«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Of clear relevance to this investigation has been the apparent lack of opportunity for trainee teachers to gain experience in teaching PE. Participants were unable to gain extensive, regular or on-going experience throughout the three major school experiences. For confirmed avoider trainees, this was not a personal concern; the lack of exposure to PE provided a shelter from the threat of deeply challenging experiences which could negatively impact on broader trainee teacher identity. The avoidance of teaching PE, unchecked by mentors and link tutors, cast doubt on whether the potential that some trainee teachers showed to become teachers of primary PE could in actuality ever be fulfilled. It was also possible for affirmed specialists to experience conditions within the ITT process which resulted in negative PE experiences. The chief concern for this particular group is that their practice will be unchallenged and that they will not be sufficiently encouraged to reflect on their approaches to teaching the subject in school. This has been seen to result in a perpetuation of existing practices, sometimes dominated by an adult sport-based model of delivery, in the absence of any regularly mentored consideration of alternative practices. Affirmed specialists are perceived, from a very early stage of practice, as knowing more than experienced class teachers and their practice proceeds unchecked and unquestioned.
Summary This chapter has discussed the relationship between structures, disposition and practice in primary PEITT, developing new understanding relating to how trainees’ experiences are the outcome of a range of complex factors. The model of primary ITT under investigation has been shown to largely constrain trainee development in PE, although opportunities for better supporting trainees in the subject have been identified. The typology of trainees in relation to PE has been introduced and this categorisation has demonstrated a wide range of professional development needs amongst the cohort of trainees. The four categories of trainees suggest that whilst those with the most extreme dispositions towards or against the teaching of PE will not experience dispositional challenge in the current model of primary ITT, those within the middle ground, that is the ambivalent and committed class teachers, hold the greatest potential for positive development. An appropriately differentiated, connected and structured learning experience in university and in successive school placements holds significant potential for those who wish to improve the practical outcomes of primary PEITT. The trainees in the middle ground of the typology are in the majority and any positive development in disposition, confidence and subject knowledge will potentially have significant and enduring impact amongst the primary teaching profession.
The model of structures, disposition, practice presented in this chapter also holds significant potential as a reflective, diagnostic tool and course providers may wish to utilise the model, with trainees, to identify professional development needs during ITT and beyond. During the final stage of this research, a draft model was presented to a group of final year primary ITT students who were able to identify themselves within the range of experiences. If such a self identification exercise can be included in the early stages of ITT then a more personalised and individually relevant learning experience can be plotted by both the trainees and ITT providers, and developed in university and in school settings. The following chapter builds on the discussion provided here to make concrete recommendations for the development of primary PEITT and to conclude the study in relation to research questions and broader issues at large within the English education system.
Introduction This chapter summarises the key findings of the research and suggests ways in which these could be best operationalized to make a difference to primary PEITT practice. The recommendations focus on the potential for amendment of those structures seen to be influential (namely university PE, school based experiences, status of PE, expectations and local practice, and the influence of others) in order to better support more primary trainees to become teachers of PE. This chapter also identifies the limitations and scope of the study and suggests areas for future investigation. Although the future structures of ITT and the NC are, at the time of writing, uncertain, it appears likely that there will be a sustained and increased focus afforded to school based elements of ITT, and a continued status of PE as a statutory subject of the national curriculum (DfE, 2011a). Whether or not PE is afforded an enhanced status within the primary curriculum or in ITT, it is important to consider how the range of issues identified by this research can be best addressed. With an expected increase in emphasis on school based aspects of provision, it is particularly important that providers of ITT consider how this specific component of ITT can be best developed to support the development of trainee primary teachers as teachers of PE.
Whilst this research confirms a view that trainee primary teachers are unlikely to deviate markedly from locally accepted school-based practice, trainee disposition and practice have been seen to be susceptible to change should certain conditions prevail. This is particularly the case for those trainees identified as occupying the middle ground of the proposed typology, although practical considerations regarding the optimum development of each type of trainee are also identified. The staged approach to teacher development advocated by some (e.g.
Fuller & Brown, 1975; Conway & Clark, 2003), and discussed in chapter 3, is therefore rejected in favour of a teacher education pedagogy with increased sensitivity towards individual disposition and a focus on developing meaningful and relevant experiences in PE throughout ITT. The combined effect of the wide range of trainee dispositions evident at the outset of ITT and experiences which are influenced by structural factors presents a pressing need for clearly differentiated learning experiences. The trainees within this study were each following the same prescribed ITT curriculum; whilst this did include an opportunity to elect additional PE study in years 2 and 3, no other differences were evident within course requirements.
The recommendations put forward in this chapter differ significantly from the demands made by others for greater time allocation for PE during ITT (Caldecott et al., 2006a, 2006b; Talbot,
2007) and from those who express the view that the development of a cadre of differently trained PE specialists is the primary solution for improving practice in schools (Severs, 1995;
Revell, 2000). The recommended focus is on supporting trainees to become ‘committed class teachers’ through planned and linked experiences within university and school based training contexts. It is in the latter setting where a significantly enhanced focus is required in order for the teaching of PE to become a regular and well supported experience for trainees within ITT.
The structures, disposition and practice model introduced in chapter 7 is recommended as a focus for trainee and teacher educator reflective practice. The recommendations discussed in this chapter offer a number of potential approaches through which the dials in this model can be manipulated to positively change the practice contained within the outer dial.
Key findings The process of becoming a teacher of primary PE centres on the complex relationship between dispositions towards PE and sport and trainee experiences within particular structures during ITT. The situational-interactional conduct (Mouzelis, 1991) of trainees varies widely, governed by antecedents and dispositions, as well as specific, within-ITT factors, such as the influence of others, the status and model of practice of PE in placement schools and university PE. Trainee primary teachers draw upon dispositions to behave in specific ways in relation to PE; disposition towards PE and sport impacts significantly on practice, yet ensuing teaching behaviour in PE are also influenced by a range of structural, within-ITT factors. Of particular significance in this regard are the perceived status of PE and sport within school and primary ITT curricula, the practices of school-based colleagues, and the extent to which trainees can access opportunities for relevant and supported experiences. Whilst the dispositions of trainees, particularly those shown to be either extremely positive or negative, are largely based on prior life experiences and appear highly resistant to change, it is suggested by this research that structural factors can be shaped to impact more positively on trainee practice.
The use of social theory as a lens through which to investigate the issues has enabled the identification of a range of contrasting relationships across the cohort of trainee primary teachers, leading to the development of the typology of primary trainees, a component of the structures, disposition, practice model. This typology, with four categories of trainee primary teacher (confirmed avoiders, affirmed specialists, committed class teachers and ambivalent class teachers), supports the development of understanding beyond that provided by previous studies which have largely focused on either structural factors (Caldecott et al., 2006a; 2006b) or the dispositions of trainees (Carney & Armstrong, 1996; Rolfe & Chedzoy, 1997; Carney & Chedzoy, 1998; Armour & Duncombe, 2004), particularly a focus on low levels of confidence amongst primary trainees and teachers. The structure, disposition, practice model offers potential for those charged with improving the development of primary trainees in PE, highlighting the need for effectively differentiated learning and professional development experiences. Whilst previous research from the UK and elsewhere has suggested that some trainee and practising teachers are more disposed to the teaching of PE than others, the findings of this research introduce the notion that there is potential for ITT courses to make a more positive impact on those trainees who are not initially disposed towards teaching PE.
The development of committed and initially ambivalent class teachers can make a significant impact on practice, contrasting with views that PE is best taught only by those deemed to be specialists. In practical terms, the number of committed class teachers can far outweigh those deemed to be affirmed specialists, although this does not deny the need for high quality subject leaders who may be more readily identified from within this latter type. Those trainees progressing to subject leadership roles early in their careers are most likely to be identifiable from within the affirmed specialist group. Whilst endeavouring to support such trainees’ progression, however, those trainees identified within different categories of the typology can also be better supported. The results suggest that the development of trainees in primary PE should not hinge on an either/or conundrum; the positive development of as many trainees as possible is encouraged.
The research has highlighted the paucity of school based experiences in PE during primary ITT and the powerful, constraining role that this plays in teacher development. Rather than confirming the need for primary PEITT to afford an increased time commitment in PE lectures, this research suggests the need for an emphasis to be placed on the reconfiguring of school based experiences and the relationship between these and university PE courses. In this way, it is not just the quantity of time available for PE ‘on course’ that is significant, but the quality and range of differentiated approaches being used within all available time within ITT.
Teaching and learning strategies used within primary ITT need, therefore, to be reviewed in light of these findings, and training experiences re-configured to optimise the time that is available for university lectures and school based practice. The findings of this research also suggest the need for an increased focus on the development of subject specific mentors within primary schools to support the link between theory and school-based practice. Mentoring in primary PEITT has been shown to be limited in the experiences of the case study trainees and is currently a weakness. The experience of all trainees in the core NC subjects offers a marked contrast and highlights the powerful influence of other professionals within the school based training context in other subjects.
The research findings contribute to the debate centred on specialist PE teaching in primary schools (Severs, 1995; Revell, 2000). In 1992, Alexander suggested that there was a sense that ‘the generalist model of primary school staffing has reached its limits’ (p. 205). Whilst this research indicates that it may not be entirely appropriate to expect all trainee primary teachers to teach PE to the same level during ITT, or in early stages of a teaching career, it is simplistic to suggest that only those with the most positive dispositions toward the subject should do so.
The affirmed specialists identified in this study faced considerable challenges during the ITT process and did not necessarily appear best placed to be the sole agents for delivering PE in primary schools. In addition to the limitations identified regarding their development, this research suggests that affirmed specialist trainees are a relatively low proportion of the total number of trainees (3 out of 24 trainees who took part in qualitative interviews were identified within this type). Although the sample size was relatively small and the data collected within only one ITT context, the research suggests that the majority of trainees can be identified as being ambivalent or committed class teachers in relation to PE (16 out of 24 trainees who took part in qualitative interviews were identified within these types). A focus on developing the ITT experience for these trainees is therefore pertinent in order to affect the practice of a larger number of beginning teachers. Crucially, trainees initially categorised as ambivalent class teachers demonstrated potential to become more committed teachers of the subject and a sole reliance on the development of affirmed specialists would discount this possibility.