Enabling curriculum change in physical education: the interplay between policy constructors and practitioners

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Curriculum for Excellence, a new national policy initiative in Scottish Schools, provides a unified curricular framework for children aged 3–18. Within this framework, Physical Education (PE) now forms part of a collective alongside physical activity and sport, subsumed by the newly created curriculum area of ‘Health and Wellbeing’ (HWB). This research set out to examine the new curriculum in Scottish schools at the micro-implementation stage of the policy process within the context of practice.

Purpose: The primary objective was to understand the factors that enable PE teachers to enact government-led policy in a climate which provided schools and teachers greater autonomy, flexibility and responsibility. The secondary objective was to compare policy constructors' vision of PE to the interpretation of PE teachers who were currently immersed in initiating curricular development.

Methods and procedures: The research adopted a mixed method survey approach. Eighty-eight secondary school PE teachers responded to a questionnaire that explored teachers' perceptions of curriculum change. Respondents were full-time PE teachers working in secondary schools across Scotland and represented 16 local authorities. In addition, 17 PE teachers within one local authority took part in semi-structured individual interviews. Comparisons were made with 10 interviews conducted with policy constructors who were responsible for the initial, interim and final stages of developing and designing the PE curriculum.

Main outcomes and results: The results from the questionnaire indicated that 66% of teachers believed there was a need for change within the Scottish curriculum; however, only 54% anticipated that they would change the PE curriculum. When comparing PE teachers’ and policy constructors’ interview responses, a discrepancy between the policy constructors' understanding of the vision of PE and teacher's interpretation was evident. The alignment of PE within HWB was seen as an opportunity to build on the strengths of the subject; however, concerns were raised that this shift may result in PE becoming part of a fitness discourse, distorting policy intentions.

Conclusions: The combining factors of teacher agency, culture and social and material structures along with the schools capacity to manage new policy development were seen as crucial in enabling teachers to enact and sustain change. As educational policy draws on teachers' professional capacity to translate, mould and recreate policy uniquely to fit within the opportunities and constraints of the school, it is important that policy intentions, aims and values are not lost in the process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-96
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number1
Early online date14 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • curriculum policy
  • curriculum change
  • teacher enactment
  • physical education


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