«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
The DfES commissioned an independent research company, TNS-BMRB, to conduct annual surveys of progress towards the PSA. The surveys utilised SSP networks to facilitate postal, and subsequently online, surveys. Whilst the surveys aimed to capture a wide range of data concerning curricular and extracurricular sport, the first two questions (of twelve) were most relevant to the focus of this study on the teaching of curriculum PE in primary schools. These questions asked: 1. what is the total curriculum time in minutes that ALL pupils in each year group spend taking part in PE in a typical week? and 2. what is the total number of pupils in each year group who participate in at least three hours of high quality PE and out of hours school sport in a typical week? (DfE/TNS-BMRB, 2010). Across successive school sport surveys conducted between 2003/4 and 2009/10, annual increases in the proportion of pupils participating in at least two hours of curriculum PE have been reported. These increases have been the most marked in years 1 to 6 (ibid). The development of PE within the context of School Sport Partnerships (SSPs) has also been seen as positive. Ofsted (2006) pointed towards good levels of communication between primary subject leaders, PDMs, SSCos and PLTs as a means through which primary school priorities were being managed effectively.
The same Ofsted survey, based on visits to 15 primary schools within 12 SSPs, stated that:
The quality of leadership and management was good or better in all the primary schools visited. The sport partnership programme had enabled subject leaders to influence their colleagues teaching and improve provision (Ofsted, 2006, p. 3).
The level of confidence in the SSP programmes’ impact on PE in primary schools had
increased further by 2011, with Ofsted stating that:
The 12 partnerships visited are effecting beneficial changes in PE and sport for learners and their communities. In line with findings in the most recent Ofsted PE report, this is most notable in primary schools, but increasingly so in secondary schools (Ofsted, 2011, p. 5).
Despite such developments, particularly in the improved time afforded to the teaching of PE in primary schools, more recent policy changes have resulted in the dismantling of SSPs. In a press release, this new direction was outlined as ‘decentralising power, incentivising competition, trusting teachers’ (DfE, 2010b). Moving away from the PSA and enabling schools to plan their own provision – either within or outwith SSPs – is a significant shift in
policy. The DfE went on to state that:
Previously, PE and Sports strategy was driven by top-down targets, undermined by excessive bureaucracy, limiting the freedom of individual schools on how they used their funding, especially on sports and PE and lacked a proper emphasis on competitive team sports. We have abolished the targets and the boxticking that went with it. Instead we will ask schools to list the sports they offer and the fixtures they have arranged on their website so parents and the local community can support children and young people.
A heightened emphasis on competitive school sport has seen the introduction of funding for School Games Coordinators and teacher release posts, although the funding is not ring fenced for this activity and headteachers are free to decide how this money is best spent. Whilst some secondary schools have chosen to retain a specialism in sport, others have not, and the extent to which primary teachers and schools are currently being supported to develop as teachers of PE is unclear. It is interesting to note here that the stated government intention of removing ‘top down targets’ and ‘trusting teachers’ to make their own choices may serve to reduce the emphasis on curriculum PE within the PESSCL and PESSYP models. The free professional development opportunities that were offered to primary teachers within PESSCL and PESSYP are currently no longer available in the same way and schools appear able to set their own local priorities. It remains to be seen whether the removal of the two hour PSA will result in a reduction in quantity or quality of PE or serve to undermine the status of PE in primary schools in the future.
Consideration of the impact of government strategies is relevant to this thesis as the trainee primary teachers within the investigation were following an ITT course (2004-2007) at a time when the PESSCL strategy was newly in operation. Furthermore, the continual development of policy in the future may impact on the trainees’ experiences in school as newly qualified teachers and beyond. It is apparent, however, that as policies, strategies and curricula have emerged and developed over time, concerns regarding primary PE have not disappeared.
Recurring concerns Whilst a heightened focus on English and maths has been evident within the primary school curriculum, PE cannot be identified with a lack of government investment or interest over the past decade. The reported increase in the proportion of primary aged pupils experiencing regular and high quality PE suggests that some of the problems identified in previous decades have been successfully tackled. The data provided by Ofsted suggests that the amount of high quality PE taught in primary schools has increased year on year, bettering secondary school PE lessons which see a marked drop off in participation rates as pupils get older. It should be noted, however, that the Ofsted data represents a relatively small sample of primary schools and that no studies have attempted to map the findings of these surveys to the experiences of those training to teach in primary schools. Claims that primary school PE is delivered by teachers who ‘go into schools without adequate ITT to teach PE’ (Baalpe, CCPR, PEAUK, PE ITT Network, 2005, p. 5) remain. Similarly, the long held view of primary PE being in a state of neglect did not disappear (Griggs, 2007b) as a consequence of the strategies. Importantly, the CPD strand of the PESSCL and PESSYP strategies has been described as having variable
By the time they leave primary school, many pupils do not reach the standards in PE of which they are capable. PD has not sufficiently raised the awareness of all school leaders of the important need to ensure pupils’ learning is progressive.
‘Peaks’ and ‘troughs’ in learning often occur, caused by the fluctuating depth of PE knowledge and understanding of class teachers as pupils move from year to year (Todd, 2010, p. 5).
This statement points once more to the importance of the role, knowledge and understanding of teachers and school leaders; where such teachers are mentors and role models for practice during primary ITT, this raises questions regarding the quality of trainees’ experiences in schools.
The concerns of Todd (2010) noted above mirror those raised earlier by others regarding the preparedness of teachers to deliver the wide ranging NCPE programmes of study, with low levels of subject knowledge and confidence apparently evident amongst teachers (PEA, 1987;
Carney & Guthrie, 1999; Caldecott et al., 2006a and b). Whilst issues of teacher development and knowledge will be discussed further in chapter 3, the nature and content of the PE curriculum merits further exploration. The teaching of primary PE has, since 1991, centred on conformity to a NC, with a prescribed set of activity areas specified at each Key Stage. In Key Stages 1 and 2, these areas are games activities, gymnastic activities, dance activities, outdoor and adventurous activities, swimming activities and athletic activities (appendix 1). This has been seen as a compartmentalised and fragmented curriculum and an approach which results in teaching the activities in short, discrete units, presenting disconnected and nondifferentiated experiences (Casbon, 2006; Jess, Haydn-Davies & Pickup, 2007; Jess, 2012).
The activity areas have also been viewed as ‘watered down’ versions of the same experiences detailed within the secondary school curriculum, which themselves have been construed as mini versions of adult sport.
Concerns regarding the PE curriculum have centred on this prescription of a traditional, activity based approach which, combined with poor teacher knowledge and confidence is often reduced to a curriculum of games, gymnastics and dance. A focus on the acquisition and performance of skills is said to predominate, often in conjunction with a limited range of teaching methods (Capel & Blair, 2007), more akin to a sports coaching context. Some writers also argue that the teaching of PE in secondary schools has seen little change over time (Laws & Aldridge, 1995; Evans, Davies, & Penney, 1997; Penney & Harris, 1998; Curtner-Smith, 1999), despite the subject specialist status (and therefore individual subject focus within ITT) of those who teach it. This is relevant within the prior experiences of trainee primary teachers as pupils; some of the trainee primary teachers at the centre of this investigation have embarked on ITT directly from secondary school and, for many, experiences in secondary school PE will be a key touchstone for memories relating to the subject. The teaching of NCPE in secondary schools has been characterised by the perpetuation of what Penney and Evans (2005, p. 21) call ‘taken-for-granted routines’ and it is equally plausible that practice in primary PE is characterised by a similar set of routines, although the nature of these may differ owing to the contrasting development of the teachers and the requirements placed on them in both school and primary ITT.
Personal competence and subject knowledge across the six activity areas of the prevailing NCPE (DfEE, 1999) provides a particular challenge to primary teachers (Ofsted, 2009) who may be more comfortable working in a classroom context, yet it would be wrong to assume that criticisms of primary PE have only arisen since the introduction of the NC. As long ago as 1969, it was suggested that there was a lack of a common policy for the preparation of primary teachers in PE (Rains, 1969), whilst over thirty years ago, Saunders (1975) suggested that primary teachers were personally disinterested in physical activity, holding a negative attitude towards the subject - a view that has since been supported by a series of studies in the UK and other countries (Portman 1996; Xiang, Lowy & McBride., 2002). Despite the introduction of a NC and wider developments in school and ITT policy, the PE literature consistently returns to ‘within teacher’ issues (such as competence, life experiences, confidence and disposition) in an attempt to explain perceived problems within the teaching of the subject in primary schools (DeCorby et al., 2005; Morgan & Bourke 2005, 2008). In relation to the teaching of NCPE in
primary schools in England, Ofsted (2004) suggest that:
Occasionally, teachers who lack confidence in their subject knowledge rely too heavily on a prepared scheme of work and cannot respond to the diverse needs that arise in their everyday lessons as the pupils respond to the challenges set.
Consequently there is insufficient opportunity for some pupils to practise and reinforce skills, while others need to be extended further by trying out new skills or applying techniques in different situations. In some lessons, differentiation is usually achieved by the pace of the work or by outcome. More attention could be given to the analysis of tasks which are set, so that they can be adapted or extended to match pupils’ needs and skills.
This statement serves to reinforce the view that some primary teachers lack subject knowledge in relation to PE, that this impacts on confidence to teach but also underlines the ‘official’ view that children’s learning in PE is characterised by skill development, analysis and technique. This raises questions regarding the content and approach within NCPE as well as the ability of primary teachers to be effective teachers of PE. The issues of confidence and knowledge are explored further in chapter 3 as they relate to teacher development, identity and knowledge, whilst the discussion regarding the nature and content of NCPE is explored further in this chapter.
The conflation of PE and sport It is possible that the current activity-based format and structure of NCPE leads to an interpretation of PE and sport as being one and the same, leading to a perception that the effective teaching of six activity areas is not possible for many primary teachers, based on the realms of personal experience, confidence and competence within each. This appears to be compounded by the lack of time afforded to PE within primary ITT, providing little opportunity for trainees to learn enough about each of the six NCPE activity areas. The conflation of PE and sport has been a recurring focus within the PE literature, with researchers suggesting that the relationship between PE and sport should be reconsidered (Kirk & Gorely, 2000; Knox, 1995; Tinning, 1995; Waring & Warburton, 2000). Sport, it is argued, favours team and competitive games and leads to the development of an elite, rather than being an inclusive educational process (Capel, 2000; Houlihan, 2000; Mountakis, 2002; Penney, 1998, 2000; Penney & Chandler, 2000). PE is part of the educational process and, as such, is focused on individual development of the learner and not the activity per se (Capel, 2000: Lee, 1986;
Tinning, 1995). Various attempts to elucidate such distinctions have been made in curriculum documentation and by professional associations. DES guidelines issued alongside the first NC
In physical education the emphasis is on learning in a mainly physical context. The purpose of the learning is to develop specific knowledge, skills and understanding and to promote physical development and competence. The learning promotes participation in sport,
Sport is the term applied to a range of physical activities where emphasis is on participation and competition. Different sporting activities can and do contribute to learning (DES/WO, 1992, p. H1).
Whilst this description distinguishes the two terms, the details of the activity centred curriculum may actually serve to reinforce a view that PE and sport are the same. Subsequent
efforts have been made to clarify the unique contribution made by PE to children’s learning: