A health(y) subject? Examining discourses of health in physical education curricula across the UK

Shirley Gray, Oliver Hooper, Stephanie Hardley, Rachel Sandford, David Aldous, Julie Stirrup, Nicola Carse, Anna S. Bryant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this paper, we present the findings from our critical analysis of the health discourses evident with physical education (PE) curricula in each UK home nation – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We carried out a critical discourse analysis of those curriculum documents that talk directly to PE teachers about how to organise, enact and assess PE curricula in schools. The results from our analysis uncovered that, with the exception of the curriculum in England, all PE curricula conceptualise health and wellbeing holistically. However, our analysis also uncovered complex health landscapes within curricula, where discourses move from notions of supporting and enabling pupil health and wellbeing, towards a more concrete (and measurable) concept of health-related learning, often associated with public health goals of promoting physical activity. Furthermore, although the public health discourses are presented in a way that suggests young people will develop knowledge and skills to support their health, closer scrutiny reveals that they may be more associated with discourses of risk, promoting ‘healthy’ behaviours to avoid ‘ill health’. We conclude by suggesting that PE teachers need to develop a critical understanding of the health discourses within their PE curriculum. This will help them to navigate, interpret and enact curriculum in an informed way, enabling them to challenge discourses that are deficit in nature, where pupils are taught how to be healthy, rather than having the freedom to learn about themselves and their health.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Early online date13 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Jul 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • physical education
  • curriculum
  • critical discourse analysis
  • health


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