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It’s broke: fix it

The previous blog explored research that originated in the US and France around teaching the content of physical education. It argued that there are so many ‘things’ involved in teaching and learning that many of the skills (for want of a better word) of the teacher remain implicit. It suggested that it is only when we make these skills explicit that we begin to better understand what it takes to be a good teacher. 

This week’s blog asks if we are caught, like a rabbit, in the headlights of indecision. In other words, do we already know that we should change in our extra-curricular provision to serve the needs of all pupils but feel the pull towards the aspects of physical education that attracted us to the subject in the first place? The blog concludes by asking us to at least begin to question the full value of an interscholastic programme that favours the few over the many.


Volume 4: The curriculum and the subject matter of physical education


Paper 72:

Bocarro, J., Kanters, M.A., Casper, J., & Forrester, S. (2008/2012). School physical education, extracurricular sports, and lifelong active living. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 35-48) London: Routledge.



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


Why does anyone do it?

There are many arguments for why people start as young people. Everyone else is doing it? I’ll be cool? They made me? My parents smoke? I would be the exception if I didn’t smoke? And so on and so forth.

I understand this. From a personal perspective.

The question is why don’t people stop?

I don’t believe that ignorance is a reason.

It says on the side of the pack that smoking kills (in the UK at least), the messages about the danger appear to be everywhere, schools are well set to inform their students, there are messages on the television about lung disease that contain hard hitting images of cancer growing on the side of a cigarette.

I do believe that it is an addiction and as such giving up is an incredibly difficult thing to do. There is a reason that there’s a saying that suggests that you are never a non-smoker only a former smoker once you have given up.

To me, and purely for the purposes of this week’s blog, it is the decision to try and stop that is the significant one. This might start with a feeling that something is not right. What Foucault called ‘cognitive dissonance’ (what the dictionary.com defines as a lack of agreement or consistency). It is the state where an individual holds two or more conflicting ideas or notions. For example, I like to smoke but smoking is bad for me.

So how does this relate to physical education and this week’s paper?

I wonder if we needed to acknowledge and even amplify the feelings of dissonance that we feel in our subject around the place of elite sport in schools. When asked to articulate their personal aim for physical education many teachers have been reported as suggesting it is to encourage lifelong participation in physical activity for all their students (idea 1). Yet when we look at the dominant form of physical education in schools it focuses on interscholastic or interschool sport (idea 2).

In other words, as a subject field, have we been guilty of talking the talk but walking in a different way? Are we simply not making the decision to change or, if we are, are we are meeting with too much resistance and therefore giving up? 

But what to do? Do we continue to try and change or do we, instead, simply silence and ignore the feelings of dissonance that we experience? Personally I think I probably did the latter.

So how do we make the change?

As Luke Watson says “the attitude, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is the enemy of disruptive thinking.” But how do we disrupt the status quo and challenge ourselves to change the daily realities of our subject?

We start with our programmes. Ask yourself – “do we have every pupil in mind when we plan our extra-curricular provision?” If the answer is yes then please share your ideas here. If the answer is no then how might you allow the voice of dissonance to change what you do to help everyone become a lifelong participant in physical activity?



The Paper

Bocarro and colleagues open their paper by lending their voice to the cacophony that argues “sedentary living and obesity across all age, social, ethnic, and economic categories has reached epidemic proportions.” While they referred specifically to the United States this does seem to be a message that is increasingly voiced around the world. Such is the cost of sedentary living in the US that the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports have coined the phrase “sedentary death syndrome (SeDS)” to describe the impact of inactivity.

Yet the conundrum remains. How to reverse the inactivity trend?

Bocarro and colleagues identify, and not for the first time, that, with the rapid rise in obesity in children and young people, schools are “the only institutions that have structured and continuous contact with nearly all children.” However, despite the continuous contact element the focus of that contact is in other places. The authors suggest that education (and by default schools) has “overemphasized academics” and have reduced physical education and recess time so that they can focus on standardized testing.

That said the authors are also mindful that school sport has focused on interscholastic (inter school) sports and not intramural (intra school) sports. The current (or dominant) focus encourages a few while a shift in focus “may be an effective way to promote physical activity among a greater number of children”. They spend the rest of the paper making a case for such a shift in focus.

One of the reasons there has been an increase in sedentary behaviours is that there are simply fewer opportunities or options for students who are not ‘advanced athletes’ to participate in youth sport. Another reason is geographical distance that students are living from their schools. With new schools being built in out of town locations students have seen an increase in their commuting time. When this is combined with “overemphasized academics” (which manifests itself as more homework) then children and young people simple feel they have less time for extracurricular sport.

While there is a “lack of prestige associated with intramurals” when children’s motivation for participating in sport is considered i.e. to have fun, stay in shape, to learn and improve skills, and to play in part of a team, the potential becomes more evident. Yet for this shift to happen things need to change. There needs to be environmental support and a willingness to provide a variety of activities but, Bocarro and colleagues argue, such programmes have “the potential to impact a much larger percentage of the student population”.

The different values of participation are not questioned in this paper but real concerns are raised about the current provision in Schools (I use a capital S to represent Schools generally and not individual schools). If “the ultimate purpose of physical education and its supplemental activities like intramural and extracurricular sports is the promotion of ongoing active lifestyles and lifelong participation in sport and physical activity” then surely there is a strong case for a wholesale change in focus? 

It is not as simple as simply changing a school’s or Schools provision and Bocarro and colleagues are quick to point out the impact that individual, social, organisational, community, and policy factors can all have on sedentary and/or activity behaviours. That said, Schools have a part to play in making changes and surely it is time to at least question the full value of an interscholastic programme that favours the few over the many?



What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve 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? If you want to do something or are looking for help then 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.


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. 

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On Friday 13 June at 19:11 Jeremy House said
Thanks for the stimulus. I feel as though there is a very nice fit between extracurricular (inclusive) sports and SEPEP (sport education type models). Physical education and competitive sports are (should be) very different beasts and need to be treated this way. I see a SEPEP type activity in the after school sport provision as a nice, non-threatening stepping stone.
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On Saturday 14 June at 12:38 William Bode said
I totally agree with your position in your paper. So my thought is why do younger (elementary) students have the same sedentary issues? Speaking from limited experience of observations in my district, I see skills and activities that are taught for the well being of each student, regardless of "athletic ability". With that being said, I have observed the middle and high classes that cater to the more athletic student, which "turns off" other students to Physical Education. As a High School teacher, I teach less traditional activities and lifelong sport activities. I have found this levels the proverbial playing field for students and increases engagement. One other key component I feel is important is creating the right mindset in every student during the beginning phases of our time together. As students reach high school, they have many preconceived notions about 1) their own assessment of their abilities, and 2) their opinions on Physical Education. My first priority is get the students in the right mindset for class before I can begin to develop their physical bodies. I have been reading "Mindset" by Carol Dweck in how we as humans go into all situations in our lives. This book has affirmed my approach to high school age students, and have wondered if the growth mindset was developed throughout education in teachers and students if it would help some of the current issues we face as Physical Educators. I would recommend Dr. Dweck's book to any teacher who wants to reach every student in his/her classroom, regardless of talent or intelligence.
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On Tuesday 17 June at 08:15 Frank Wilson said
The Curriculum and subject matter of physical education must be reconsidered with some modern learning and play techniques for kids. The students should learn a lot of things in play activities. Stats Coursework
Ashley Casey
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On Wednesday 18 June at 16:35 Ashley Casey said
I feel, fundamentally, that physical education has a significant part to play in this process but its part sits on a spectrum of interlinked ideas, notions and actions. For physical education itself, I feel that cognitive dissonance can stimulate a process of rethinking and allow us find new ways of doing PE that helps to address these problems. I think a big mistake would be assume that PE can do it all and, indeed, that it should take on the mantle as 'solver'. There are, as William points out, many examples of where Phys Ed is just part of a much wider set of issues and constructs. That doesn't mean we should do nothing. This means think of problems inter-sectionally i.e. not as individual issues but as issues that are intertwined (such as school, community, race, gender, sexuality, class, ability). Yes we need to play our part (which will be significant for us) but we are just a part of the solution (and a part of the problem). That said we can be an example of great practice meeting great thinking we just need to brave enough to do it.

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