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Physical Education Pupils


This studies set out to gain an understanding of issues related to the identification of, and provision for, talented pupils in Physical Education (PE) in relation to different ideologies that are held by PE teachers and (talented) pupils’ perception of their experiences within the PE curriculum. It utilised a mainly interpretavist approach, that made use of some methods from the positivist tradition of objective data collection within a research design that aimed to exploit those methods which were judged to best suit the collection and collation of data. The major part of the study utilised an approach based in ethnomethodological phenomenology (Cohen et al, 2000: Silverman, 2001; Creswell, 2003) that took into account the social forces that shape people and their behaviour (Crotty, 2003) in determining how PE teachers make sense of their everyday (professional) world and interpret the expectations placed upon them by recent initiatives in PE. Those initiatives were the National Curriculum for PE (NCPE) which was introduced into schools in 1992, with revisions in 2000, 2005 and 2008 (DfEE, 1992, DfES, 2000, DfES, 2005 and DCSF, 2008) and the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy that was introduced into schools in January 2003 (DfES and DCMS, 2002). It investigated how PE teachers who hold different ideologies and philosophies (Green, 2000; Green 2002) in their teaching interpret such interventions in different ways according to their own conceptions of reality (Cohen et al, 2000). It seems likely that various interpretations may result in different assumptions, distinct conventions and discrete practices in the identification and teaching of talented pupils within the PE curriculum. Research was designed to build on research undertaken by Lawson in the 1980s which is discussed by Curtner-Smith (2001) that suggests that PE teachers are likely to adopt one of two different ‘warrants’ (teaching or coaching) that result from their occupational socialisation and guide their interpretation of their role in teaching. It also considered research undertaken by Curtner-Smith in 2001, which suggested that a significant proportion of PE teachers’ interpretation of the original orders for NCPE meant that they were more likely to make NCPE fit in with their own ideologies and values than involve themselves in changing their methods and approaches to teaching PE (Curtner-Smith, 1999). No research has, to date, investigated whether similar tactics have been employed by teachers since the introduction of PESSCL to schools.

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Qualitative data collection methods were used within a study of this phenomenon to gain insight and understanding of how male and female PE teachers at different stages of their careers conceptualise talent and the means by which they seek to identify and provide suitable educational experiences within a PE curriculum that ideally caters for all pupils including those that have been identified as being talented in PE A qualitative approach has particular relevance to the presentation of a detailed view of a phenomenon in which variables cannot be easily identified, in which (contemporaneous) theories are not available to explain the behaviour of participants and need to be developed through the study of individuals in their professional setting (Creswell, 1998) in contemporary PE.

There is a need to question the basis for interpreting social reality (Cohen et al., 2000) in education and to discuss difficulties of quantification (ibid, 2000) of deeply held attitudes, opinions, ideologies and philosophies that affect PE teachers in their teaching of talented pupils. As a result of a desire to collect data that points towards the reasons behind the choices made by prospective and serving PE teachers during their occupational socialisation quantitative methods were rejected for this part of the research. A naturalistic approach was needed to avoid ‘absolutist traps’ (Silverman, 2001: 7) and the deterministic and reductionist philosophy of the positivist lens (Creswell, 2003) that produces numeric measures and results. Dependence on quantitative methods alone fails to acknowledge the social and cultural constructs that are present within the ‘variables’ under investigation (Silverman, 2001) whereas a phenomenological approach assists the researcher in identifying and considering human experience related to incidents, events and trends and to understand the lived experience in teachers (professional) lives (Cohen et al, 2000; Creswell, 2003). It assists in the development of an understanding of social interactions that may have had an influence on PE teachers’ decisions to enter the profession, on the influences that may influence prospective teachers to adopt, or reject particular approaches to teaching PE during Initial Teacher Education (ITE) at University and the pedagogical methods and approaches that they adopt in teaching talented pupils in schools. The use of qualitative research methods reflect the belief that a deeper understanding of social phenomena may be possible than would result from pure quantitative research (Silverman, 2001).

Positivist and Interpretivist research paradigms are restricted to measurement and discussion of practice in education without taking account of the political and ideological perspectives of educational research (Cohen et al, 2000). In order to consider questions related to the educational purposes PE teachers seek to attain, the educational experiences they use to attain these purposes, the strategies that they use to effectively organise educational experiences and determination as to whether, or not, such purposes are being attained, the use of the critical paradigm was brought into the research design.

Curtner-Smith, M.D. (1999). “The more things change the more they stay the same: Factors influencing teachers’ interpretations and delivery of National Curriculum Physical Education”. Sport, Education and Society 4, 1: 75-97.

Green, K. (2000) “Exploring the Everyday ‘Philosophies’ of Physical Education Teachers from a Sociological Perspective”. Sport, Education and Society, 5, 2: 109-129

Green, K. (2002) “Physical Education Teachers in their Figurations: A Sociological Analysis of Everyday ‘Philosophies’ ”. Sport, Education and Society, 7, 1: 65-83

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2000) Research Methods in Education (5th Edition). London and New York. Routledge Falmer.

Use: The search for truth – The nature of enquiry (p3-17) - alternative bases for interpreting social reality. Positivism and the difficulties of quantification – theories, models and criticism of positivism (reasons for rejecting its use).

Alternatives to the use of positivistic social research (p.19-26) – phenomenology, ethnomethodology and interactionism. Include discussion of criticisms of naturalistic and interpretive approaches.

Critical theory in educational research (p27-31). Critical theory and educational research –

Creswell, J. W. (2003) Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

Alternative knowledge claims (paradigms) (p6) Evidence on p7 for rejection of the notion that numeric measures are suitable in this research.

Phenomenological research and mixed methods approaches (p15). Characteristics of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods research (p17). Three approaches to research (p18-210.

Criteria for selecting an approach (p21-23)

Silverman, D. (2001) Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction. London. Sage Publications.

Rationale for Interpretive research (p1-2). Kaleidoscope analogy.

Methodolgy/method (p4)

Absolutist traps (p7-8)

Contextual sensitivity: No point in asking what talent is – look at ways in which PE teachers ‘deal with’ talented performers in lessons (textual analysis and observation, Interviews – recording and transcribing – triangulation).

The nonsense of Quantitative Research (p29-31)

The sense of Qualitative Research (p.32). The nonsense of qualitative research (p32-34)

Combining qualitative and quantitative research (p35-37)

Varieties of qualitative research (ethnomethodolgy) (p38-39)

Ethnography and Observation (p43) Whyte’s Observational Study – an ethnography? – use of narrative in ethnographic research (p45-46) imp.

Aims of observational research.

Studies of subcultures – Pe teachers as a sub-culture in education? Studies of organizations (p50-54).

Ethical issues in ethnography (p54-56)

Relaibility and validity (p227-240)

Crotty, M. (2003) The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process. London. Sage Publications.

Epistemology, TheoreticalPperspective, Methodolgy and Methods (p4-5)

Ontology – the study of being – different structures of reality (Coaching orientation / teaching orientation) (p10-12)

Constructivist approach – the making of meaning (p42-65)

Interpretivism (p66-68)

Individualising method (p68)

Ethnography – personhood derived from social forces that shape us and our behaviour (p74-75)

Interactionist research (p76-77)

Phenomenology (78-86)

Interpretivism – the way of hermeneutics (p87-111)

Critical enquiry – The Marxist heritage (p112-138)

Creswell, J. W. (1998) Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions. Thousand Oaks CA. Sage Publications.

Biography, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography and case study (p2)

“I think metaphorically of qualitative research as an intricate fabric composed of minute threads, many colours, different textures, and various blends of material. This fabric is not explained easily or simply. Like the loom on which the fabric is woven, general frameworks hold qualitaitive research together”. (p13)

“Qualitative research is an inquiry process of understanding based on distinct methodological traditions of inquiry that explore a social or human problem. The researcher builds a complex, holistic picture, analyzes words, reports, detailed views of informants, and conducts the study in a natural setting” (p15)

“I emphasise a ‘complex, holistic picture,’ a reference to a complex narrative that takes the reader into the multiple dimensions of a problem or issue and displays it in all its complexity” (p15)

“quantitative researchers work with a few variables and many cases, whereas qualitative researchers rely on few cases and many variables” (Ragin, 1987 in Cresswell, 1998). p15/16

Select a qualitative study because of the nature of the research question which often start with a how or a what so that initial forays into the topic describe what is going on (situational analysis) p17

Choose a qualitative approach because the topic requires exploration because variables cannot be easily identified, theories are not available to explain the behaviour of participants snd theories need to be developed (p17)

Qualitative study is used to present a detailed view of the topic

Use a qualitative approach to study individuals in their natural setting, which involves going out to the setting, gaining access and gathering material

Select a qualitative approach because of an interest in writing in a literary style (p17)

Allow sufficient time to spend on extensive data collection and utilize detailed data analysis of information (p18)

Select a qualitative approach because audiences are receptive to qualitative research (often used in schools)

Use a qualitative approach to emphasise the researcher’s role as an active learner who tells the story from the participants view rather than as an expert who passes judgement on participants. (p18)

Use of a set of philosophical assumptions to guide the study. Such assumptions reflect our understanding of knowledge within the meanings that people make of it. Knowledge gained through such research is gained as people talk about their own meanings and is laced with personal biases and values, the same biases and values that lead to the decisions they make in any given situation. In narrative forms this knowledge is communicated in a personal, close-up manner and as information emerges and evolves it is inextricably tied to the context in which it is studied. In contrast to the dispassionate forms of research that prevail in traditional social research, the distinct ideological stance offered by qualitative research situates the study within a particular context and empowers participants in the study (p19)

Begin by posing a problem, a research issue, to which we wouls like an answer. In order to do so we ask open-ended research questions to listen to the participants of the study and to shape the questions as we explore issues. There is a need to refrain from assuming the role of the ‘expert researcher’ replete with the ‘best questions’ that suggest we already have the answers (p19)

Interviews, observations, documents and audio-visual materials (p19)

Consideration of ethical issues – seeking consent, avoiding deception, maintaining confidentiality and protecting the anonymity of participant at both individual and institutioinal levels (p19/20)

Themes, dimensions, codes and categories (p20)

Characteristics of a good qualitative study (p20-23)

A phenomenological study – the lived experiences for a number of individuals about a concept (the phenomenon) – to explore the structures of consciousness in human experiences with its roots in the philosophical perspectives and differing perceptions of PE teachers with differing orientations towards teaching or coaching. Search for the essential invariant structure (or essence) or the central underlying meaning of the experience and emphasise the intentionality of consciousness in which experiences contain both the outward appearance and inward consciousness based on memory, image and meaning. Intentionality of consciousness – reality of an initiative, such as NCPE and PESSCL are inextricably related to one’s consciousness of it which are likely to differ according to Lawson’s (1984) model of occupational socialization. (p52/3)

The refusal of the subject-object dichotomy, a theme which flows naturally from the intentionality of consciousness, suggests that the reality of an initiative to a teacher can pnly be perceived within the meanings of their own previous experiences. (p53)

Sociological phenomenology (Schutz cited by Swingewood, 1991 in Creswell, 1998)– in which PE teachers constitue the world of everyday (professional) life and how they consciously develop meaning out of social interactions (something that they have been doing since childhood). Known as ethnomethodology (Garfinkel in Swingewood, 1991) it is a way of examining how individuals make meanings of their everyday lives – often drawing on ethnography and cultural themes, ethnomethodology relies on methods of analyzing everyday talk (p53)

Phenomenology synopsis (p67)

Philosophical and Theoretical Frameworks (p73) the multiple nature of reality (p76)

Silverman, D. (2005) Doing Qualitative Research (2nd Edition). London. Sage Publications.

Critique of qualitative methods (p5)

Choosing a methodology (p109)

Multiple methods / methodological triangulation (p121)

Purposive sampling – link to phenomenology ~(p129)

Generalisability is present in a single case ~ Sacks (p134-138) also Arksey and Wright

Burton, D. (2000) Research Training for Social Scientists. London. Sage Publications.

Burgess, H., Sieminski, S. and Arthur, L. (2006) Achieving Your Doctorate in Education. London. Sage Publications.

Qualitative or quantitative research? Overcoming the divide. (p56)

Rigour, Reliability and Validity (p63)

Thomas, R. M. (1998) Conducting Educational Research: A Comparative View. Westport CT. Bergin and Garvey.

Wolcott, H. F. (2001) Writing Up Qualitative Research (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

Simpson, M. and Tuson, J. (1995) Using Observation in Small-Scale Research. The Scottish Council for Research in Education.

Justification for using observational techniques / strengths (p16 – 18) weaknesses (p18 – 20)

Bias (p18/19)

Recording and Coding (p32/33) Coding (p83)

Video (p50)

Ethics, reliability and validity (p63)

Silverman, D. (Ed.) (2004) Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice (2nd Edition). London. Sage Publications.

Reliability and validity (p283)

Visual data (p246 and p266)

Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods (2nd Edition). Oxford. Oxford University Press.

The nature of qualitative research (p2650

Ethnography and participant observation (p291)

Breaking down the quantitative/qualitative divide (p437)

Combining quantitative and qualitative research (p451)

Ethics (p505)

The methods used were interviews and observation across two days during May` 2005, follow up e-mails to clarify points raised during interviews, a questionnaire (see appendix 3) that asked open questions related to ‘official documentation and guidance’ for provision for talented pupils in physical education and autobiographical statements provided by each of the subjects during June 2005. The study explored the practical means by which they identified and made provision for talented performers. It also examined the potential conflict between the expectations of the external agenda set by DfES and school and departmental guidelines and teachers’ own internalised values, concepts, beliefs, interests, skills, knowledge and cultural identity brought about by their socialisation into PE and sport during phases of development that spanned their school years, university education, initial teacher training and their further development as teachers of PE.

Data gathering included initial face-to-face, open- ended, semi-structured interviews with each of the four subjects which lasted between 45 minutes and one hour and were recorded with the permission of the interviewees. The interviews sought to elicit teachers’ views on ability and talent with regard to the criteria that they used in making judgements as to whether pupils were talented or not and the practical methods used to identify talented performers. It was assumed that the latter might include generic strategies such as informal observation and formal assessment; activity – specific measures e.g. Multi-stage fitness test, Illinois agility run, etc.; and ability - specific strategies which focus on the assessment of core abilities determined by NCPE and included in the school’s PE curriculum. Teachers were asked what provision they had made for the development of pupils who have been identified as being talented. They were asked to describe this provision in terms of providing suitable learning experiences in physical education lessons and beyond, such as formative assessment, the planning of activities for focussed observation and assessment within specific abilities such as leadership, NCPE aspects of learning e.g. selecting and applying skills, or within specific sporting activities. The use of dynamic assessment processes such as ‘assessment for learning’, rather than traditional end of unit assessment, to gauge progress in skill and health related ability, creativity, interpersonal ability, intrapersonal ability and cognitive ability is an assessment tool that is available to teachers of physical education. Dynamic assessment allows teachers and pupils to assess progress across time which is in contrast to summative or end of unit assessment that relates to performance at a particular point in time. Summative assessment will provide evidence of talent if pupils perform according to their potential, but not when pupils have an ‘off-day’ that coincides with the time of the assessment procedures. Concepts and approaches such as the supplementary curriculum that may include issues such as year nine pupils being fast tracked to follow GCSE programmes of study, differentiation, IEPs, mentoring, extension tasks and external coaching. CSLA/JSLA awards and GCSE and A level courses, may also be used to help teachers develop pupils’ talent, once they have discovered it!

During the interview PE teachers were asked how they identified ‘talent’, the underachieving talented performer, the late developing talented performer or the potentially talented and to comment on the personal or behavioural characteristics that they considered to be important in achieving high level performance and talented status for pupils in physical education and school sport.

The subjects of this study consisted of two teachers who had worked at the school prior to the start of the academic year in which this research was based and two who had started their careers at the school in September 2004. The head of department, Will (all names have been changed for purposes of anonymity), has taught PE for six years, all of them at the same school, and became department head in September 2004. He entered the teaching profession following successful completion of a four year B.A. (Ed.) degree from a South-Western University. Matt, second in department, joined the school in September 2004 from a northern comprehensive school where he had taught for two years since graduation from the same University as Will, where he too followed a four year B.A. (Ed.) degree course. Barry joined the school in September 2003 and had recently completed the graduate training programme after completing a degree course in PE and Chemistry before working outside education for two years and Phil, the other newcomer to the department, who joined the staff in September 2004 with unqualified teacher status and was working towards qualification after entering the teaching profession upon completion of a B.Sc. in Sports Science. Both Barry and Phil were educated at Easthill School prior to their entry into University.

During interviews teachers were asked to describe each of the pupils they taught from a group list of year 10 boys that was selected for scrutiny on the basis that at least one other teacher had recent experience of teaching the same pupils and could therefore make their own, independent, comments regarding the ability level of each of them and judge whether they considered them to be a talented performer or not. This process effectively identified those pupils who were considered to be talented and the outcomes could later be compared with the National Curriculum teacher assessed level that each identified pupil was allocated during year nine at the completion of key stage three of their physical education (eight level descriptors and one which allowed for exceptional performance to be recognised are embedded in the NCPE). This information was intentionally kept from teachers during the first part of the interview in order that it would be less likely to affect their judgement. Teachers were then asked to describe the characteristics that they considered to be important in reaching the judgement for each of those pupils that they had identified as talented and to define and explain the criteria they had used in making their decision.

It was important that questions were phrased so that they were as open as possible and allowed diversity of response in order to limit the effect of bias. Interviews took place within a PE department in which I had worked for eight years and had only recently left in July 2004 and I felt it important to avoid the effect that my own assumptions, knowledge and values may have had on teachers’ responses. The semi-structured nature of the interviews served simply to give focus to the interview process and to ensure that all subjects were asked to comment on the same issues.

Follow up to clarify any issues raised was completed two weeks later by e-mail at the completion of which the teachers were later asked to complete a questionnaire to determine what they knew of the NCPE and OfSTED recommendations for talented pupils, how they had used available material in identifying talent during PE lessons, how useful they considered the available guidance to be and what changes (if any) they thought might be made to departmental policy and practice to develop provision for talented pupils.

Finally the PE teachers involved in the case study were asked to complete an autobiographical statement that related to the factors that they considered to be important to the process by which they became attracted to teaching PE and which may have been instrumental in constructing their perceptions and ideologies related to provision for talented pupils in PE. On the basis that occupational socialisation of PE teachers begins early in childhood and follows three phases i.e. recruitment or anticipatory socialisation, professional education that takes the form of initial teacher training and organisational socialisation upon entry to work in schools (Lawson, 1983 and Stroot and Williamson, 1993 in O’Bryant et al, 2000) subjects were guided in their responses to write a chronological account of experiences and critical incidents which formed the internalised values, concepts, beliefs, interests, skills, knowledge and cultural identity that they have brought with them into teaching PE and which have been modified by their socialisation into the profession over different periods of time and in different circumstances. Guidance in completing their autobiographies included the following:

  • Describe your childhood experiences in physical education and sport that have had an effect on your decision to enter physical education teaching and the attitudes, skills and knowledge that you bring to your teaching.
  • Describe any other childhood experiences (e.g. family influence) that have had an effect on your decision to enter physical education teaching and the attitudes, skills and knowledge that you bring to your teaching.
  • How do you think that your university education has prepared you to teach physical education?
  • How has your induction into the teaching profession / WHSB affected your attitudes, skills and knowledge in relation to teaching physical education?

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