Volume 3: Teachers, teaching and teacher education in physical education

The previous blog asked what the impact has been of ‘recruiting’ good PE students to be the teachers of the future. It argued that, as teachers, we identify students who show the attributes of being an outstanding PE teacher and then nurture them towards the profession. Yet in doing so do we replicate, generation on generation, the ideal skills and disposition of a PE teacher and in turn limit our subject area and stop it from developing in new and exciting ways?

This week’s blog looks at how teacher education continues to produce ‘mini-me’s’. It shows that one year teacher education programs have little time to challenge teachers to break the ‘mould’ and to develop teachers that our different from the dominant games-players.  

Paper 51:

Capel, S. & Katene, W. (2000/2012) Secondary PGCE PE students’ perceptions of their subject knowledge. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume III. (pp. 57-80) London: Routledge.


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

My great aspiration as both an aspiring and as a newly qualified teacher was to coach the rugby 1st XV at one of the top public schools in the UK. Director of Rugby was my dream job title and position but if I got also to teach some cricket then great. These were the two games that I did best and loved the most and I thought I would be happy doing those.

What I didn't realise at the time was that I wasn’t good enough as a coach to take on that role. What I also didn’t realise was that I would eventually be better with people and with education than I was ever with coaching. So why did I have those aspirations?

I guess it comes down to proficiency. I would consider myself to a good rugby player and a good cricketer. I even got a bit of cash to play a few games of rugby (union and league). However, experience tells me that I was a journeyman player – but if you’d heard me talk a few years ago I was considerably better than that (after all I played with and against a few future internationals and some of that must have rubbed off on me). Still, these are the games that I knew – in which I was expert and that level of knowledge was vital. I had played rugby three or four times a week (and cricket in the summer) for more than a decade. I knew the skills and the drills and I understood the different steps that I need to take to help students develop.

This engagement continued in my sports studies degree where I played rugby and cricket for the university. My other proficiencies lay in games (mainly) but also in athletics and a little in swimming. Unsurprisingly these are the activities I felt most confident in when I started my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (the PGCE in the title of the paper). I got to teach rugby in my first placement and cricket in my second and – by default (i.e. the curriculum offerings in my two placement schools) – I also gained a degree of proficiency in basketball. I remember doing some things at University (gymnastics, swimming and even some dance) but these are not things I would profess to be good at and I wasn’t alone.

Then I got my first job. The school had a swimming pool and some tennis courts and therefore I was required to learn how to teach these activities (it was either that or – if you will excuse the pun – sink or swim). Early in my career these were difficult areas but I quickly came to consider these as two of my strengths. Yet throughout this time I kept up with the rugby and the cricket.

In many ways I was the ‘rule’ and definitely not the exceptions. I taught like my colleagues and, like my peers on my course, I was only comfortable in areas that I had experience and proficiency in. My school curriculum as a pupil matched the curriculum I followed as a teacher. I deliberately applied to schools that did what I did and I was recruited because I did what the school did.

Yet – in a similar vein to last week’s blog – the wheel continues to turn and the same old ideas go round and round. Had I experience in dance and OAA (Outdoor and Adventurous Activities) I doubt I would have been employed (or perhaps even been employable).

One of the repeated criticisms of the school PE is that it focuses on games. It also produces games players, with games knowledge who are – if they become teachers – good at teaching games. Game on! The question is…how do we change that? Do we teach teachers to be dance teachers and assume that their games knowledge is good enough? But does that run the risk of reducing their employability chance? Do we take the bold step of taking games off the national curriculum and therefore ‘force’ a step-change in the knowledge needed to be a teacher? Or do we recruit different people to PE – both in universities and in schools – so that our students get a broad and balanced curriculum? Or, and whilst this hasn’t been mentioned, is there too much focus on activity and not pedagogy? Do we need to focus more on how to teach and how students learn, and challenge the ideals of content being most important?

The Paper

Drawing on the experiences of one cohort of PGCE students in a UK university, Capel and Katene set out to explore “what they know” and feel confident to teacher in respect to the UK national curriculum. At the time of writing this, the UK curriculum was focused on six areas of activity (dance, swimming, athletics, gymnastics, OAA and Games) and the cohort were required by the UK government to be competent in these six areas of activities. This was a big ask given the way in which a) the students came to be recruited to this year-long course, and b) the time the university had with the students (one academic year).

Capel and Katene reported that, generally, recruits for a PGCE in PE come from sport-related undergraduate degrees. However, many of these have little, if any, practical components and very few have a practical focus on the six key areas of activity mentioned above. Indeed, the authors suggested that many potential students were more well-versed in physiology and biomechanics than they were in dance and OAA. This lack of any practical elements in the recruits’ undergraduate degrees meant that their experience and proficiency in the six key areas came from their experiences in and out of education (predominantly school but also for university teams and outside clubs).

PGCE PE courses – in general – seem to operate on a two-thirds to one-third ration. In other words, students spend only a third of the time in the university and the rest of the time is spent in schools. In a 36 week course this means that everything the university needs to teach them occurs in 12 weeks. Therefore, the recruits (as aspiring teachers) have little time to significantly develop their subject knowledge in areas where they lack confidence or knowledge.

With a focus on games in the school curriculum – coupled with a lack of learning times in university – the reported competences of these students were in games. More than that though this competence was in traditional gendered games. So the male students were most confident in football while female students were most confident in netball. Both male and female students were reported as having least confident in dance. While there were some changes in this – depending on what they had taught on their teaching experiences or covered in the university – the focus on gendered sports (particularly traditional games) remained strong in terms of their confidence. 

The big question for me, given the move towards school-based teacher training course (in the UK at least), is where does the vicious circle end? We recruit “mini me’s” (see last week’s blog) to be teachers and not only are their attitudes similar to ours (and in keeping with the traditions of the profession) so are their competencies and confidences. So how do we change this? I have long advocated for undergraduate degrees that acknowledge that they need to take responsibility for teacher education because one-year courses simply lack the space to do this. That means that we (those of us in universities who are guiding potential teachers) have to find ways of helping those wannabe teachers to break the mould. We have to imagine new ways of ‘doing teacher education’ that position new graduates as change makers rather than dedicated followers of fashion.

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 whose work behind the scene as copy editor is a vital part of getting this blog out on time and in a semblance of coherence.