«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
The impact of policy This research has also extended understanding regarding the impact of policy, and resulting structures, on trainee primary teacher behaviour in PE. This is particularly the case in relation to those policies which directly impact on the status of PE in schools, such as the NNS and NLS. Although introduced in the late 1990s, these strategies significantly contributed to the non-uniform PE experience of trainees in school settings, confirming previously expressed views of Speednet (2000), Warburton (2001) and Boyle and Bragg (2006). Trainees’ experiences in school, and the expectations placed on them during practice, were dominated by the requirement to plan, teach and assess children’s progress in maths and English. A daily exposure to planning and teaching these subjects was apparent, along with multiple opportunities for subject specific observation, reflection and mentored practice, providing a basis for on-going learning and development. Furthermore, trainees could see that this emphasis impacted on the work of class teachers who modelled and reinforced the subject emphasis through their own practice. The status of PE in each trainee’s experience consequently varied according to individual class teacher commitment to the subject.
The low status of PE undermined the formal expectation that trainees were expected to teach the full range of NC subjects. Although standards for QTS and the NC state that trainees and class teachers should ensure coverage of the full curriculum, local interpretation and nuanced implementation was a regular outcome of various agents’ practice. In this way, some policy priorities were foregrounded through the actions of others within the social context of ITT.
The class teacher, by cancelling or avoiding PE lessons, by not planning for PE in the same way as for other subjects, or by abdicating its teaching to others, was a particularly influential point of reference for trainees. In most cases, the class teacher reinforced existing ambivalent or negative dispositions amongst trainees and legitimised the perpetuation of PE’s low status, despite the recently introduced national strategy and existent curriculum requirements. Trainee teachers did not uniformly report seeing two hours of PE per week (the stated aim of the recently introduced prevailing PESSCL strategy), or full coverage of the NCPE activity areas, despite this being a formally expected and statutory element of provision in schools. These findings contradict the PE specific report from Ofsted (2009) which suggested an improved quantity and quality of primary PE between 2005 and 2008. The reported frequent postponement of PE lessons in school was an apparently accepted and legitimised practice, despite formal requirements to the contrary. Trainees’ own behaviours in school largely complied with local, unofficial and individual interpretations of expectations.
Trainees learned how to ‘go on’ within this context, and were aware that the ability to teach classroom based core subjects was the key criterion by which they would be judged in their quest to become qualified teachers. As a consequence, the situational tendency resulted in trainee teachers and those working with them interpreting broader, apparently less significant requirements, with a large degree of autonomy and flexibility. This ensured that dispositions of trainee teachers and those working with them in school remained relatively unchallenged.
Whilst trainees had the theoretical capacity to resist such influences, most clearly felt that they did not actually have the ‘power to do so’ (Lukes, 1974). There was an underlying and subliminal message through the structure of ITT and in school that other subjects were more important than PE; put simply, to become a qualified primary school teacher the teaching of classroom subjects, particularly English and maths was the primary focus. Although some trainees articulated a developing understanding of children’s developmental needs and a heightened awareness of wider social policy (e.g. Every Child Matters, the Children’s Plan) with an apparent potential for a shift in disposition as a consequence, any potential changes in practice were somewhat restricted by a return to the day to day context dominated by the teaching of two core subjects.
The concept of ‘strategic compliance’ (Lacey, 1977), originally conceived to explain the behaviours of NQTs during their first year of teaching, was shown to occur at a very early stage of ITT. Through this process, trainees complied with existing practice in the school context, and experienced difficulty in challenging the status quo. Although trainees in each category of the typology demonstrated a growing sense of an importance for PE, they compromised, at times, any wish or professional need to gain further experience in the subject in order to successfully negotiate the wider requirements of becoming a primary teacher.
Whilst ambivalent trainees demonstrated a growing understanding of the importance of PE during ITT, the challenge to identity that the teaching of PE presented to some led to the rejection of the possibility of teaching the subject in favour of self preservation and a focus on being realistic, of safeguarding the opportunity to become a qualified teacher. This was firmly
reinforced within the school context where trainee teachers were:
in the midst of sets of position practices and status-sets with all their attendant commitments and obligations… already inhabited by a phenomenological frame of meaning including all kinds of general-dispositions, psychological and emotional attachments, and wants and desires, by means of which, inter alia, they apprehend and relate to those everyday practices and obligations (Stones, 2005, p. 113).
In such a way, school experiences were seen as providing key moments within the ITT course where disposition, structures and practice intersected in relation to policy, curriculum, expectations of the ITT course, and the practices of others. The school experience context was limiting for some and more enabling for others and there is an opportunity to consider how this particular aspect of ITT can be best developed to support more effective development of primary teachers in PE. This is of particular relevance in the present day context of government proposed changes to teacher training, where an enhanced emphasis on the benefit trainees derive from school based experiences is being foregrounded (DfE, 2011). The potential for increasing trainee teachers’ exposure to low quality practice in PE through such a heightened focus on school experience raises significant concerns in light of the findings of this research.
The impact of other people The impact of educational policy was manifest through the actions of other people in the ITT context. Trainees interacted with various teaching professionals who themselves had developed particular dispositions and practices in relation to PE and sport and who were key influences on day to day practice, particularly when modelling teaching behaviours during school based experiences. The class teachers’ practice, as described by the trainees, appeared to be based on an interpretation of policy, linked to their own dispositions and beliefs. This concurs with earlier, non subject specific teacher development research which has shown that class teachers work as ‘creative mediators’ (Bowe et al., 1992; Helsby & McCulloch, 1997;
Osborne et al., 1997; Burnett, 2006). The role of the class teachers in this process was significantly influenced by earlier subject strategies in literacy and numeracy and the recently introduced PPA policy. Although the use of visiting specialists to teach PE could be rationalised as increasing the status of PE (it is deemed important enough to merit a specialist teacher), this phenomena also undermined the subject’s importance in the ITT process and confirmed Morgan and Bourke’s (2004) research regarding a preference amongst primary teachers for the deployment of specialist others. Earlier research has suggested that supporting the development of a congruent and confident sense of self as teacher should be a priority within ITT (Ashby et al., 2008; Iredale et al., 2011) and that this is a significant role of schoolbased mentors (Edwards, 1998; Hobson et al., 2009). The approaches seen within the ITT context in focus demonstrate that, despite a clear need to support the development of a congruent and confident sense of self as a teacher of PE, mentoring in the subject is a particular weakness. The experiences of the trainees were deficient with regards structured mentoring opportunities whilst the everyday practice demonstrated by class teachers served to significantly limit trainee development. A lack of on-going, structured and meaningfully mentored experiences in the school setting served to reinforce previously held dispositions and attitudes and did little to support the development of subject knowledge or pedagogical understanding in PE.
The potential for change The findings of this investigation support the notion that personal values and beliefs in relation to PE are highly resistant to change during ITT (c.f. Rolfe, 2001), for certain types of trainee (namely the affirmed specialists and confirmed avoiders). For these trainees, disposition has been further entrenched as a consequence of particular experiences (Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1984; Zeichner & Liston, 1987), including the lack of opportunity to reflect on prior experiences or on practice, together with a deficiency of mentored experience or exposure to PE in school. However, findings also suggest that personal pedagogies can be effectively developed through ITT courses as a consequence of a shift in personal values and beliefs derived through practical experience in schools and lectures in university, concurring with Bramald et al., (1995) and Nettle (1998). In this way it is apparent that some primary trainees have greater potential than others to develop as teachers of PE, as seen in the cases within the middle categories of the typology. As demonstrated by the case of Sarah, an initial ambivalence towards the subject can change where conditions allow. By providing a positive experience of the subject during university lectures, coupled with opportunities for reflection and meaningful mentored practice in school, a greater commitment and confidence to teach the subject can be fostered.
Whilst concerns regarding PEITT in relation to the lack of time afforded to subject study or opportunities provided in ITT for critical reflection (Morgan & Bourke, 2005; Caldecott et al., 2006a) remain, the findings of this study suggest that the identification of those elements of ITT which can be more effectively developed to support the needs of all trainees would be a more relevant and useful approach, regardless of course time allocations. Opportunities do exist in this regard, yet in the experiences of respondents within this research, these have been rarely capitalised upon as a consequence of combined impact of structural and dispositional factors. The relationship between structures, disposition and practice shown within figure 7.1 as an interdependent set of dials demonstrates that primary PEITT is not a fixed or linear process, with entirely predictable outcomes or progressive stages through which trainees develop. Instead, the phenomena which combine to result in particular practices can be seen as a complex mix, resulting in the foregrounding of particular interpretations and behaviours at certain times. The dials can be manoeuvred for each type of trainee within a more carefully differentiated and personalised ITT experience. The development of a more positive outlook towards PE has been seen as a positive outcome of university-based lectures for trainees, yet this has not been followed up by effective on going tutoring or mentoring in school. The potential for a more enduring positive dispositional shift was subsequently negated by lack of exposure to the subject throughout the remainder of the ITT course and in school, highlighting the time sensitive need to connect university and school based PE through appropriately structured and mentored practice. The school context, with an apparent regularity of cancelled and poorly planned lessons, wide variation in PE teaching approaches, use of external coaches during PPA time, and an ability of trainees and mentors to avoid exposure to PE, created a range of limiting influences.
At best, within the present structure, the more able, confident and enthusiastic trainees (affirmed specialists) were able to gain regular experience in applying their knowledge to work with children. At worst, the least confident and more ambivalent trainees are exposed to limited experiences in PE, characterised by a low priority afforded to the subject by the class teacher. PE is understood and accepted as a subject prone to being cancelled and practice seen in school is in a stark contrast to the positive and educationally relevant approach advocated by university PE ITT tutors. For the majority of trainee teachers who do not elect further PE following the compulsory course, an immediate application of ideas in a supported school placement is essential. For these trainees, however, a poor experience during school experience may mark the end of any potential they have of becoming a more confident and knowledgeable teacher of primary PE. Without purposeful and dedicated CPD in PE in the future, it is unlikely that such trainees will ever feel fully able to embrace the teaching of PE.