'It is a case of changing your thought processes, the way you actually teach': Implementing a complex professional learning agenda in Scottish physical education

Matthew Atencio*, Mike Jess, Kay Dewar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: It has been proposed that twenty-first century physical education needs to be reorientated and restructured to meet the lifelong learning needs of pupils from diverse socio-cultural, emotional, and developmental backgrounds. It follows that quality physical education (PE) Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for practising professionals are needed to support these aims. In Scotland, professional and policy-making groups have specifically called for at least 120 minutes of quality physical education to be delivered each week by appropriately trained staff. Purpose: This paper highlights three phases of PE CPD beginning in 2001 that have been structured to include teaching professionals working in Scottish primary schools. We illustrate how collaborative learning communities emerged through the PE CPD. While emphasising the merits of collaborative learning principles, we also describe how these learning communities operated as complex educational systems. We specifically discuss how these communities were linked in a 'nested' relationship with local schools and local authorities. We also discuss how learning communities self-organised and innovated in relation to the instigation of 'turbulent' practices and knowledges. Findings: The study follows ten practitioners who participated in Basic Moves PE CPD programmes over the past 10 years in Scotland. During the initial phase (2001-2004), the participants were enthused about the reflective and collaborative learning model that was used in regular workshops and courses. These members felt that this approach to PE CPD improved on traditional one-day and generic courses. In Basic Moves PE CPD courses, administrators provoked critical and even uncomfortable discussions in order to challenge teachers' pre-existing views of physical education. Consequently, the group organised and emerged as a 'community of practice'. Many of the study participants continued to work together and even became Basic Moves PE CPD instructors themselves. However, as the programme increased in popularity and expanded to a national level in 2004, the PE CPD followed an 'empty vessel' model, whereby new participants were given course material over a short duration in a few centralised workshops. Feedback suggested that this 'top down' approach would not facilitate the emergence of learning communities, as many of those involved in local PE delivery became isolated and felt marginalised in their practice. Subsequent discussions led to the development of learning communities that were supported in local communities by former and current participants. These 'tutor networks' reflected the complex relationships that existed between pupils, teachers, headteachers, PE specialists, local authority managers and policy makers. Conclusion: Our analysis suggests that the PE practitioners in our study worked alongside a range of educational stakeholders within a broader 'nested system' that was constantly evolving and changing. Accordingly, we argue that contemporary PE CPD must challenge practitioners to become critical and innovative learners in the context of dynamic learning communities. This version of PE CPD requires sustained support at the local level and directly involves PE practitioners, their peers, and local authority leadership in the planning and operational phases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-144
Number of pages18
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number2
Early online date14 Nov 2011
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Nov 2011

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • collaborative learning
  • communities of practice
  • complexity theory
  • professional development
  • teacher learning


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