The previous blog explored how what we do and what physical activities we participate in are shaped by the culture in which we exist. While there are varying forms of activities, what is participated in is shaped by the dominant culture. In many cases, Britishness.

This week’s blog builds on previous work and presents the findings from a review of research on sport education to argue that we have the evidence to support our desire to change. It argues that, ten years ago (nearly), we had enough evidence to show that this approach works. The question is: “is this enough evidence to encourage you to change?”


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


Paper 92:

Wallhead, T. & O’Sullivan, M. (2005/2012). Sport Education: Physical education for the new millennium. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 377-398) London: Routledge.


My take home message the implications of the research on practic 

Yesterday I led two sessions for primary teachers that focused on using iPads in PE. A common concern for the 20+ practitioners I worked with was how to justify buying these expensive items and how do I ensure that they get to be used in physical education? They could see the advantages - and thanks to my course with Jarrod Robinson I was able to show them practical uses for the iPad – but they wanted the evidence to present to their schools.

When looking to make changes in our teaching we are often faced with the questions like “where’s the evidence?” Sometimes these questions come both internally i.e. within our departments and ourselves and externally i.e. from our bosses and from parents. Unfortunately, as a field, we aren’t very good at collecting evidence of what works and therefore we are left to go on our hunches and gut feeling and yet this is where research should come in (except it’s not always easy to access it).

Reviews of literature are great ways of accessing a large body of research condensed into one paper and they certainly serve as strong indicators of what does or doesn’t work. They also serve as ways of creating arguments that you can then use in your schools to advocate for change. Small pilot studies of your own can also support change but you need to know and feel that it works before making changes. I am, as you know, a firm advocate for improving PE through the use of empirical evidence (thus this blog) but I wonder what your experiences of change (or attempted change) have been and what evidence you used to support your hunches?


The Paper

At the time of writing this review the Sport Education (SE) model had been ‘around’ for more than 20 years and had been the subject of more than 60 empirical studies. Yet, in that time no consolidation or stock taking of the findings across these studies had been undertaken. In undertaking this review that is what Wallhead and O’Sullivan set out to provide.

In examining the breadth of evidence and findings around  SE  the authors had two overarching aims. Firstly, they wished to explore the main findings/common themes that had emerged from two decades of research. Secondly, they sought to understand how research around the model supported (or not) Siedentop’s (the original developer of SE) original hopes/claims that SE would help to develop competent, literate and enthusiastic sportspeople.

Wallhead and O’Sullivan organized their review into five themes and I will do the same. These themes, drawn from previous work by Alexander and Luckman, were organized to represent the ‘5 big aims of PE’; namely motor skill development, tactical knowledge and performance, fitness, social development, and student attitudes and values.

Motor skill development: Wallhead and O’Sullivan suggested that SE “may be effective in facilitating motor skill improvement” but most of this ‘proof’ came from anecdotal accounts from teachers. Some of the studies provided evidence that skill improvement occurred across the skills range of students however they also warned that “skill development of low-skilled girls many not easily be achieved within an SE season as males often dominated possession and contact with the ball.” In contrast, while teachers remained skeptical about the development of motor skills research did suggest that there was “a significant improvement in team game-play” as the season progressed. 

Tactical knowledge and performance: There was some evidence – both anecdotal and research based – that SE could help in the development of “student game play competence”. Furthermore, Wallhead and O’Sullivan indicated that SE increased students’ interest in tactics and understanding of rules and strategies. Indeed, when a panel of four basketball experts compared footage of players taught through traditional units and those taught through SE they concluded that traditional games units revealed little or no team play. In contrast SE was “marked by a gradual improvement in team play, and the utilization of defensive and offensive strategies.”

Fitness: While improved fitness was not noted as an outcome of SE it was a theme that emerged in the review. Wallhead and O’Sullivan suggested that, while changes in students fitness might be an elusive outcome of physical education, SE may “be effective in maintaining high levels of student activity within physical education lessons”.

Social development (cooperation, empathy, self-discipline): Teachers reported an increase in “the level of interaction and cooperation between students and served to change their thinking about how the more general aims of student-centered education” could be achieved. Furthermore SE increased “socializing between students” and helped ‘at risk’ adolescent males. Wallhead and O’Sullivan reported that SE increased student enthusiasm for physical education as a result of “increased team affiliation and the responsibility given to them for decision-making.”

Student attitudes and values: “one of the most controversial student value issues to have emerged from the SE research surrounds the model’s efficacy in promoting gender equity.” One survey of a large number of teachers indicated that over “90% of elementary teachers and 70% of secondary teachers agreed or strongly agreed that the model catered for the inclusion of girls.” In contrast, other studies showed that boys dominated possession and occupied many of the central roles, and while SE was more attractive that normal physical education aspects of gender inequality were still evident in the SE season.

When look at reasons to change we need to look at the evidence but Is one report enough evidence? Do we need evidence from multiple schools or multiple groups within our own schools? Is this enough evidence for you to consider using SE if you haven’t before? If not what else do you need and why? Perhaps you could begin to use your links on social media to share your evidence and we could jointly advocate for 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 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. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.