Volume 1: The Nature and Purposes of Physical Education

In the previous blog we explored Evans and Davies’s belief that class is still an important element in our schools and in the physical activity habits and opportunities of young people. The paper suggested that while class had been taken off the political agenda it was still very prevalent in society and was something that we need to be aware of in our practice. From our discussions it became obvious that access to sport was – in some ways – dictated by the financial cost of travel to take advantage of the best facilities and coach’s. Furthermore, it was about considering the child in front of us and not just the professional footballer, recreational cricketer that they may or may not become.

This paper is the first empirical study (i.e. it is the first to be based upon data collected by the researchers) in this major themes series. While the paper was originally published in 2002, and is based on data gathered in the UK, it has some important messages around the type of physical education that is offered in schools. It suggests that there is a significant difference between the offering made to boys and to girls in terms of team games and lifestyle activities on physical education curricula and extra-curricular timetables. However, what also emerges from this paper is a sense that the traditional games-focused programmes of physical education have endured despite evidence that these types of activities are not representative of the activities that men and women undertake as adults.

Paper 6:

Fairclough, S., Stratton, G., and Baldwin, G. (2013) In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education. (pp. 82-98) London: Routledge.


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


The key message to emerge out of this paper was that adult participation in physical activity most commonly occurs in activities that need only one or two people. For example, Badminton? Yet team games are most commonly played in schools and require specialist or large playing areas, match officials, more than one or two players per side, and often come with a requirement to attend training. There seems to be a large “disconnect” between the activities that dominant school provision and those that people take up and pursue through adult life. Should(n’t) we be doing something about this?

The dominant goal of physical education – as expressed by the practitioners who teach it – is the promotion of lifelong physical activity for the benefit of public health. Yet Fairclough, Stratton and Balwin (Fairclough and colleagues from now on) question whether PE programmes have the ability (even the potential) to influence our children (and the adults they become) to lead healthier lifestyles by being involved in regular physical activity participation. To promote lifelong physical activity participation there have been strong recommendations that PE programmes should focus on the promotion of lifetime physical activities at the expense of other ‘forms’ of physical education. For example, Zumba, Boxercise, Cycling and this list goes on….  Ridiculous I hear some of you say, how can we teach students activity that we expect them to participate in when they are 50 or even 70? I could hear parts of me (long buried parts I thought) voicing the same concerns. Yet the purpose of this paper is to consider the “relevance of current PE curricular and extra-curricular programmes to the goal of preparing students for participation in lifetime physical activity”. It does this by comparing current ‘trends’ in adult participation with the curriculum and extra-curricular offerings of participating schools with some ‘interesting’ and in some case ‘concerning’ conclusions.

Team games are offered as the mainstay of many curricular and extra-curricular programmes in PE. Fairclough and colleagues argued that if children could become attracted to lifetime activities as children they may be more likely to follow physically active lives when they reach adulthood. Indeed, other research has suggested that there is greater “carry over” into adult life from lifetime activities than from team games. This is especially poignant when you consider that, in the UK in 1987, nearly 100% of teachers used extra-curricular time to coach teams in areas that they had an expertise and/or in coaching talented performers. This study did report that lifetime activities were on the increase. However, they were still offered significantly less frequently than team games. Furthermore, while lifetime activities did appear more frequently in extra-curricular programmes – especially for 14-16 year old girls (as alternatives to team games) this was not replicated in curricular provision.

So what does your timetable look like? Mine was awash with team games and little if any opportunity was afforded to lifetime activities. The extra-curricular programme was as bad, if not worse. Why do we persist with games as the “operating centre” of PE? What would have to happen for significant changes to be made to what is offered? Is it needed? What would the consequence be?


The Paper

The paper draws on responses from boys’ and girls’ Heads of Physical Education (HoPE) in 89 secondary schools (160 respondents in total) in the northwest of England. Fairclough and colleagues found that in comparison to boys 35% of girls were more likely to be offered lifetime activities than boys. Furthermore, these lifetime activities were more frequently provided during extra-curricular programmes rather than in timetabled lessons. In contrast Male HoPE offered nearly twice the number of lifetime activities in their extra-curricular programmes than in their timetabled provision. However, team games still dominated the timetabled curriculum for both boys and girls in the 11-14 and 14-16 age ranges. Yet, Fairclough and colleagues did argue that these choices don’t come down solely to teacher choice. “A school’s facilities, budget, geographical situation, staff expertise, time in service and departmental ethos can all have a strong influence on what is included in the timetable”.

Unexpectedly, there was a rise in the number of team games offered to girls in the 14-16 age range. The authors had expected there to be a decline (in keeping with findings around girls’ disengagement with physical education during this time period). Yet these games were not that of Netball or Lacrosse (traditional games for girls) but rather there was a reported increase in the amount of ‘boys’ games’ (rugby, cricket and football) appearing in the curricula for 14-16 year old girls. However, while girls now had the chance to play previously consider boys’ games there was no corresponding increase in boys’ participation in activities or games normally labelled as being ‘for girls’ (dance, trampolining and gymnastics).

The curriculum seems to predominantly remain biased towards games and, on the whole, reinforcing  girls’ and boys’ activities. Furthermore, female HoPE were more likely to offer health related exercise as a standalone offering on the timetable while men more frequently used a blended approach (i.e. it was included in a number of activities across the timetable). In concluding Fairclough and colleagues suggested that tradition, teacher expertise and media influences, rather than carry over into adult life, had the strongest impact on what was offered both on the timetable and in extra-curricular activities. Without a reconsideration of physical education programmes, the creation of opportunities for staff to improve their subject knowledge and an understanding of what adults do to remain physically active, the authors suggested that little would change.


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).

Think
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. What do you believe? Is this your responsibility or just something else to be put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be.
Change
what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? Please 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.