«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Whilst providing an opportunity to investigate phenomena in some depth over three years, it is acknowledged that claims regarding replication of findings to alternative contexts cannot be made. Although the context was considered to be typical of a three year undergraduate BA route towards QTS, other ITT settings could provide different and equally relevant contexts for further investigation. The results of this research should therefore be tested further in relation to other primary ITT contexts, including existing and future school based ITT routes and PGCE courses. However, by seeking validation from a cohort of completing BA Primary trainees at another institution in Stage 4 of the investigation, some confidence has been achieved in relation to the relevance of the findings to other similar settings. The responding trainees were able to recognise the features of the emerging structures, disposition, practice model as accurate, and relevant to their own contexts and experiences.
Chapter 4 provided detailed commentary regarding the decision making process within research design, although it is helpful to provide a further summary of the limitations and scope of the investigation here. Working with a relatively small number of trainee teachers from one institution is an obvious limitation, although data produced throughout the three year process were plentiful and rich and enabled the development of an in depth understanding of individual experiences. The use of a larger sample or replication of the study in other ITT contexts was not possible within the time frame of the investigation. It is acknowledged too that the gradual focus on a decreasing sample size across the stages of investigation could potentially mask phenomena impacting on individual trainees. This is particularly the case for those trainees identified as being ambivalent at the outset of the course, who then did not continue into Stages 2 and 3 of the investigation but for whom changes in practice could have resulted from the ITT experience.
The data produced and findings discussed have, however, provided an account of trainee primary teacher experiences in PE and the consequences of a combination of dispositional and structural factors. Whilst grand theoretical claims are not made, there is scope for the methodology to be replicated in different training contexts to support or amend the findings of this study and to further develop the dials model. By testing the model of the relationship between structures, disposition and practice in different settings, new layers of nuance and complexity might be added. For example, it is reasonable to predict that those trainee teachers spending greater amounts of time in school would be even more susceptible to school based influences than those who took part in this investigation. The various routes towards QTS described in chapter 3 and seemingly encouraged and celebrated by new government policy (DfE, 2011b) include school based training routes within which the role of a university is significantly diminished. Such further development of schools’ responsibilities for ITT gives cause for concern in light of the research findings presented here. If such plans come to fruition there is an urgent need to build on the findings of this research to test the view that, although school based aspects of ITT may hold the key to teacher development in primary PE, appropriate structures are required to enable this to happen.
The structures, disposition, practice model lends itself to on-going interrogation and use in further research, within similar and different ITT contexts and for different phases of teacher professional development. Whilst this can be criticised as an over simplified representation of observed phenomena, it has significant potential for use as a diagnostic and reflective planning tool within ITT and CPD courses. The use of such a tool can enable course designers and tutors to identify particular learning needs at the outset of a course and to determine appropriate learning outcomes in dialogue with trainees. Trainees themselves may also benefit from reflection regarding the model in relation to their own practice. The research has therefore satisfied the stated aim of providing a detailed analysis of the complex range of sociological and psychological phenomena at large in order to improve understanding of trainee primary teachers’ perceptions, values and beliefs relating to PE and to make suggestions of value to those charged with their development and socialisation into the profession. The findings may also present solutions for the development of provision in other curriculum subjects where similar concerns have been raised by professionals and the research community.
It is of course likely that the interpretation of data has been affected by my own positioning and personal experiences as a teacher educator, university subject leader, PE teacher and professional sportsman. By conducting this research, however, I have made a personal commitment to the development of understanding in relation to PEITT, acknowledging the views of others who have repeatedly suggested that existing practice may not provide the best possible learning context for all trainees. In doing so, every effort has been made to manage personal assumptions and beliefs in relation to others’ practices and to foreground the experiences of others. Rather than a hindrance, my own dispositions have been a motivating factor in carrying out this research; without positive life experiences in PE and sport it is unlikely that a career as a teacher educator would have been chosen, yet such personal views have also been made clear from the outset. It is conceivable that some participants did not wish to admit self doubt or a lack of confidence in the interview setting if they perceived me to be an ‘expert’ in PE or ITT. Over time, throughout the three year data collection period, however, I became increasingly confident that the positive relationship being developed with respondents was a successful means through which the trainees were put at ease and seemingly appeared comfortable when discussing personal experiences. Furthermore, the opportunity presented to each trainee to repeatedly reflect on their own experiences appeared to be welcomed and something which conceivably became part of the trainees’ wider learning experiences.
The use of a quantitative scale (the PSPP and PIP) provided challenges regarding reliability and validity. Trainees’ understanding and judgement of self-competence in sport was acknowledged as being subjective; in the scale, bench mark criteria were not provided to help trainees make an accurate judgement. For example, it was unclear as to whether ‘good at sport’ within the PSPP equated to playing for a club team, a county squad, a national team or other. There was also the possibility that some participants did not equate sports competence to ability in other relevant physical activities (such as dance and gymnastics) which were pertinent to this investigation within the wider context of the NC in Primary PE. Furthermore, it was conceivable for this cohort of trainees at the outset of their course to feel generally unsure about themselves and to self-score negatively as a consequence. For these reasons, in addition to the concerns regarding sample size and statistical relevance discussed in chapter 4, the PSPP and PIP data were treated with caution and used primarily as a means for developing ensuing lines of enquiry during the interviews that followed. The research design proved successful in this regard and supported the original intention of ‘buttressing and clarifying an account largely derived through flexible research design’ (Robson, 2002, p. 371).
Research design also avoided the skewing of data through an overbearing researcher presence by discounting methods which would have placed me in a direct observation role.
Opportunities to observe trainees during lectures or in teaching PE during school placement were not taken as such methods were perceived as having the potential to alter the phenomena under investigation. As a consequence, however, the data relied entirely on trainee teacher oral accounts of reality and it is accepted that interpretation of events and experiences is highly subjective. A further aim of this research was, however, to investigate the social conditions and consequences of action through the account of the participants, rather than providing an independent,
analysis of structures. Further investigation can build on this stance to interrogate the experiences of others within the ITT setting and researchers may wish to utilise more direct observational methods where a researcher presence is perceived as being less problematic. Specific scope for further investigation is contained within the need to better understand the relationship between primary trainees and their school based mentor, in most instances this being the class teacher.
Future research Whilst some may still consider that primary PE ITT in the UK is a ‘national disgrace’ (Talbot, 2007), this research has identified a complex range of factors within ITT and trainee primary teachers themselves which provide a deeper understanding of the processes at large. The findings presented in this research also suggest that there is considerable scope for further investigation. Firstly, the complex range of dispositional and structural factors seen to be at work within primary ITT and represented in the model, can be interrogated to further illuminate particular aspects of the primary PEITT process. For example, the impact of gender, age and personal experiences of trainees across the typology of trainees provides a wealth of potential for deeper investigation, not least because of the increased focus on developing multiple routes to the teaching profession. Further investigation could also relate to specific aspects of the findings, such as the tendency for some initially ambivalent class teachers to err towards becoming more positive or negative than others. If, as it is suggested, it is possible to create a context within which more ambivalent trainees become committed class teachers, then considerable opportunity for the scrutiny and further refinement of the typological representation is evident.
As discussed in chapter 5, life experiences have been confirmed as determining factors in relation to disposition to PE and sport. Such life experiences include those in childhood, in previous careers, in experiences as a parent or through contact with a range of other people.
This socio-historical dimension is central to the position practices evident in the research findings and to social theory in general, which highlights the significance of other people within structures. The relative role of the class teacher and school based mentors (which may include specialist ‘non teachers’ at work in the school) invites further scrutiny, particularly in view of the suggestion that some class teachers may also appear more disposed to teaching PE than others. The typology of trainee teachers, included as the outer dial of the structures, disposition, practice model, is open to further scrutiny in this regard. For example, the types could be tested in relation to school staff, in light of the concern regarding the potentially constraining impact of school placements alongside teachers who exhibit negative dispositions. The interaction between school based staff and trainees during placement could provide a further rich source of data that would serve to further illuminate the role that school based experiences play in primary PEITT. If a more structured approach to mentoring and mentor training is developed in the future, then the impact of this on both the practices of trainees and school based staff offers considerable scope for further study.
In light of the implications and recommendations made above regarding subject specialist teachers, further investigation could also focus on curriculum subjects where similar concerns have been expressed regarding the preparation of trainee teachers. Teacher development literature has included concerns regarding other foundation subjects in the national curriculum such as art, music, geography, history and RE (e.g. Wragg, Bennet & Carre, 1989; Garvis & Pendergast, 2010; Catling & Martin, 2011) in addition to different concerns regarding maths and English (e.g. Bekdemir, 2010; Murphy, 2010; Blomeke, Suhl & Kaiser, 2011; McDougall, 2011). In much the same way as the concerns regarding primary PE have been raised, the issues within other subjects also appear to share structural and individual characteristics. For example, advocates for foundation subjects claim that insufficient time is afforded to subject learning in primary ITT (Council for Subject Associations, 2011) whereas maths teacher educators suggest that many trainee primary teachers hold negative perceptions and dispositions in relation to the subject (see for example, Goulding, Rowland & Barber, 2002).
The methodology adopted within this research may hold significant potential for developing understanding in these subject areas, providing an opportunity to investigate structures, disposition and practice concomitantly. However, if similar findings are evident within other subject areas, a more radical review of primary ITT and the approaches taken in subject teaching, may be required.
Finally, the suggestion that trainee teachers show a situational tendency to comply with local practices in PE, in the absence of a strong personal disposition towards the subject, can be tested on entry to the profession. The tracking of trainees into their induction year and beyond across the career cycle will help to develop further understanding of professional development needs and the trajectory of subject knowledge and teaching confidence in PE. It is acknowledged that ITT constitutes only the earliest formal stage of socialisation into the teaching profession and that the impact of induction and CPD has not been investigated in this study. Whilst the research has provided a greater understanding of the experiences of trainee primary teachers during ITT, it is not clear how such trainees develop beyond achieving QTS.
Improvements to the ITT process which may ensue from implementation of any of the recommendations provided here are thought likely to have a bearing on training and development needs in early career stages, and CPD provision will merit review in light of this.