Girls Perceptions Of Physical Education Education Essay

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This chapter will explore previous research conducted into the attitudes and factors effecting Key Stage 3 girls` perceptions of Physical Education. The chapter will aim to examine and discuss ideologies of attitudes and perceptions from previous academic research conducted within this field of Psychology. The chapter will also continue to discuss possible factors that could potentially contribute towards formulating a negative attitude.


Attitudes are probably the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology (Allport, 1935, p789 cited in Bohner and Wánke 2002, p11). Attitude permeates everything we do and is an important component in all aspects of human endeavour, attitude influences whether we begin or continue with certain activities - and whether we achieve in certain areas (Silverman and Subramaniam 1999, p97). This is supported by Campbell (1968, p456) who states that attitudes play an important role because an attitude determines an individual's willingness to learn.

An attitude is described as "a feeling one has about a specific attitude object, such as a situation, a person, or an activity" (Safrit and Wood 1995, p23) Bohner and Wánke (2002, p13) argue that it is most certainly the case that a person`s attitude toward a particular attitude object may influence his or her behaviour toward this object. However, Birtwistle and Brodie (1991, p466) identify that It is unrealistic to assume that attitude change will automatically lead to changes in behaviour. Attitudes develop at an early age and can be changed based on situational contexts such as a particular teacher or the class environment (Aicinena, 1991). Although it is widely accepted that attitudes may encompass affective, behavioural and cognitive responses towards an object (Bohner and Wánke 2002, p5) some attitudes may be formed by a particular behaviour, essentially attitudes are influenced by both the belief that behaviour will result in certain outcomes and the value placed upon those outcomes by the individual (Birtwistle and Brodie 1991, p467).

Attitudes can be affected or influenced by the social environment, such as the views of peers, by self-efficacy or self confidence in a particular social situation or by the physical environment (Bandura, 1986). The influence of the social environment is further supported as, according to the `attitudes-as-constructions perspective`, people do not retrieve any previously stored attitude from their memory, rather they generate an evaluative judgement based on the information that comes to mind in the situation (Bohner and Wánke 2002 p,5). From this feelings or attitudes can be indicated on a continuum from negative to positive, reflecting the direction and intensity of the attribute (Ajzen 1988, 4).

Girls attitudes towards Physical Education.

The physical education lesson should be approached in a positive way and physical education teachers should urge pupils to participate, creating a positive attitude to PE and exercise (Kamtsios and Digelidis 2008, p239) as children's experiences of physical education may be positively or negatively affecting habitual physical activity in current an later life (Carroll and Loudmidis 2001, p25). Physical education has a key role in developing sporting talent and providing opportunities for pupils to achieve in sporting activities (Capel, 2000). School has been recognised as the key influence for promoting PA to children, as it is the environment in which a quarter of children's' waking lives, up to the age of sixteen are spent (Department of Health, 2004; McBride and Midford, 1999 cited in Cale and Harris 2006). It is important that the PE Curriculum promotes participation to diminish negative attitudes particularly of adolescent girls (Mckenzie et al, 2006 p.1229). Developing favourable attitudes toward learning is a universal objective of instruction (Figley 1985, 229) and could potentially increase participation levels as PE is possibly the most suitable vehicle for the promotion of active, healthy lifestyles (McKenzie, 2001).

There is a growing concern for an increased number of potential health risks due to the lack of participation levels in female physical activity, as females have been identified as most at risk of damaging their future health (Whitehead and Biddle, 2008). Research has been identified that the drop out rate among teenagers, especially among girls, as one of the most current and difficult challenges in sport and PE (Vescio et al 2005, p154). This has led to many debates that aim to uncover the factors influencing such drop out rates (Carlson, 1995; Greenockle et al 1990; Luke and Sinclaire1991; Scantling et al 1995; Tannehill et al 1994).

Girls at key Stage 3 level are rapidly developing through adolescence and they may form negative attitudes towards PE as during adolescence, girls are highly vulnerable to anxiety and developing depressive disorders (Young and Shear, 2000). Scantling et al (1995) and Greenockle et al (1990) support this as they also identified related adolescent factors such as low self-confidence and anxiety to be contributing factors to negative feelings toward physical education. Armstrong and Welsman (1997) found during their study that, girls in the adolescent phase shown a reduction in physical activity levels, and subsequently boys were more active than girls.

A negative attitude may be formulated when girls "keep in circulation established stereotypes and uncontroversial notions of what activities are to be feminine and teenaged'' (Hudson 1984, p51). Previous research has found there is a stereotypical gender divide towards activities and behaviours that are perceived as suitable for girls PE Penney (2002). A large amount of research on girls and PE has focused on the nature of the Curriculum, and on the types of activities offered to girls (Kirk et al 2006, p772). Hargreaves (1994) highlights that, traditional sporting structures in the United Kingdom, including Physical Education, have been criticised as inappropriate for the needs of many girls and young women fuelling the notion of negative attitudes. This has been supported by further research suggesting that twice as many boys as girls are currently opting to take an examination in PE, and this gap seems to have remained remarkably constant over a number of years (Kirk et al 2006, p773). Van Wersch et al (1992) also found that the attitudes of girls have been of a negative nature which has resulted in participation rates of girls being considerably lower than that of boys. It is vital that girls participation is monitored in PE however, it is also important to remember that while girls may be seen to be ''participating'' in PE they may not be achieving their full potential (Cockburn and Clarke 2002, 659).

Factors Affecting Attitudes Towards PE

There have been many reasons to suggest the negative attitudes and perceptions taken by adolescent girls toward physical education. Major personal factors such as self-embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern over body image (Mulvihill et al 2000; Evans, 2006; Kirk, 1993 and Sport England, 2005) have contributed to the make-up of a negative attitude or perception towards physical education. Other contributing factors to create such negative attitudes are; friend and peer influence (Sinclair, 1991), school kit (Estyn, 2007), weather conditions (Choi, 2000; Williams and Bedward, 2001) Curriculum content and activities (Williams et al, 2000) and mixed gender lessons (Kirk, MacDonald, O`Sullivan, 2006). In many recent studies, girls continue to be viewed as a 'problem' for not engaging positively in PE, and the reasons cited by the girls remain remarkably similar to those from yesteryear - the wearing of PE uniform; the no jewellery rules; compulsory showers; and having to play games outside in the cold (Flintoff and Scraton 2001 p5).

Self Efficacy and Confidence.

Research has found that perceived competence and perception in physical education has a major influence in regard to participation (Carroll and Loudmidis 2001, p34) this is supported by the view of Fox (1988) and Fox and Biddle (1989) who concluded, when experiences in physical education leave children with a low perception of their ability they will be dissuaded from participating. Self confidence has shown perceptions of one`s own abilities has been frequently cited as both a mediating construct in achievement strivings and as a psychological factor affecting athletic performance (Kirk et al 2006, p146). Self-efficacy, as conceptualised by Bandura (1977) refers to peoples judgements of their capabilities to organise and execute courses of action to attain specific performances (Kirk et al 2006, p143). The Self-efficacy theory posits that an individual`s confidence will affect his or her persistence, effort, task choice, attitudes and emotions (Kirk et al 2006, p154). It has been argued that the ideologies inherent in the sporting and PE cultures alienate and demotivate girls in sport and physical activity in general, and PE in particular (Cockburn and Clarke 2002, p651). Research has found that girls confidence was a barrier to physical activity in the form of self-consciousness or fear of exposure in front of others as being 'different': the wrong shape, size or appearance, obviously unfit or inept (Finch 1998 p3).

Family and Peers

Girls` attitudes to physical education are far more likely to be influenced by someone close to home, such as a parent or family member (Lutter and Jaffee, 1996). Children and adolescents compare their own physical competence against their peers, and make judgements about how they 'measure up' (Laker, 2002). Jones (1988) found there to be a decline in positive attitudes towards PE between the ages of 12 and 13 (cited in Laker, 2000, p63), regarding this essential concerning issue, Attitudes, perceptions and urges are linked closely to societal influences and can be affected by teachers, parents and peers (Dauer and pangrazi 2003, p48). During adolescence, girls undergo many bodily changes, and feel self-conscious about these changes when surrounded by their peers (Choi, 2000). When children are young, parents, in particular, are providers of opportunities to acquire attitudes and beliefs, these opportunities lead to the development of different attributes for girls and boys (Giuliano, Popp and Knight 2000).

Activities and the Curriculum

Access to the Curriculum is not synonymous with access to learning (Evans 1993, p128). A dislike of particular activities along with the physical demands of an activity, are reasons given by students for the formulation of a negative attitude (Dickenson and Sparkes, 1988). Research has revealed that in some activities girls` stated physical ability as the sole criterion for liking or disliking activities (Ikulayo, 1983). Research on high school students' negative attitudes toward physical education has found that some students do not feel physical education fills a need in their lives and consequently do not find it valuable (Carlson, 1995). Schutz (1980) indicates that girls show more favourable attitudes towards the aesthetic sub-domain of the curriculum than boys (Laker, 2000, p63) Birtwistle and Brodie (1991, 465) support this and found that girls have significantly more positive attitudes than boys in the aesthetic domain of physical education. However from this girls have been stereotyped and socialised into "female" activities, for example gymnastics (Leaman 1984). It is argued that today, most students can independently establish their own goals about a variety of curricular options and activities in physical education (Lund and Tannehill 2010, p 173). However, politics in education endeavour to reduce the number of required physical education courses in the high school curriculum (Ferrer-Caje and Weis, 2000. p277). It is widely suggested that fun and enjoyment are an important frame of reference for young people and seem to encapsulate all that is good and positive about physical education (Laws and Fisher, 1999)


Research has suggested that teachers can have a great influence over pupils (Capel, 2004) therefore better teachers encourage more positive attitudes (Aicinena, 1991). Pupils who enjoy subjects may be influenced by their teachers (Faucette and Hillidge, 1989) and Children are very accustomed to having adults make decisions for them-thus, either disempowering or enabling those students (Lund and Tannehill 2010, p 173). A teacher can positively influence a pupils attitude or opinion because If a child views of the circumstances of him-or herself are altered, then that child`s resultant actions in those same circumstances might also change (Lund and Tannehill 2010, p 164). It is evident from previous research that it is important to pupils the gender of the teacher as this can and does influence stereotypical behaviours (Hayes & Stidder, 2003). Research in physical education classes indicate that the teacher is a critical agent of enhancing students` motivation and promoting a particular class environment (Goudas et al, 1995).

Gender in classes

Research suggests that attitudes towards PE are affected by gender, gender of fellow

students` in class has been shown to influence student attitude (Silverman and Subramaniam 1999 p114). Some girls are extremely embarrassed at being looked at by boys (Penney 2002 p19). Feminist critiques of schooling have been wide-ranging and varied, but it is only recently that there has been any attempt to consider issues of gender equality in physical education (Evans, 1993 p184). In secondary schools, UK inspection evidence (OFSTED 1998) has shown that where PE departments have moved to single-sex teaching at key stage 3, the effect on standards has been positive (Hayes and Stidder 2003, p74). The provision of single sex classes could help maintain pupil interests and eradicate any negative perceptions of PE (Dwyer, et al, 2006). Research has found that pupils find some activities more necessary for single gender than others for health and safety issues (Flintoff, 1996). Even though girls are fundamentally stereotyped to aesthetic activities, it is argued that simply to ensure that girls have access to a physical education curriculum that reproduces and reinforces an essentially masculine world is not offering equal opportunities (Evans, 1993 p127). Macdonald (1989 p6) has pointed out that, girls in mixed sex classes are overcoming the stereotype of male and female participation patterns more than the girls in all girls' groupings. It is widely suggested that girls prefer single sex classes as a study found young women are critical about their experiences in mixed games sessions, because boys dominated the play (Flintoff and Scraton, 2001 p12).

Kit and Facilities

The statutory PE kit that girls have to wear within PE lessons has also been named as one of the most influential factors for 'disliking' PE lessons by many researchers (Cockburn, 2001; Milosevic, 1995; Flintoff, 2005). Capel (1997 p108) argues that pupils may lose interest in the lesson if they feel conspicuous; for e.g., if girls wear kit for PE in which they feel embarrassed, they are likely to spend more time worrying about their kit than about achieving the task, because they feel they have to 'look good' as well as participate to their full potential (Williams and Bedward in Penney, 2002). The problem with the kit that the girls have to wear is that the pupils have no control over how their bodies are being presented (Evans, 2006). Penney (2002) states that pupils search for warmth, comfort and decency, and so the PE uniform has to represent this. However, Penney (2002) suggests that schools see having a uniform and kit as way of social control, to prevent further problems arising.

PE changing rooms in many schools have a negative impact on pupils` attitudes towards PE (Estyn, 2007). Changing rooms and showering can be seen as a discomfort for many girls as they do not want to expose their body in school settings (Evans, 2006 p.553). Showers in changing rooms continue to be a traumatic event for many pupils and help contribute to the avoidance of PE lessons (Williams and Bedward, 1999). Studies have highlighted that girls' dislike toward physical education is because of the embarrassment of dressing and showering in front of their peers (Aicinena, 1991). Showering is compulsory after lessons, however some schools are starting to make showering optional in order to consider all pupils from different ethnic backgrounds (Benn, 2000). Strand and Scantling (1994, p.127) highlighted in their research that 70% of the pupils asked, would prefer showering to be a student choice. Carroll and Hollinshead (1993) research identifies that it is not having a shower itself which is causing the problem, but rather having to shower communally.


The cold weather accompanied by the high skill levels of certain activities such as playing hockey outdoors in the winter are seen to have a negative impact on girls attitudes to Physical Education (Hardy and Cockerill 1987). Cold weather and outdoor PE are two of the most unpopular aspects of school PE Cockburn (2001). Dickenson and Sparkes (1988) research discovered that secondary aged boys and girls showed considerable dissatisfaction with sport associated with the cold and wet or that they were physically demanding. Williams and Bedward (2002) highlight that students' are concerned with warmth and comfort and see these as essential to enjoying physical activity.


From the review of literature it is evident that girls are perceived to have a negative attitude towards physical education (Silverman and Subramaniam, 1999; Cockburn and Clarke 2002; Leaman, 1986) particularly within the games based aspect of the curriculum (Flintoff and Scraton, 2001). It is also apparent that negative attitudes are generally formulated in the adolescent phase of key stage 3, and that drop out rates increase particularly when the subject becomes elective at the end of year 9 Chatzisarantis et al, 2005; Mckenzie et al, 2006). It is also identified that less girls than boys are currently active enough to maintain and improve their health(Biddle et al, 2005; Bastos and Pavin, 2008). In relation to the curriculum fewer girls are opting to take PE examinations, confirming the decline in participation levels at the end of key stage 3 (Bastos and Pavin, 2008; Dickenson and Sparkes, 1988 Kirk et al 2006). The review of literature also identifies that there are many underlying factors that contribute to the formulisation of negative attitudes towards physical education, such as self-efficacy and confidence, the curriculum and teachers or friends and family influenced opinions.