«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
School experience was therefore seen to be a context where structures and dispositions combined to impact significantly on James’ experiences. The structures of the ITT course, school curricula and prevailing policies (such as impact of NNS and NLS, the remodelled workforce, the introduction of PESSCL) created a particular context within which James proceeded to seek out opportunities to teach PE. On some occasions, PE was taught by visiting coaches in the schools where James was placed. Where he worked alongside these coaches, he offered some critical reflection on the quality of lessons and used the experiences as
They weren’t bad to be honest, organised with plans in place and they made sure all the kids were kept involved. I like to think I knew as much as them and we made a good team, had fun…although we did games and I didn’t see any coaches doing gym or dance…that might have been useful for me as I know I have got more to learn in those areas (Stage 2b).
The experiences gained in PE during school placements were mixed, and local variations and expectations were apparent from the outset. This resulted in James experiencing PE in school more than the other respondents in this investigation. Other professionals, themselves bringing particular dispositions to the ITT context, also played significant roles in enabling James to gain experiences in PE. The university PE tutor was clearly a motivational influence, encouraging James and the cohort of specialists to be proactive in seeking out experiences in school settings. The class teachers with whom James was placed were highly influential in enabling James to gain experience in the subject, although this did not appear to be structured
or particularly well supported. James reflected on this during final stage interview:
I don’t feel that I have been mentored in PE as such, there just wasn’t much time to talk to anyone about PE in school other than back at college in lectures…the class teachers let me get on with it and they seemed happy not to have to teach it themselves (Stage 3b).
Chapter 5 discussed a moment of crisis in James’ progression towards achieving standards during year 2 placement and the demoralising impact of what was described by James as a clash of personality. During this time, when he was removed from school placement and relocated to a different school, the influence of the class teacher was negative. The extent to which this clash was the outcome of dissonance between James’ views of teaching and those of the class teacher is difficult to determine, although James himself provided a view that this
was at the heart of the matter:
We just didn’t get on from the start and I don’t think she was being fair, she just didn’t like me. I’m not entirely sure what it was, perhaps being a man, being a bit different to the other students and struggling with some things she didn’t have sympathy with…yeah it was hard and I really struggled (Stage 2b).
At this particular moment in his ITT experience, James gave a sense of reluctantly accepting the comparative low status of PE and the relative unimportance of teaching this subject well.
Although this was not equated with a movement of his dispositional dial to a more ambivalent stance, a temporary focus on other aspects of ITT was necessitated. James learned that being an effective teacher of PE would not necessarily enable him to successfully navigate the course without being successful in the classroom based subjects.
Throughout James’ school based experiences, there was a lack of quality assurance to ensure a consistency of experience, confirming McIntyre’s (1997) concerns in this regard.
Opportunities to teach PE were unregulated and based on the combined influence of James’ own disposition with locally negotiated expectations. The actions of other people were influential as enabling agents, although opportunities for support through mentoring were not apparent. Thus, although James’ disposition towards PE and sport was not undermined, the structures of ITT were seen to constrain the optimum development of James as a teacher of PE. James remained, from the start of the investigation to the end, firmly committed to the teaching of PE in school and demonstrated resilience in this regard. Disposition influenced choice, in turn impacting on the structures he experienced by enabling access to course structures from which others were excluded. Within the typology, James typifies those trainees classified as ‘affirmed specialists’.
Leanne: a committed class teacher Although not amongst the highest scores in PSPP and PIP, Leanne was positively disposed towards PE and sport, with above average scores achieved within PSPP and PIP. Leanne’s general PSW score was 16 (out of a maximum of 24). The sport sub domain score was 15 (a maximum score would have been 24). In the PIP profile, Leanne scored 6 in sport importance (highest possible score is 8), Leanne described positive experiences in PE and sport as a child, citing positive influences of other people, including parents and teachers, and maintained some active involvement in physical activity as an adult. This was not described as performance or competitive sport; Leanne described herself as being active and healthy and enjoying sport and going to the gym. Although Leanne described, in year 1 of the course and throughout, a general commitment to PE, she was also quick to point out a lack of extensive subject knowledge or experience in teaching or coaching sport. The structure of the ITT course and NCPE gave Leanne some cause for concern in this regard, as she highlighted a lack of personal experience in a wide range of activities. Leanne was also quick to point out peers who appeared to be ‘very sporty and competitive’ (Stage 1b). Her view of self as a teacher of PE was much more understated than that demonstrated by affirmed specialists, although the impression of quiet confidence was given. During interviews, Leanne was not quick to claim specialist knowledge, but reiterated a commitment to the subject and a rationale for its teaching based on health benefits, social development of children and the importance of learning in different contexts. Leanne’s early expressed view of teaching the subject was that ‘it is important for the children to see their teacher enjoying being active’ (Stage 1b).
Leanne elected to study some additional PE as part of her on-going experiences in the course, and was selected by course tutors to do so. As with James, Leanne’s positive disposition enabled access to a particular course structure, providing an additional opportunity for subject knowledge development in Year 2. Leanne decided not to continue in PE during Year 3, preferring coverage of a range of elective subjects across the second and third years. Second year lectures supported higher levels of confidence and subject knowledge and an improved awareness of contemporary issues in PE. For example, Leanne was able to reflect on the recently introduced PESSCL strategy and suggested that the ‘aim for every child to have two hours a week of PE was worth trying for’ (Stage 3a). In this way, the course structure reinforced Leanne’s already held view regarding the importance of PE, whilst also enabling a further increase in confidence and development of curriculum knowledge.
During school placements, Leanne had a range of experiences. In year 1 she found this disappointing, with reported regular cancellation of PE lessons and a low status afforded to the subject as a consequence of prevailing structures. Leanne commented that this was frustrating,
but that she understood why this particular class teacher placed a low priority on the subject:
I don’t think she has been a teacher long, well she wasn’t particularly confident, but also there was a lot of pressure in maths and English. The head wanted to see all plans in these subjects… I only saw one PE lesson and this was a bit of a rush once the children had changed. She always tended to find something more important to do, or a reason not to teach it because of weather or poor behaviour (Stage 2a).
The lack of exposure to PE in year 1 did not have the same negative impact as in the experiences of Kay. For Leanne, although optimum development in the subject was not enabled, the lack of PE experience in year 1 placement did not result in a negative move of her dispositional dial. Leanne enjoyed gaining some experience of teaching PE during year 2 school placements, with evident increasing confidence resulting from experiences in the elective course and the impact of a positive class teacher role model. The structure of the course and local interpretation of policy combined effectively at this time, enabling Leanne to work alongside a class teacher who reportedly shared a belief that PE was important. The teacher modelled practice that appeared accessible to Leanne and in keeping with her own rationale for the subject.
She was great, showed me what was possible. I think she used to play sport, but that wasn’t the point, she kept telling the children about the importance of enjoying being active… you could tell that she thought it was important. It was never cancelled and I actually saw some plans for PE which I never saw last year.
I know some other teachers in the school didn’t like it as much (my friend in a different class didn’t have the same opportunities), although sport also seemed to be something the school was trying to do well. Assemblies always mentioned sport, after school clubs and things (Stage 2b).
This particular school experience had a significant impact on Leanne’s developing practice in PE and this, combined with the year 2 PE experiences in University, reinforced Leanne’s sense of commitment to PE and her belief in the importance of teaching the subject. In year 3 school placement, this commitment was tested during an experience where Leanne ‘felt under pressure to follow the expected schemes of work’ (Stage 3b) and to allow coaches to come in and teach PE. Leanne commented that she did ask to observe and work alongside the coaches
at one time, but that this became difficult in the face of wider pressures:
Because I needed the time to stay on top of my planning and assessment at this stage. I think I had 4 lever arch files on the go full of plans and tracking sheets and this seemed to keep my tutor happy. I know I should have tried to keep my PE going, but this just wasn’t encouraged and I had to do what I had to do (Stage 3b).
Leanne admitted to conforming to this local expectation when her own priority was to complete the final experience and progress towards QTS. A student who appeared highly motivated and well organised (Leanne arrived at each interview with an updated teaching file and notes from lectures to show me), Leanne understood the expectations of each stage of ITT and how best the standards could be achieved. Although clearly committed to teaching PE in the long term, Leanne accepted local variations in practice as something to be navigated, to survive or to tolerate. She was unlikely, therefore, to be proactive in seeking out additional experiences in teaching the subject or to be acknowledged by others as a specialist in the way that James experienced. It seemed unlikely that others would initially see Leanne as a specialist, although over the course Leanne herself began to accept that a role as a subject
leader in PE may be something to aspire to in the future:
I know I have lots to learn, but I think we’re all in the same boat and at least I think PE is important and want to give it a go. I also think that being a subject leader in a core subject isn’t something I can do yet; these roles normally go to experienced teachers, so it would be nice to get some experience in the next few years in a subject like PE (Stage 3a).
With a generally positive disposition, Leanne participated in PE lectures with some levels of confidence and prior experience. The most significant experience for Leanne was in school during year 2 of the course where she was paired with a class teacher who placed a high importance on the value of PE. This was also timed to dovetail well with the elective course experiences in Year 2 of the university course and Leanne was enabled and encouraged to put her developing knowledge and understanding into practice. This pairing with a teacher who valued PE appeared to happen by chance, and gave Leanne the opportunity, time and space for reflective deliberation during the practice. In the subsequent school placement, however, the school-based view that PE was best taught by others and that complying with this approach was the most effective way of achieving the desired outcome of passing the placement influenced practice. However, despite this final school experience, Leanne remained
committed to teaching PE in the future and was:
looking forward to getting into school, having my own class and getting on with it. All this training and all the essays, that’s why I’ve done it and I can’t wait. I think I’ll be one of those teachers who likes to give everything a go, and PE is an important part of this for me. I’ve definitely got more confidence in PE now than at the start of the course and know how to plan, even in those bits that I don’t feel I know as much about (Stage 3b).
Leanne’s stance as a committed class teacher is therefore the outcome of the combined effects of disposition and structures, although development in the subject has not been entirely predictable or linear. The course structure did not result in a standard or uniform experience;
crucially, the most positive influence came in the shape of a committed class teacher who was able to model effective practice, reinforcing the additional learning and development accrued in the optional elective year 2 course. Within the typology, Leanne typifies those trainees classified as ‘committed class teachers’.