«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
The link between university and school-based PE Earlier in this chapter, Sarah’s developing positive view of PE following taught lectures was highlighted as an outcome of Year 1 ITT. This previously ambivalent trainee was now considering ‘giving it a go’ in school – a development of the possibilities of action for this trainee. Subsequent interviews, however, revealed that Sarah did not gain the opportunity to teach PE in Year 1 and missed an important chance to apply newly acquired knowledge and new-found confidence. As a result, this emerging positive disposition was not anchored within Sarah’s everyday teaching practice and doubts regarding the teaching of the subject were allowed to resurface. The increased awareness of the importance of PE was also undermined by the lack of PE seen by Sarah in school, and by the discontinuation of university based PE study. Sarah’s possibilities of action were initially increased as a positive result of university based lectures only to be weakened once more by the lack of connection between separate elements of ITT provision (university and school-based aspects). Although Sarah was able to observe and teach some PE in school in years 2 and 3 of the course, this was somewhat removed from the Year 1 lecture experience and did not facilitate a particularly powerful experience through which newly enhanced confidence and subject knowledge could be built upon in the school context.
Other trainees appeared similarly unable to apply PE knowledge during school based experiences across the three years of study. For Ria, for example, each teaching practice opportunity in PE was negated by the school delivery model in relation to PPA cover, whereby external agencies were engaged to deliver curriculum PE. In addition, there was no official, explicit requirement for trainees to be observed teaching PE in school (unless as part of a directed task, only for elective trainees in Years 2 and 3) and no specific, formal approach to mentoring in PE by school-based staff was apparent. For Ria, like Sarah, the persistent lack of opportunity to apply knowledge quickly following university based lectures was a considerable detrimental factor in her professional development as a teacher of primary PE.
The lack of opportunity to quickly progress from university based learning to an applied, mentored, school based context is thus highlighted as a significant weakness in provision and an element of the ITT structure which severely limited the possibilities of action for a number of trainees. This is particularly worrying where ambivalent trainees expressed an improved attitude towards the subject following lectures, only to be allowed to fall back into an ambivalence following a lack of continued exposure to the subject, in university, in school, or
both. A representative comment is provided by Kay:
Although I realise how important PE is, I haven’t needed to teach it much during TP (teaching practice) and I probably won’t go out of my way to teach it if I don’t have to in the future. I haven’t really got any confidence and the lectures in year 1 seem a long time ago now. I don’t feel as though I would know where to start (Stage 3b).
Despite having attended the compulsory PE course in year 1, Kay was not able to gain practical teaching experience in PE in either year 2 or year 3. Her successive school placements were in schools where PE was taught by visiting specialists as part of structured cover and where the class teacher (and hence Kay’s school-based mentor) was not involved in PE teaching. By the end of the three year ITT course, Kay, as a NQT had not gained experience in teaching PE and felt under-prepared for any future role in this subject. Kay finally expressed doubt as to whether she would ever feel able to teach PE confidently in the future and ‘would always prefer PE to be taught by other people’ (Stage 3b interview). In this case, the responsibility of being a young mother had reinforced the importance of physical activity for children. Whilst Kay suggested that this provided hope that she could ‘get more enthusiastic about teaching PE in the future’, the lack of opportunity to engage with the subject during ITT ensured that this potential for development was unfulfilled during the three year course.
Sarah was not afforded the opportunity to teach PE in her first year school based experience, but did gain experience, confidence and guidance during her second year placement. Whilst this was not particularly extensive (Sarah taught two PE lessons), she appeared to increasingly
appreciate the role that PE can play in children’s learning:
I really enjoyed it, soon forgot about any worries I had. The kids had a great time too – I feel as though they learnt better in the classroom after too (Stage 2b).
Although Sarah did not replicate this experience in the subsequent school placement (in year 3 her class received PE during PPA time, taught by a visiting teacher), Sarah appeared likely to want to continue her own learning in PE in the future, pointing to a need for effective
induction and CPD:
I think I will try and teach it (PE) when I can in the future. It may not be my number one priority, but I want the children I teach to have a better time than me and I will seek advice and courses where I can (Stage 3b).
This determination was tested during successive school based experiences where the opportunity to teach PE was not presented, although Sarah was proud to finally share positive
experiences of teaching PE at the end of her course:
I finally did it. I got my tracksuit on, got all the stuff out of the shed and took the class on the playground. It was great. After all this time thinking about it, I was a bit worried at first, you know, kids everywhere and noise, but it was great. I will definitely get the tracksuit out again and – you know what I enjoyed the most? – the fact that I was seen to be taking part with the children who loved having me there with them (Stage 3b).
Adam’s enthusiastic engagement with PE during year 1 school experience was a consequence of positive disposition and life experiences, and also a seeming perception in school by teachers and mentors that his practice as a beginning teacher could legitimately be perceived as ‘specialist’. Adam was willing to play to this perceived strength and his practice remained unquestioned and relatively unsupported in school. The possibilities of action for trainees like Adam include a range of opportunities to gain more teaching experience in PE and sport, although these are somewhat unstructured and remain unchallenged in the school context. As a consequence, such trainees reportedly drew heavily on personal experience in sport to support planning, particularly in the early stages of ITT, and received little subject specific mentoring in support of effective professional development.
PE in placement schools Experiences in school during the ITT process were significant influences on and barriers to the development of the trainees as teachers of primary PE. Of critical importance to such professional development was the model of practice and the priority given to PE in school.
This was often exemplified by the teaching behaviours of class teachers in placement schools and was particularly notable where the class teacher appeared to be strongly disposed towards or against PE. The model of practice in PE observed by trainees varied widely in relation to teaching strategies and behaviours, frequency and duration of lessons, and activity content.
Trainees highlighted particular teaching behaviours that were perceived to be indicative of class teachers’ low levels of confidence and enthusiasm in PE. For example, Becky (Stage 3a)
I don’t think that the teacher especially liked PE. They’d (the children) take about 10-15 minutes to get changed and if they make too much noise she’ll say ‘right all sit down’ and they have to wait 2 minutes until they’re quiet…and then they only get like 20 minutes. She did a one year course and I don’t think she got that much PE training, which is kind of how I feel because after this year I won’t be doing any more PE.
whilst Jo (Stage 2a) explained that:
It is one of the ones (lessons) that is taken off, I only saw it twice in six weeks.
But they had other things…it was a Catholic school and there was Ash Wednesday and they had to practice for that, and we had assembly…PE, that’s one of the first things, and music and drama that goes. They didn’t go outside, they didn’t do anything outside.
Indicators of low priority in school, as articulated by trainees, included the teacher not getting changed, allowing children too much time to get changed (thus deliberately reducing teaching time), not spending time in planning or assessing in PE, and an apparent willingness to cancel scheduled lessons. Ria (Stage 2b) commented on the lack of planning and frequency of PE
We only did PE a couple of times and even then it wasn’t great…I didn’t really see a plan or know where the lesson – we did some dance – fitted in with long term planning. She seemed to become quite strict in the lesson and some children had to sit out for being naughty.
Kay (Stage 3b) provided evidence of lessons being cancelled owing to inclement weather:
The children enjoyed going outside but my class teacher wasn’t keen on us doing this when the weather wasn’t, you know a little bit of drizzle or something and we did something else instead of PE.
Trainees were also able to compare and comment on class teacher approaches across successive placements.
[My class teacher] actually changed into her gear, proper gear and became a PE teacher. Not like a teacher with a pair of trainers on! Because she’s very sporty and she did it with the children….she was physically able, so confident. Last year, the class teacher just put trainers on. I know for a fact it wasn’t as lively or enjoyed …I think that the one who got changed was actually believing in it and doing it as PE, and I think the others were just not believing in it (Amanda, Stage 2a).
Preparation for cultural events appears to impact heavily on the priority afforded to PE time,
particularly in the autumn term:
Our class was doing PE once a week, they said they should do it twice, but it was coming up to Christmas and the hall was booked and so they were only guaranteed once in the hall. The last two weeks were just Christmas displays and that and activities, so I saw four lessons and taught one (Leanne, Stage 3b).
Trainees also expressed a negative view of class teachers in the role of physical educator:
They [class teachers] don’t want to do it [PE]. They’re just not sporty. They’re middle aged normally…that’s a dreadful cliché. No, that shouldn’t affect things but it does (James, Stage 3b).
James went on to show an awareness of colleagues’ professional learning needs in school, indicating that he saw himself in a future role as a primary PE coordinator and being faced with the challenge of motivating others who ‘don’t seem to know what they’re teaching and
why they’re teaching it’. He also explained that:
you get a lot of people avoiding it if you go into school you know. They wouldn’t go into as much depth, like in planning a PE lesson they might just say, oh well use beanbags and hoops (James, Stage 2b).
According to accounts of trainees, the amount of time afforded to PE in school varied considerably and in most cases did not conform to the aims of the prevailing PESSCL strategy (DfES/DCMS, 2003) which encouraged two hours per week of high quality PE. Although PE may have been timetabled, the cancellation of lessons for weather reasons or the use of time to prepare for other school events regularly imposed on PE time. In interviews, trainees gave the impression that this owed much to the disposition of each class teacher and that there was little that they as trainees could do to ensure access to this part of the curriculum. Interviews following year 2 and 3 school experience highlighted a further phenomenon that impacted on this and on trainees’ experiences in PE. From 2005, all schools were bound by the National Agreement on Raising Standards and Tackling Workload (referred to locally as ‘remodelling the workforce’) in which class teachers are guaranteed ten per cent of their working hours as non-contact time. In this attempt to create space for class teachers to plan, prepare, and assess children’s work (PPA time), it appears that some schools were beginning to cover this time
within curricular PE. This often appeared to be managed through the deployment of nonqualified teachers and sports coaches:
The coaches came in to school and took the children into the playground or hall for PE. I didn’t see any planning for this and the class teacher seemed happy to have the time to do other jobs…and the children seemed happy and in fact looked forward to it, especially the kids who love sport (Sarah, Stage 2b).
This approach resulted in trainees experiencing very little PE in school placements. In such schools, trainees generally remained with the class teacher and took their own non-contact time during the same ‘covered’ lessons. This had a negative impact on the amount of PE seen and/or taught by the trainee teacher during school based components of ITT and removed possibilities for mentoring within the subject. When asked in interview, the trainees were unable to provide detailed information regarding the qualifications of the visiting personnel and had not considered potentially negative implications where, for example, non-qualified teachers were employed to ‘teach’ PE. It appeared that the trainees took it at face value that the incoming coaches were specialists in PE, a view which seemingly mirrored that of the class teachers. Trainees were given the impression that the model was effective and beneficial to pupil learning, assumptions that appeared largely taken for granted.