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The importance of what is said and what is done in the name of physical education

Volume I: The Nature and Purposes of Physical Education

Paper 1: 

Agergaard, S. (2012). Sport as social formation and specialist education: discursive and ritualistic aspects of physical education. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education. London: Routledge.

My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

I believe that Agergaard’s paper shows that assumptions are a dangerous thing to make. At the most recent national conference of physical education in the UK I was disappointed to hear the minister whose portfolio included physical education talk almost exclusively about school sport at the expense of physical education. Indeed, such was his faux pas that his assistant (who stayed to answer questions) had to apologise to the delegates and stress that the minister actually meant physical education. Yet was the minister to blame? The discourse around sport instead of physical education has been evident in the ways in which we, as a community, talk about our subject. It is not defined only within the formal statements made but also in the conversations and interactions that occur between various communities who have an interest in physical education. If we are oblivious to the discourses that we create or favour then we’re in danger of developing an idea of physical education that we no longer like.

For example, despite the clear differences between the two schools in this study, Agergaard uncovered a merging of key terms, ideas and even traditions. If we allow such a convergence to prosper unopposed then what idea of physical education will remain to us? Denmark, unlike the UK for example, has maintained parallel notions for sport and gymnastics, and yet the ideas have still moved closer together. In societies where sport is increasingly being seen as physical education what conception of our subject are we moving towards?

The Paper

Agergaard examines the ways in which different traditions of physical education are handed down, negotiated, or ignored by both schools and students of sports and gymnastics in Demark. She argues that while there are different ‘traditions’ of physical education (two in the case of Danish schools) members of younger generations do not instinctively follow these and instead begin to develop their own by accepting, ignoring or rejecting the ‘bits’ they like or dislike.

In her work Agergaard explores the things that are said about physical education – both formally (in school documents and policies) and informal (in conversations, practices and interactions between students, and staff and students) - in two different schools with two different drives i.e. either the general qualification of students through teaching and social interaction or coach education in specific sports.

Agergaard found, that while formally each school said it had different aims these had become muddled on an informal level. She argues that this was inevitable due to the changing landscape in Denmark. This could be taken to an international level where schools are increasingly encroaching on one another and seeking to compete for the same pots of money and the same students, while simultaneously trying to keep their separate identities. In this way what is ‘popular’ become central to the formal and informal conversations that occur in and around schools and physical education.

However, this research shows that the most powerful way in which physical education is defined is through the daily, yet informal activities that occur through the school year (e.g. conversations and informal meetings between students in the corridors and classrooms). It was in these interactions that students developed a sense of their own community of physical education. In this way students were able to mediate rather than actively oppose the traditions of PE.

In concluding Agergaard suggests that the Danish traditions of sport and physical education are not that clearly distinguished in the formal and informal practices of schools. Furthermore she suggested that students take a central role in producing future traditions and expectations, not least in the education of themselves.

What’s next?

As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

about findings of the paper – do they resonate? Use the associated discussion board (same title) on PEPRN to ask question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.
Act on what you’ve read. Maybe talk to your students about their perceptions or raise the issue at a department meeting or on the walk back to the changing rooms.
Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions and then let the community know about it.
I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

comment avatar
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On Friday 04 January at 11:34 Brendan Jones said
Hi Ash, and thanks for the idea behind your blog! The notion that "sport" and "PE" are becoming synonymous is an important one for us to act upon. I'd suggest a simple nomenclature test for all faculties. How do your faculty refer to lessons? How does your non PE staff refer to physical activity lessons? And your documentation? Its a bit like the "football" and "soccer" argument. One will become more accepted if it is used more than the other. Once the adults have worked it out, then the kids will follow. I'd be keen to see what other ideas people come up with, Jonesy
Ashley Casey
About me
On Saturday 05 January at 11:31 Ashley Casey said
I think that is OK to make a decision to favour one or the other but at the moment there is a slide...probably unseen and unacknowledged...into using language from another sphere. It has happen with relation to weight i.e. fight the flab, the war on obesity etc and in schools with management talk i.e. target setting, performance management, the bottom line etc. If we are not careful then the boundaries between sport and physical education will be gone. Perhaps, as a coaching professor said to me last year, coaches should only be those who work at an elite level and everyone else should be a teacher...those who work in schools already and those who currently work in youth and lower level sport...As someone who worked for four years to qualify as a teacher and then spend fifteen years being one I wasn't comfortable with this suggestion but if this sort of talk is on the cards then where do we go from here? Thanks for the comments Jonesy (both on this and the draft that you saw ahead of time), Ash.
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On Saturday 05 January at 16:03 Mike DeNeef said
First a disclaimer - I am a PE teacher / Athletic Director / Coach / former College level athlete (basketball) and have enough years under my belt to be mindful of lapsing into 'the way things used to be' mindset. I expect all of these experiences shape my thoughts on this subject. I appreciate your reply/clarification of your thoughts Ash. I was thinking along similar lines. Firstly I wanted to be sure I was understanding you correctly in regards to your use of the term 'sport'. Teaching in an international school I have found that the word has a slightly different connotation 'across the pond' than from where I grew up (Canada). One of my (3) blog posts touched on the topic of sport and P.E - my basic thesis was 'don't throw the baby out with the bath water' in regards to 'sport' in P.E. Separating 'sport' completely from 'P.E.' is certainly possible I'm sure; but it would be messy and would it even be a better model? I see some of the comments on twitter in regards to this topic directly referencing quotes from British politicians referencing 'sport' when they should have been referencing 'P.E.'. Is this a problem of 'sport' or a problem of a lack of understanding/importance given to ALL the facets that make up a physically educated person (P.E.) I worry about 'sport' become a 'dirty' word or idea - certainly it is not all bad;-) In our international school setting we place a larger emphasis on the learning of 'sports' than perhaps is being done in districts back home due to the unique social needs of our clients (sporting interactions in and o/s of school are a very helpful way for new students to develop a sense of belonging in a strange land and therefore we teach/promote sporting skill/activity that can help s's become involved in these groups). I don't find that it takes away from my ability to help students become physically educated. Do we need boundaries between sport and P.E.? To what aim? Or do we just need to raise the profile of what P.E. actually is?

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