«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Barker (2008, p. 673) explains how the new ‘command and control system’, constituted by a NC, tests and examinations, and an inspection regime, created a template with which schools were asked to comply. The focus had shifted from an emphasis on teaching and learning processes to one of measurable outcomes. As a consequence, schools became markedly different from those characterised by the child centred approach in the 1960s and 1970s. No longer, at least as specified by prevailing legislation, were teachers explicitly encouraged to educate ‘the whole child’ or to become teachers as a consequence of a vocational calling. The Act ensured that the work of teachers was now concerned with results, performance in league tables and accountability. The standardised approach was enforced by regular inspections (The Office for Standards in Education [Ofsted] was established in 1992) and teachers became increasingly compliant with respect to the new set of rules and regulations (Jeffrey & Woods 1998; Fitz, Lee & Eke, 2000).
Although the trainee teachers who are the focus of this research will not necessarily be aware of the detailed historical context and development of policies which govern their nascent practice, it is important to recognise any potential for tension between the expectations placed on them and their own identities or rationales for becoming primary school teachers. There is a further potential for tension where teacher educators or school-based mentors themselves are philosophically at odds with the orthodoxy required within today’s schools and inadvertently create a training context that may be clouded with mixed messages. The status and nature of PE within this context and within the primary school curriculum is therefore a key consideration for any investigation concerned with improving the preparation of teachers and subject teaching more broadly.
The National Curriculum The NC for pupils aged 5-16 was first introduced in 1989 as a direct outcome of the 1988 Education Reform Act. The curriculum specified (and continues to do so) the range of subjects that must be taught, and aims to ensure parity in standards of education in all state schools.
The NC specifies the knowledge, skills and understanding that children should achieve in each subject area within each Key Stage and sets targets to support measurement of progress and attainment. Despite a stated desire for the curriculum to be ‘broad and balanced’ (DES, 1988) there has been repeated and on-going criticism (O’Hear & White, 1991; 1993; White, 2004;
Hall & Ozerk, 2008; Berry, 2009; Wyse & Torrance, 2009; Oates, 2011) of what is seen as a narrow curriculum, centred on subjects without a clearly articulated justification. At the time
of the development of the initial NC, Lawton (1987) argued that:
virtually all the enlightened views on curriculum planning are now agreed that subjects should be regarded as important only if they help reach other objectives.
All this is ignored in the government’s consultation document: no justification is put forward for the selection of the foundation subjects; no arguments put forward to give priority to the core subjects; no attempts made to relate subjects to wider objectives.
The curriculum affords greater importance to some subjects (English, maths and science - the ‘Core subjects’) over others (the ‘Foundation subjects’, which include PE), creating ‘territories of priority’ in which children’s learning in the core curriculum is tested and published and therefore perceived as more valuable (Boyle & Bragg, 2006). The heightened status of some subjects over others has been reinforced further through subsequent changes to the curriculum and the introduction of detailed subject strategies in English (the National Literacy Strategy [NLS]) and mathematics (the National Numeracy Strategy [NNS]) in 1997 and 1998 respectively. It has been argued that practising schoolteachers believe that these policy directives have resulted in a narrowed curriculum and that children are ‘being rigidly drilled in the basics’ (Bousted, cited in Smithers, 2004). The subject-based NC has led to a perceived superiority of subject-based knowledge, a de-valuing of practical knowledge and a negative impact on approaches to teaching and learning, such as a reduction in group learning, previously favoured in primary education.
The more recently published Cambridge Primary Review’s (Alexander, Armstrong, Flutter, Hargreaves, Harrison, Harlen, Hartley-Brewer, Kershner, Macbeath, Mayall, Northen, Pugh, Richards & Utting, 2009) enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England has described what was expected to be a broad, balanced and rich curriculum as ‘overcrowded and unmanageable’ (p.3). The Review argued that as teachers endeavoured to attain high standards in ‘the basics’ there was little time for thinking, reflecting, problemsolving or exploration and the time for subjects such as Art, Music, Drama, History and Geography was often diminished. The review suggested that ‘overload’ is caused by important subjects competing for space with one another and also competing with what some consider less important subjects. Of note are the Review’s findings concerning the lack of space for reflective and interactive classroom pedagogy in the context of a curriculum that was deemed too broad (Cambridge Primary Review, 2009a). Similarly, the Rose Review (2009) advocated an ‘opening up of curriculum programmes to embrace a richer, more spacious curriculum’ (Duncan, 2010, p. 341); with the election of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010, the findings of both reports, together with new curriculum proposals were ignored. At the time of writing, there is considerable uncertainty about the content and direction of future educational policy and NC.
The still-prevailing NC (DfEE, 1999) was published following extensive consultation by the newly formed Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), who, in 1997, asked all schools to respond to two open ended questions: i) what do you and your staff consider the main aims of the curriculum to be? and ii) what are the priorities at your key stage? The results of this consultation indicated that: many primary schools wished to afford high importance to developing social, moral, spiritual and cultural values (80% of responses in KS1, 76% of KS2); there was relatively strong support for a continued emphasis on English and maths (57% KS1, 53% KS2), but almost as much support for a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ (53% KS1, 56% KS2). Strikingly, there was relatively limited support for individual subjects (11% KS1, 12% KS2) (QCA, 1998). Despite this response, the updated NC retained the priority afforded to core subjects, leading some to criticise what was seen as a missed opportunity for educational innovation (Alexander, 1997).
PE and the curriculum The teaching of primary PE within the National Curriculum (NC) context has long been a cause for concern (Davies, 1999; Evans, Penney & Davies, 1996; Gilbert, 1998; Harrison, 1998, Oxley, 1998; Revell, 2000; Shaughnessy & Price, 1995; Wright, 2002). Some concerns relate to the low status of PE in schools compared to the focus given to other subjects (Speednet, 2000; Warburton, 2001), whilst others relate to the nature and content of the NCPE itself. Whilst it does not necessarily follow that a pre NC approach to primary education lends itself to quality teaching of PE (concerns over the teaching of PE in primary schools had been raised long before the advent of the NC), it is clear that PE, along with other Foundation subjects, has suffered from being afforded relatively low status both in the NC and in light of core subject strategies, Ofsted inspection frameworks and wider managerial approaches in today’s schools.
The perceived marginalised status of PE in primary schools (Pollatschek, 1979; Downey, 1979; 1982; Warburton, 1989; Williams, 1989a and 1989b; Jess, 1992; Laws, 1996) has been linked to the relative lack of curriculum time afforded to PE in contrast to other subjects, most notably as a consequence of the National Literacy (DfEE, 1997) and Numeracy (DfEE, 1999) strategies introduced in England. Although only two components of the raft of education policy implementation since the 1988 Act, Fullan (2000) suggests that these strategies represented the most ambitious large-scale strategy of educational reform implemented since the 1960s. The government was intent on raising standards in schools and a priority focus on reading, writing and mathematics (and testing regimes in these subjects) was made immediately explicit by the Secretary of State for Education in the 1997 White Paper entitled
Excellence in Schools:
the first task of the education service is to ensure that every child is taught to read, write and add up (DfEE, 1997, p. 9).
Through building on the aims of the NC and in keeping with the desire to gain control over the teaching profession, the subject strategies imposed detailed and prescriptive requirements, while national testing, targets and performance were further emphasised. Despite literature which provides little evidence to support the use of mass templates and frameworks (Wyse, 2003), the strategies included targets and ‘frameworks for teaching’ which contained recommendations for teaching objectives, time and class management and particular approaches for children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) and children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). The strategies did not in themselves set a new curriculum for the subjects in primary schools, although the use of the frameworks for teaching was strongly encouraged (and supported via professional development provision) by LEAs. In the context created by the strategies and associated mass testing regimes, it is thought that
found themselves in an anxiety-inducing environment, especially if school results were below average. Schools that did not match prevailing expectations could be placed in a ‘category’ (e.g. special measures); could be ‘named and shamed’ with unthinkable, personal consequences for those held to be responsible (Chitty & Dunford, 1999).
PE and School Sport strategies Against this backcloth it is perhaps unsurprising that PE has occupied a somewhat ambiguous space in the primary curriculum, afforded low priority in comparison with the officially required, measured and ‘held-to-account’ expectations that apply to maths and English. Yet PE in all English schools has been at the centre of unprecedented government investment since 2003; through the PESSCL (DfES/DCMS, 2003) and PESSYP (DCFS, 2008) strategies, PE has enjoyed previously unheralded investment. The strategies aimed to get more young people taking part in high quality PE and sport, responding to one of the New Labour Government’s
Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets:
The overall objective of the joint DCSF and DCMS Public Service Agreement target, is to enhance the take-up of sporting opportunities by 5-16 year-olds. The aim is to increase the percentage of school children in England who spend a minimum of two hours each week on high quality PE and school sport within and beyond the curriculum to 85 per cent by 2008 (DCFS/DCMS, 2003).
To deliver this, the Government created a network of 450 School Sport Partnerships (SSPs) across England. SSPs were ‘families’ of schools which typically comprised a Specialist Sport College linked to a set of secondary schools, each of which had a further group of primary and special schools clustered around it. The Partnership Development Manager (PDM) was at the core of the strategy and took responsibility for managing the partnership; in every secondary school there was a School Sport Co-ordinator (SSCo), with a remit to support colleagues in the delivery of PE and sport, and to increase opportunities for children to take part in sport, both in their own school and in partner primary schools. Every primary or special school also deployed a Primary Link Teacher (PLT) or Special School Link Teacher (SSLT), who took responsibility for leading the strategy at their particular school. In addition, a national network of 225 Competition Managers was established to create greater opportunities for a wider range of young people to take part in competitive sport.
The original PESCCL strategy had the expressed aim of ensuring that all children receive at least two hours of high quality PE in curriculum time (DfES/DCMS, 2003) and included provision for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for practising teachers in primary and secondary schools. Since the introduction of the strategies, there have been reported signs that schools are allocating more time and resources to PE (Ofsted, 2005;
2009), and that the greatest improvements in PE provision have been seen in the primary years (DfE/TNS-BMRB, 2010). The method through which impact of the strategies has been measured has relied largely on self-reporting of data by schools regarding the amount of curriculum time pupils spend in ‘high quality’ PE. The notion of high quality has been
described as PE which produces:
young people with the skills, understanding, desire and commitment to continue to improve and achieve in a range of PE, sport and health-enhancing physical activities in line with their abilities (DCFS/DCMS, 2003, p.5).