«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
The class teacher seemed quite happy that she wasn’t teaching it (PE). The specialist was really enthusiastic and the children loved the lessons. I saw it once or twice but was also quite happy not to have to teach it (Jo, Stage 2a).
I think the lady who came in was a PE teacher before she had kids and she knew what she was doing. I think it’s much better for the children to have someone who is enthusiastic and knowledgeable - I’d be quite happy to work in a school where this happens (Kay, Stage 3b).
Trainee teachers were generally not encouraged to work alongside the ‘specialist ‘in a structured way, and felt that the expectation was to stay with the class teacher during PPA time. This appears to have been a missed opportunity with regard the development of subject knowledge and pedagogical experience in PE, assuming that the practice of visiting specialists was appropriate. Even when observations were possible, there appears to have been little trainee reflection encouraged regarding the quality of learning within PE and no subject specific mentoring as part of such learning episodes.
I managed to observe a couple of lessons that the coach did and picked up some good ideas for activities in ball skills – I wrote them down in my file and will try and find an opportunity to give them a go myself (Julia Stage 2a).
Trainees suggested that the lack of confidence and enthusiasm in PE amongst class teachers was a factor that justified the use of external ‘specialists’. They felt that teachers would rather ‘hand over’ PE to somebody else and were happy that this was taken from their own
I think that a lot of teachers don’t enjoy PE so much or see it as a worthwhile subject to teach but it’s something that has to be done, so get a specialist in (Jane, Stage 2a).
The use of specialists in PE satisfies the preference for some class teachers to allow others to teach PE but results in reduced opportunities for trainees to observe/teach the subject whilst also impacting on the perceived importance of the subject as part of the school-based training experience. The use of external specialists in most cases did not take into account trainee development needs and served to further restrict the possibilities for action in PE available to each trainee. This finding mirrors the concerns of Blair and Capel (2008a) and Griggs (2010) who highlighted the readiness with which primary schools appear willing to concede delivery of curriculum PE to visiting coaches. Ofsted (2005, p. 4), too, highlighted such concerns,
an increasing number of head teachers make indiscriminate use of coaches to deliver physical education... threatening high quality provision in these schools.
Status of PE Of particular interest to this investigation is the apparent low priority afforded to PE in school and university in relation to other curriculum subjects and how this adversely shapes the interpretation of expectations. Trainee teachers quickly appreciated the importance of learning how to teach English and Maths as this dominated the ITT curriculum and school experiences in the early part of the course. The importance of core subjects is reflected within course
documentation. For example:
Importance is given to the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science and Information Communications Technology (ICT) in each year of the programme.
Courses are provided in all foundation subjects of the National Curriculum and include cross-curricular modules that recognise the holistic nature of children’s learning. Trainees begin their studies across a broad range of subjects before progressing to study two elected subjects in greater depth (Course Handbook, 2004, appendix 4).
Although trainees were required to attend a 20 hour PE course in Year 1, this was the only compulsory university based course in PE. With core subjects and professional practice courses running throughout the three year course, the sheer volume of lectures, guidance notes and assignments in other subjects far outweighed those completed in PE. Core English, Maths and Science were each allocated 92 hours of contact time in total across the three year course.
The regularity of exposure to core subjects in university and in school also ensures that regular subject assessment is undertaken, both in terms of written and examined coursework and school practice. The assessment in PE (see appendix 14) by comparison was not thought to be particularly challenging or onerous by the trainees, although most appreciated the opportunity inherent within this exercise for personal reflection. The relatively small number of trainees who elected further study in PE (5 from the 24 trainees who formed the initial phase of semi structured interview participants) in years 2 and 3 of the course benefited from a significantly greater amount of contact time, including lectures and additional supervised and peer supported teaching experience. The elective courses amounted to an additional 140 hours of study, although this included lecture time, allocated time for personal study and additional experience teaching children. The year 2 and year 3 elective courses were assessed through written modes, specifically the creation of a teaching pack (used in practice) and the creation of a PE policy and assessment framework. It is pertinent to note that those trainees who elected further PE study were those who appeared most positively disposed to the teaching of PE at the outset, who recounted positive experiences of PE and sport, and who were able to provide examples of experience within the PE subject audit completed by all trainees in Year 1 (see appendix 13).
The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies also loomed large within the teaching workforce at the time of this study and dominated university course and in-school requirements. The relatively low status of PE in relation to core subjects was further reinforced by the prevailing standards for QTS which (as discussed in chapter 2) suggest that the teaching of PE is not as important as the teaching of English and Maths. The wording of the standards provides a ‘get out clause’ in relation to PE, in that trainees may be deemed competent in the teaching of PE ‘with support from a more experienced colleague’. Examples of PE being afforded a low priority in practice were provided by most trainees; put simply, if PE was a high priority, then lessons would not be easy to postpone and rigorous planning would be an expectation. Kay’s experiences best exemplify this issue, as her avoidance of teaching PE during school experience for three years, which was initially a consequence of a negative disposition, was left unchallenged by both school and university staff. Kay’s development as a teacher of primary PE was afforded a low priority by the university, a succession of schools, school based staff and by Kay herself. In this example, the disposition of the trainee teacher combined with an ambivalent stance towards PE in schools and within the broad requirements of ITT to impact adversely on the possibilities of action within PE. For Kay, the ITT course severely constrained any possibility that she could become a confident and knowledgeable teacher of primary PE.
When placed in schools where PE has a relatively low priority, alongside class teachers who themselves may have been negatively disposed towards PE, the possibility for trainees to ‘do otherwise’ is severely limited. Despite the apparent importance of PE within the NC, a prevailing high profile national subject strategy, and a requirement for trainees to gain experience across the full range of NC subjects, local factors and the dispositions of others within the school setting collude to limit the possibilities of action for trainees. In this way, the practices of each trainee are an outcome of the relationship between disposition, conjuncturally specific knowledge (knowledge of PE and, more broadly, of the requirements for becoming a teacher) and a range of external factors. Trainee teachers in this study recognised the official status of PE as a NC Foundation subject, but did not uniformly observe or become involved in regular subject teaching. Like others, Jo reported the frequent postponement of PE, a practice seemingly accepted and seen as ‘normal’ despite NC and prevailing strategy.
The trainee teachers possessed and developed dispositions, knowledge and beliefs in relation to PE within the ITT context. This facilitated the trainee teachers’ level of interaction and agency, what Giddens (1979) called ‘going on’ within the context of ITT. In relation to PE, trainee teachers bring pre-existing beliefs and attitudes to the ITT context and rationalise these within the externally framed curriculum and school contexts. Where the teaching of PE in school is irregular and where PE is afforded a low priority by class teachers during school experiences, the ability of trainees to develop practice within PE is severely constrained.
Trainees felt that the priority throughout practice was placed on classroom based subjects, in particular literacy and numeracy, within which frequent observations of practice and associated mentoring activities were experienced.
I have been observed now 4 times, all in the classroom, mostly in maths and English – yeah, plus one in history where I was doing a topic. I did OK really, managed to get some good feedback you know and learnt a bit too. The link tutor pointed out some things I could do a bit better, but on the whole I was happy, I am confident in the classroom, I feel at home there and have got to know the kids really well, so control isn’t a problem…they’re a nice class really (Kay, Stage 3b).
No, I haven’t been assessed or observed teaching PE or any foundation subjects for that matter – just maths and English…oh, I also planned a school assembly activity with my class and it was nice that the tutor saw this too (Leanne, Stage 3b).
Locally varying expectations and practice Further concerns regarding PE practice were raised by trainees who noted little linkage to other subjects through planned cross curricular learning outcomes. Trainees were generally unclear of expectations of pupils in PE, saw sparse use of teaching assistants and, in many cases, did not see evidence of plans (medium or short term) for the subject. Where plans were being used by class teachers, they were taken directly from published schemes of work.
Planning wasn’t really there. I mean, I didn’t see plans of what they had been working on. We just used the QCA schemes and added some bits that I had done in lectures. I had a TA in class, and she helped the children to get changed but I didn’t really know how to use her properly in the lesson (Ria, Stage 3b).
It seems a bit strange that there are lots of schemes of work and guidelines for English and maths and that so much measurement of children’s progress takes place in these subject– you know, SATs – but that in PE there is hardly anything. I don’t think I have seen a lesson plan for PE in school this year and I am still a bit worried about having to teach it. I do know that there are some schemes out there – the Sabin scheme ? – so I guess I’ll have to be proactive and get on with it (Sarah, Stage 3b).
Planning? Well I didn’t see anything from the class teacher and I did some of my own when we had to stick to full planning, but to be quite honest it was quite a relief when I could just use medium term plans. I think I know what makes a good PE lesson and I’ve got lots of ideas in my head anyway (Adam, Stage 2a).
In Year 2, James painted a picture of the challenging environment in which he was working
and the confidence he was hoping to draw from teaching PE:
Twenty-eight children, twenty two ‘EAL,’ six ‘at risk,’ three ‘SEN,’ just problems, massive problems. A lot of Singhalese Christian children and Tamil Sri Lankans which creates clashes. Teaching PE is the thing I’m looking forward to most. It’s one subject that I’m thinking, right, I can do that. I’m quite confident and am looking forward to it. I coach seventy kids on a Sunday and I’m not fazed by that (Stage 2b).
Confidence in his own abilities in PE led James to volunteer to teach all PE lessons during the placement, an offer readily accepted by the class teacher, despite the wider difficulties being faced by James in the placement (discussed in chapter 5). He taught four PE lessons (three within ‘gymnastic activities’ and one within ‘games activities’), the only PE experienced by this Year 4 class during the six week placement. James felt that the lessons generally went well, although confessed to being ‘a little hit and miss with regards planning’. He stated that there was no medium-term planning in place for his class for PE and that he was allowed to teach whatever he wanted to, deciding against teaching dance, the one area of activity in which he lacked confidence. This decision making process served to reinforce the perceived primacy of certain activities over others (games activities prioritised over dance activities) as a consequence of trainee teacher disposition. This practice was seemingly condoned by those professionals working with James who, presumably, were largely unaware of the issues at play in PE. The mere fact that a trainee was taking responsibility for PE lessons was deemed positive, without any further exploration or critical reflection on practice. The unstructured and unsupported exposure to the teaching of PE, although providing some practical experience in the subject, did little to positively enhance the development of teacher knowledge or understanding.
Despite apparently high levels of enthusiasm and confidence, James provided a vivid
description of one problematic lesson, which was:
a bloody disaster. I got there and one of the kids had an epileptic fit in the queue…and then one of the kids split his head open in front of me. I had blood on my clothes. The children were waiting in the classroom with only the link tutor and they went ballistic. They came to the hall 15 minutes late. It was all right, it went well in the end, I handled it well and the tutor was pleased (Stage 2b).