teaching profession. In the next section, we discuss how the lack of consistent and quality PE CPD meant that the primary classroom teachers often became compelled to seek out and participate in a wide range of informal and government-initiated CPD initiatives.

Informal and formal PE CPD experiences

Extensive teacher engagement with PE CPD activities became evident through the responses received. For example, extra-curricular formal activities recently attended (e.g. in the last five years) varied considerably, including an SFA (Scottish Football Association) ‘Early Touches’ football course, Basic Moves, tennis coaching, Tai Chi, Netball, Mini Water Polo, Body Combat, Junior Jog, Elevating Athletics, Wake Up Shake Up, a Climbing instructor course, a skipping workshop, and various games – many of which were considered ‘very relevant’ and provided ‘lots of practical and useful ideas’ and ‘excellent training’. Also, a number of other informal activities both within and external to school proved helpful in promoting participants’ further development as teachers of physical education.

Other activities that were associated with professional learning ranged from personal reading (e.g. ‘The Well Balanced Child’ and ‘Fitness and Health’ books), table tennis training, dancing classes, Boxercise, Body Combat and Body Attack classes. In exploring teachers’ motivation for taking part in the PGCPPE or 3-14 courses, more than half (54%) of the participants cited wanting ‘to enhance knowledge, understanding and skills in teaching PE’ while a third (37%) were driven by ‘personal interest’. This is supported by their expectations about the programme: three-quarters of the participants (75%) strongly conveyed that it was ‘increased subject knowledge and enhanced PE teaching skills’ that they wanted (see Table 3) as this would help ‘equip them to deliver a high standard of PE’ (Female, classroom teacher) and to ‘encourage children to be lifelong physically active’ (Female, classroom teacher).

Similar motivations for participating in the PGCPPE or 3-14 programme were regularly described along these lines, as exemplified in the quote below: …it is really important that children have a good quality experience of PE from the earliest age possible in order to form good habits and to improve on the general health and wellbeing of Scottish children today. (Female, classroom teacher) ‘Insert Table 3 about here’ A desire to enhance PE-related knowledge, understanding and skills to augment teaching effectiveness was put forward as the major reason for joining the programme, and follow-up interviews with randomly selected teachers further revealed that a key driver for enrolling in the programme was due to the limited nature of PE CPD opportunities made available to the primary teachers in their local authorities. Most PE CPD opportunities were seen as being sporadically offered, short in pedagogical and theoretical content, and unrelated to actual classroom experience.

As noted by Armour (2006), these types of PE CPD opportunities are unsuccessful as they often result in teacher dissatisfaction and provide little opportunity for knowledge transfer and improved pedagogical practices. One female classroom teacher noted that the PE CPD courses made available to her were uninspiring: Obviously we’ve all got to do this continual professional development, so rather than doing lots of little courses on, a lot of the stuff that we get offered from the local authority and things like that are quite, em, I don’t know, they don’t inspire me very much…. Other teachers mentioned that most PE CPD courses or mentoring programmes that were available tended to be sport-skill focused, taught in alignment with the multiactivity ‘block’ model of teaching, and generally did not address pedagogical and child development theories: Outwith the [PGCPPE] course, anything was just fairly practical and interesting, but nothing that went into the theory of why certain things should be taught.

It was just more about how to teach skipping or basketball or something to the infants. (Female, classroom teacher) … [PE CPD] was quite sort of traditional methods that didn’t really seem to motivate and instil any enthusiasm among the pupils very much, some pupils, yes, but it certainly didn’t hit all the pupils … it didn’t address all the needs of the children in the class and really I just wanted some inspiration because it just felt very dry, very repetitive.… (Female, classroom teacher) Furthermore, when asked to describe their key needs, classroom teachers responded that they desired to learn about child development theory and associated pedagogical practices that would enable them to improve their current PE teaching and to motivate pupils.

For instance, two female classroom teachers commented that: ‘I need to have a better understanding of how children develop and mature physically’ and ‘[I need] a better grasp of delivering the curriculum to meet the needs of all learners’. Taken together, the comments above suggest that PE teachers generally found typical PE CPD provision to be inadequate, as it mostly offered practical ‘tips’ derived from the teaching of a select few team sports. It appeared that teachers were very familiar with this type of pedagogical and curricular approach, from their own previous PE participation and through their ITE experiences.

Indeed, it has been suggested that teacher education programmes leave much to be desired as they do not generally offer contexts where physical education pedagogies and content can be discussed in-depth (Curtner-Smith, 2001). Armour similarly reminds us that PE CPD is usually superficial and practical in nature (Armour, 2006). Consequently, many study participants felt that they needed to expand their understanding of PE by enrolling in a wide variety of physical activity courses as it was believed that providing a wider range of activities for pupils might foster greater motivation and learning opportunities. Indeed, one teacher noted that these ‘taster’ type sessions could ‘illustrate sports/games that will widen choice for children in PE’ (Female, classroom teacher). In addition, it was suggested that taking part in a wider range of ‘sport and skill opportunities’ could help teachers facilitate ‘cross-curricular links’ in the context of the emerging Curriculum for Excellence.


The previous discussion highlighted several significant issues related to teachers’ personal and professional experiences in physical education, firstly as participants in primary and secondary contexts and subsequently through formal participation in teacher education programmes and various professional development contexts. Exploring teachers’ own early experiences of PE is important and these experiences should not be underestimated because they have the capacity to impact on teachers’ personally formulated beliefs and value systems in relation to their teaching (Poulou, 2005).

Personal learning experiences, arguably, become part of the teachers’ tacit knowledge and inform their decision-making ability, progressively being incorporated into their accepted ideals about what teaching and learning entails (Woolfolk Hoy, 2000). It has been found by Curtner-Smith (1999) that the physical education and sport experiences of teachers greatly impact upon their beliefs about PE and how they interpret the PE curriculum. In our study, we found that the teachers’ previous PE experiences in both primary and secondary contexts reflected the prevalence of teaching devoted to the decontextualised and abstracted elements of sport offered through the multi-activity ‘block’ model (Kirk, 2004).

While the teachers regularly noted that primary PE was often an enjoyable and active experience, it has been suggested that primary PE is problematic because it generally tends to focus ‘on large-sided team sports with minimal emphasis on fundamental motor skill development or physical activity promotion’ (Morgan and Hansen, 2009, p.382). The participants’ comments also suggested that the multi-activity ‘block’ model that was often used to underpin their physical activity did not teach them useful knowledge about movement, bodies, and learning. The teachers subsequently described how the increased use of this ‘block’ model in alignment with highly competitive sport discourses and skill-based training in secondary PE served to alienate and exclude pupils, particularly females who felt that their secondary PE was dominated by male teachers and pupils.

Green (2000) has noted that competitive and team oriented sport tends to be a prominent part of PE; the emphasis on performance and skill acquisition in PE lessons is common, particularly ‘amongst male PE teachers (of all ages and occupational levels)’ (p.115). Research further suggests that teaching short blocks of team sport elements does not lend itself to lifelong physical activity participation (Fairclough et al., 2002) and the outcomes that are expected through the teaching of sport only focus on ‘narrow sets of skills’ (Johns and Dimmock, 1999, p.380). In this context, Johns and Dimmock (1999) argue that there is little evidence ‘to substantiate that the benefits of physical education extend beyond the acquisition of isolated skills that are seldom used outside of the school physical education class’ (p.380). Instead, it has been proposed that enhancing young people’s broader understanding, knowledge, and behaviour around physical activity goes farther in enhancing their physical activity participation (Fairclough & Stratton, 2005).

As the study participants entered into ITE contexts, they noted that the ‘block’ model was still widely used. As noted by Curtner-Smith (1999), ITE generally follows the same course as primary and secondary PE, and offers a conservative interpretation of the subject in similar ways as reflected in the teaching of ‘a fairly narrow range of “traditional sports”’ (p.89). The teachers in our study were similarly expected to participate in games and sport during this time; as a result, many of them came away feeling as if they did not learn enough about the subject and how to teach physical education to a satisfactory standard. This raises questions as it has been found in previous PE studies that becoming socialised into and through sport, and indeed ‘liking’ and even ‘loving’ sport, is an important motivating factor for teachers who want to enter the PE profession (Cancela and Ayan, 2010; Curtner-Smith, 1999; Green, 2010; Macdonald et al., 1999).

In our study, it was noted by many classroom teachers that they were generally dissatisfied with a sport-centered version of ITE, and only learned to teach PE once they commenced teaching ‘in the field’. It was expected that PE CPD opportunities mandated by the Scottish Government and required at local authority and school level could ameliorate the inadequate nature of ITE. Morgan and Hansen (2009) suggest that teachers who have poor previous experiences with PE ‘made efforts to ensure these were not repeated for their current students’ (p.387). Thus, the SPPEP teachers’ desire to enrol in a wide range of PE CPD could be seen as reflecting their desire to provide better quality PE to their pupils.

Policy mandates in Scotland (e.g. HMIE, 2001; Scottish Executive, 2003a; Scottish Executive, 2004) have led to the establishment of a national system of PE CPD. However, despite this enhanced government provision for PE CPD, many teachers noted that course offerings in their local authority were rarely and randomly held, were non-specific to their local contexts, and reproduced the multi-activity ‘block’ model. Indeed, these approaches contradict what is known about quality PE CPD. For instance, Bechtel and Sullivan (2006) and Armour and Yelling (2004) note that PE CPD is most effective when it addresses teachers’ needs relative to their local communities and schools, focuses on a range of curricular and pedagogical approaches that support children’s lifelong physical activity, is provided on a consistent basis, and offers opportunities for teachers to share ideas about practice critically and substantially.

In response, SPPEP teachers sought out and enrolled in a wide range of physical activity and sport-based courses, both as active participants and as attendees. At the same time, they noted that the formal PGCPPE and 3-14 courses offered nationally throughout Scotland were more widely accessible- these programmes were offered in all 32 Scottish local authorities on a consistent basis and the fees were subsidised by the Scottish Government. These programmes were viewed as providing contexts where primary classroom teachers could discuss and debate key ideas and practices associated with children’s learning of PE and engagement with physical activity, health and wellbeing.

In particular, teachers felt that this course provided them with a better understanding of relevant curricular and pedagogical strategies as well as child development theories that could enable them to sustain pupils’ learning and motivation. Indeed, Curtner-Smith (2001) suggests that master’s level courses in PE are best when they provide different perspectives and practices from innovative faculty; these types of courses provide better depth and breadth of knowledge and skill. Curricular innovation taking place in Scotland through the new Curriculum for Excellence promotes increasing teacher flexibility and the establishment of independent and confident learners through cross-curricular and child-focused learning experiences.

Teachers are now being asked to move away from direct and behaviourist pedagogies that have prominently featured in sport-based ‘block’ teaching (Light, 2008), and instead are required to foster collaborative learning experiences that lead to ‘successful learners’, ‘confident individuals’, ‘effective contributors’ and ‘responsible citizens’ (Scottish Executive, 2006). At the same time, the CfE has proposed that all children receive at least two hours of quality curricular physical education, requiring improved professional development of existing teachers and the training of 400 new teachers who can deliver quality PE.

The CfE has thus specifically targeted the development of the physical education profession as a key feature of developing pupils’ foundation in lifelong physical activity and health and well-being; indeed, PE is the only curricular area with a specific timetable requirement (e.g. two hours). The CfE’s pupil-centred and ‘whole child’ approach to PE dovetails with calls made by Penney and Chandler (2000), who purport that the new physical education curricula would ‘need to feature less directive, more student centred and individualised teaching that facilitates creative roles in and approaches to learning’ (p.84).

In this context, we argue that the multi-activity ‘block’ model of teaching extensively referred to here by teachers as ever-present throughout their physical education histories and careers is indeed inadequate for contemporary Scottish children to achieve the physical activity and health and well-being targets set by government. We propose that at the levels of primary and secondary PE, as well as ITE and CPD, alternative curricular and pedagogical approaches that are more collaborative, child-focused, and developmentally appropriate are necessary to begin to address the various collective and individual agendas associated with calls for enhancing children’s physical activity participation.

For instance, it has been argued that PE curriculum and associated pedagogical practices are most effective when focused on the developmental needs of children at social, emotional, cognitive, and physical levels, and through the implementation of ‘situated’ and social constructivist approaches (Bailey et al., 2009; Rovegno, 2006). Penney and Chandler (2000) highlight specific curricular initiatives such as Sport Education and Teaching Games for Understanding that arguably contribute to more socially inclusive and critically reflective teaching and learning. Such innovations are seen as fostering ‘knowledge production as an ongoing and shared endeavour in education… that will facilitate the development of valued “connections” between learning, and with more pupils’ lives’ (p.84).

However, it has been noted by Sproule et al., (2008) that these types of alternative curricular practices have been largely absent in the Scottish PE context. At the same time, the prevalence of negative comments offered in our study surrounding the male-dominated curricular practices of physical education suggests that the issue of imparting gender inclusive practices could be extensively addressed through both ITE and PE CPD. Green (2000) has argued that many male PE teachers believe that PE should be primarily conceptualised as a primarily ‘physical’ rather than an ‘educational’ endeavour.

However, our findings have suggested that a PE CPD programme can highlight more gender inclusive pedagogies and knowledges that are integrally linked with an expanded notion of PE as well as health and wellbeing. Indeed the CfE aims to develop a holistic educational curricular agenda through PE, rather than singularly providing for the physical and psychomotor domains. McCaughtery (2006) proposes that teachers’ professional learning contexts can contribute to more gender inclusive physical education practices.

Wright (1999) similarly advocates that professional development workshops need to incorporate discussions around the social construction of gender, as part of supporting PE ‘environments where different forms of femininity and masculinity are valued, more equitable and respectful relationships between girls and boys are possible and where those forms of masculinity and femininity which have negative consequences for girls and boys are challenged’ (pp.187-188). Indeed, Wright (1996) has previously advocated that teachers need to pay greater attention to young women so that they become physically empowered and confident through curricular activities, rather than alienated and excluded. She comments that ‘[w]hatever activities might be offered, they need to include opportunities to provide girls and women with a sense of their bodies as enabling, as a centre of strength from which they can be assertive in their dealings with the world, including their relations with other women and men’ (p.77).


This paper has used a socialisation focus to highlight how teachers negotiated curricular and pedagogical practices offered to them throughout their lives. This approach follows the work of socialisation theorists in PE, who have argued that ‘the biographies of prospective PE teachers, and particularly their own childhood experiences of sport and school PE, have an ongoing influence on their values, thoughts and practices’ (Green, 2002, p. 68).

However, there has been little research into how non-specialist primary teachers negotiate personal school backgrounds, teacher training experiences, and professional learning opportunities in order to deliver PE (Morgan and Hansen, 2009). Morgan and Hansen (2009) suggest that these classroom teachers are often critical about the short duration of their ITE, and are often greatly influenced by their personal recollections of PE. Their ‘perceived competencies and attitudinal dispositions’ in occupational and professional contexts are shaped in these ways (p.375).

Our analysis provides much needed insight into how primary classroom teachers came to develop values and ideologies based on their experiences and approached their work in physical education. Our analysis also explores the views and beliefs of mostly female generalist teachers who have been relatively marginalised from the field of PE. It has been suggested that many qualified PE teachers and PE specialists ‘appear to share similar habituses’ and reproduce ‘common-sense understandings’ of the subject (Green, 2010, p.79-80) to their peers and future PE teachers. Furthermore, as noted by Macdonald et al. (1999), ‘PETE students in “Western” countries come from narrow sections of the community and hold similar values’ (p.33).

Our study provides insight into an alternative vision and critique of PE that comes from outside the normalised masculine discourse of sport and team games because it primarily involves the views of primary female classroom teachers who work in the primary sector and thus had limited experience in teaching PE specifically. Further research is needed to explore how these classroom teachers come to take up and enact non-traditional perspectives in relation to their counterparts who have more specific backgrounds and training in PE.


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