Understanding Physical Education

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Ken Green

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    Dedication

    For my parents, Betty and Stanley

  • Conclusion

    Perhaps the most obvious way to conclude a book entitled Understanding Physical Education would be to reflect upon the preceding chapters as a basis for returning, full circle, to reconsider the nature and purposes of PE. To do so, however, may simply serve as a reminder that, as Telama (2002: ix) put it, ‘the gap between what we say we want to do and what we are doing in practice has been and still is the main problem in physical education’. Rather than return (directly, at least) to the ideologically loaded question ‘What ought to happen to PE?’, it might be more interesting to speculate upon the likely future of the subject assuming the direction of recent policies and developments were to continue. This is, of course, a risky venture and will inevitably generate a number of hostages to fortune. It may be worthwhile, nonetheless, if only as a heuristic device to reflect upon the content of the book thus far and to return, indirectly, to the supposed nature and purposes of PE.

    In an attempt to anticipate the consequences of trends and developments in PE, the remainder of the conclusion is structured around several processes which have been prominent themes in the book thus far and which may point the way to a major change in PE in many countries. The first of these processes – the ‘sportization of PE’ – has long been a feature of the subject.

    The Sportization of PE

    The term ‘sportization’ is employed as shorthand for a process by which sport becomes more and more prominent in not only the justification for but, more especially, the practice of PE. In extreme form, it represents the transformation of PE into school sport; in other words, a transformation from something nominally focused upon education to something essentially focused on sport (in both leisure or recreational and high-performance forms) and to which educational outcomes are purely incidental.

    An initial phase of sportization within PE can be traced back to the emergence and development of games in the Victorian public schools (Kirk, 1992; 1998). A second phase took the form of the establishment of games, and sport generally, alongside gymnastic-type activities as the two staples of secondary school PE in the second half of the twentieth century. Recent developments suggest a third phase of sportization may be under way, one which finds expression in the increasing emphasis on school sport in government policies and, in England and Wales at least, in the increasing prevalence of the term ‘school sport’ alongside PE in the title of the subject. While the place of PE in school curricula may have been ‘secured’ (in terms of its place on the curriculum and time allocated to it) in some countries (Belgium and Holland and some Eastern European countries, for example) (Fisher, 2003) there is a trend towards treating PE as synonymous with school sport in many countries. This development hints at the possibility that PE – in the guise of school sport – might increasingly be driven towards the margins of school curricula (as an extra-curricular or even extra-school subject, for example) along the lines of either the American model of after-school, inter-school sporting competition or the European model of club-based sports participation; or even a combination of the two in the shape of the ‘sports academies’ that have emerged recently in Flanders (see Chapter 4). Indeed, in recent years a number of countries, such as Sweden, and some regions of Germany, have considered ‘locating physical education outside the main school curriculum, delivered essentially in local sports centres’, while in some parts of Australia ‘curriculum physical education has been franchised out to external agencies in the interests of cost effectiveness’ (Fisher, 2003: 141).

    The preconditions for the process of sportization to result in a transformation of PE into school sport can be identified in several recent developments:

    • The marketization of education in many countries and the associated demands for value for money from, and reduced expenditure towards, education. At the secondary level in England and Wales, for example, general educational policy aimed at loosening state control of schools has created educational markets in which competitive sport has become a marketing tool for schools. The economic and symbolic value of extracurricular sport and inter-school sporting competition has long been recognized in the USA (see Chapter 4) and the marketization of education constrains PE departments to ‘sell themselves’ to their pupils and parents and, in so doing, their schools.
    • The increased investment in, and greater policy emphasis on, school sport (see Chapter 2) which has made school sport a source of power for external agencies such as governing bodies of sport and sports development agencies (for example, the YST in England). The often vocal demands of the representatives of (elite) sport and sporting organizations continue to ‘drive’ the policy agenda towards PE and school sport in many countries (Fisher, 2003).
    • The range and utility of resources for PE (in the form of both people and equipment) made available to schools by sports organizations – the wealthier ones, in particular – and which tend to be received appreciatively by teachers (in primary schools especially) (see Chapters 2 and 3).
    • The associated and increasing tendency for schools to turn for support towards adults other than teachers (AOTTs) – especially in the form of sports coaches and SDOs – to deliver aspects of curricular and extra-curricular PE (see Chapter 3). The wealthier, more established sports governing bodies (such as rugby union and football1) possess an abundance of coaches or development officers and are best able to fund an extensive supply of personnel and equipment to assist the delivery of PE. Although this may facilitate opportunities for participation (in primary schools in particular) and for the improvement through coaching of talented youngsters, the representatives of these sporting bodies tend to have sporting rather than educational priorities and tend to prefer working with and developing the more able youngsters.
    • The high costs of maintaining sports facilities in schools may exacerbate the trend in policy to encourage schools to forge stronger links with sports clubs that, incidentally, can afford newer and more elaborate facilities (see Chapter 3).
    • The likelihood that government and sporting agencies' funds will increasingly be diverted towards talent identification and nurturing, particularly in the lead-up to global sporting events (such as the Olympic Games or soccer World Cup) and especially in countries hosting such events.
    • The fact that ‘the bulk of the population of most countries and almost all politicians would be hard pressed to differentiate’ (Fisher, 2003: 141) between PE and sport in schools – as, indeed, would PE teachers (see Chapter 1) – and are more likely to support rather than resist the sportization of PE.

    Despite claims regarding the sportization of PE, it is important to note that the conceptual distinction between PE and school sport represents something of a false dichotomy. The former has almost always incorporated a good deal of the latter, while the latter is almost invariably perceived by its advocates as incorporating educational outcomes whether intentionally or otherwise. The significance of sportization may, therefore, be a matter of degree. In other words, the extent to which the process involves a shift towards one end of a continuum: towards a polarized version of sport in schools – consisting almost exclusively of sporting (predominantly team) games in the form of intra- and inter-school competition with a focus on the development of sporting skills and fitness for sporting performance at the expense of the other elements (such as HRE) that constitute conventional or ideal-type forms of PE.

    For some physical educationalists, one of the features of anything worthy of the label ‘physical education’ would be HRE, and concern with PE as a vehicle for health promotion has rivalled sport for occupancy of the ideological high ground of the subject in recent decades.

    The Healthization of PE

    Although this term jars on the ear it does allow for consistency by conceptualizing the relationship between health promotion and PE as a process, thereby underlining the claim that the orientation of PE towards health promotion may wax and wane. The first phase of the healthization of PE occurred around the turn of the twentieth century with the emergence and development of physical training in the nascent elementary schools (Kirk, 1992a). Whether emphasis upon physical fitness in the service of sports performance in the decades following the introduction of compulsory secondary schooling after the Second World War can reasonably be said to constitute a second phase, the emphasis upon exercise as a vehicle for health promotion in the last two decades of the twentieth century represents a significant reinvigoration of health-related exercise as a justification for PE. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the rebadging of PE as Health and Physical Education in Australia.

    Whether or not, the current context is likely to lead to a strengthening or dimunition of the place of HRE in PE is difficult to anticipate. On the one hand, the conditions appear favourable for the growth of a health dimension to PE (see Chapter 6), in the form of:

    • the increasing prevalence of physical and mental health illnesses for which more exercise is thought to be a, if not the, main antidote
    • the fact that sport and PE offer a relatively cheap and easy policy ‘solution’ for governments and a ready-made justification for the existence of PE
    • the likelihood that schools will continue to be viewed by governments as a suitable setting for health promotion via early intervention
    • the existence of a vibrant lobby for PE as a vehicle for health promotion in PEITT and academe as well as among governments and the medical profession
    • succesive generations of PE teachers with an ideological and, to some extent, practical grounding in HRE.

    On the other hand, the future of a health orientation to PE (and HRE itself) may be uncertain for the following reasons. Claims by PE teachers to a central role in promoting health are likely to provide a substantial hostage to fortune. Hitherto, physical educationalists have been able to respond to criticisms that their subject appeared unable to combat under-exercising and, by extension, obesity by pointing out that it had never been given a realistic chance (in the form of the resources) to carry out such a mission. Substantial sums of money have been allocated to PE in recent years (in the UK, in particular), in the expectation that it would result in changes in levels of physical activity and, consequently, an improvement in the prevalence of overweight and obesity. However, such grand expectations may return to haunt the PE profession when it becomes evident to all concerned that no matter how much money is ‘invested’ in PE and school sport, PE may be powerless to provide a silver bullet solution to a problem that is more complex in its origins.

    Overall, the healthization of PE appears set to remain the least transformative of the three major processes. While HRE has become more central to justifications for the subject, this has not been reflected in the practice of PE to the extent that might have been expected. Although HRE has become established as a de facto ‘activity area’ in its own right in a number of countries, this does not appear to represent a substantial shift towards a pre-eminence of HRE at the expense of sport and games in mainstream PE curricula – quite the reverse, in fact. Nevertheless, HRE is one aspect of a process that does appear to be changing the practice of PE: that of academicization.

    The Academicization of PE

    Physical educationalists have long sought to provide theoretical and practical justifications for their subject in ways that have, in effect, treated PE as a vehicle for other, seemingly more laudable and educationally valid, goals than merely playing sport. In recent decades a genuinely academic justification for PE has become available (see Chapter 5). The rapid growth of academic qualifications in PE has enabled physical educationalists to present theirs as a more authentically academic subject than up to now: one that not only satisfies the epistemological requirements of the dominant liberal conception of education but also provides very tangible benefits for schools in terms of an additional and popular examination subject. The preconditions for a continuation of the process of academicization appear visible in several recent developments, including:

    • the economic and status value, and corresponding marketing appeal, of examinable PE (in the form, for example, of GCSE and A level PE/Sport in England and Wales)
    • the corresponding demands (in some schools) for PE to make a contribution to academic success at a time when there is growing political pressure on schools to ‘free up curriculum time for supposedly more important subjects’ (Fisher, 2003: 141) such as mathematics, national languages and literature, science and vocational subjects
    • the desire on the part of physical educationalists at all levels for professional status and the apparent potential for the academic version of the subject to provide this
    • the increasing numbers of qualified PE teachers who are predisposed towards an academic variant of PE having themselves (1) undertaken some form of PE or sport-related qualification while at school and, (2) studied sports science (or its equivalent) at university
    • the potential of examinable PE as a power resource for PE teachers within their schools.

    Although the twin processes of sportization and academicization appear set to dominate PE in the near future, they seem somewhat paradoxical. This apparent paradox may not, however, be irreconcilable. A number of interested groups within the PE network in England and Wales (for example, OFSTED, a number of academics, headteachers and many PE teachers themselves) appear happy to endorse both processes and both appear to be gathering pace.

    What Future for PE?

    Whether or not the above processes are likely, in configuration, to result in major, long-term or more subtle, even transitory, changes to PE – or even cancel each other out – is impossible to say. Currently, PE continues to be relatively established on school curricula in many countries and PE teachers retain a large measure of professional autonomy and control over curricular and extra-curricular PE. Nevertheless, viewed on a continuum from stability through fragmentation to transformation, PE is evidently becoming more fragmented and unstable.

    The upshot of a configuration of the twin processes of sportization and academicization could well be that the term ‘physical education’ becomes increasingly associated with, and reserved for, examinable (and especially academic) forms of the subject, while ‘traditional’ PE – re-branded as ‘school sport’ – is moved to the margins of the curriculum (that is, to extra-curricular PE and sports clubs). In academic form, PE might be available only to pupils in the later years of secondary schooling as a vocational and/or academic subject offering qualifications that point pupils towards employment opportunities (in the growing fields of leisure sport and health and exercise) or further study (in related fields, such as Sport and Exercise Sciences).

    Ironically, and despite the potential for enhanced professional status that appears inherent in examinable PE, the success of examinations in PE in configuration with the emphasis on links between PE and external sporting agencies may bring about a realignment between PE and external agencies (such as sports governing bodies) as a consequence of the tilting of the power-balance away from the former and towards the latter. The networks that PE teachers are involved in are becoming ever more complex, and policies aimed at encouraging AOTTs to become involved with curricular and extra-curricular activities threaten the status of PE and the autonomy of PE teachers. Their increasing dependence upon and integration with SDOs and sports coaches points to the possibility of status convergence between PE teachers and these occupational groups. Indeed, the steady influx of ‘unqualified’ outsiders such as coaches and SDOs alongside the increased division of specialized labour in PE (between examination and practical roles among PE teachers and between PE teachers themselves and AOTTs) is set to reinforce the likelihood that PE teachers will one day oversee an examinable subject while SDOs and coaches are left to train youngsters in particular sports. This might, in turn, be expected to lead to a preference for the recruitment of PE teachers with coaching specialisms and coaching orientations (in a manner similar to the present situation in the USA). It might even lead to the recruitment of coaches rather than qualified teachers (similar to the situation that currently exists in many private schools in the UK) as the sole or main deliverers of school sport. What would amount to a de-professionalization of PE as such would likely be exaggerated by the following current trends:

    • the normalization of the involvement of sports coaches and SDOs in PE
    • the widespread acceptance among physical educationalists that PE and sport, are to all intents and purposes, synonymous (see Chapter 1). Jones (2006: 7) observes that, ‘some scholars,2 while acknowledging that both activities are sometimes driven by distinct goals, consider that the line of demarcation between teaching and coaching is not so obvious or, indeed, necessary’
    • developments including the increasing significance of assessment in education and the growth of public examinations in PE and expectations regarding the development of youngsters with sporting talent and links with sports clubs and the growth in provision of coaching awards for teachers.

    It is perfectly feasible that these developments will reinforce, not to say exaggerate the well-established tendencies among PE teachers to (1) rely upon formal, command-style teaching strategies redolent of and commonplace among sports coaches, and (2) utilize CPD opportunities to resolve pressing practical issues, such as the delivery of examinable PE or the need for specific coaching-oriented courses and qualifications (rather than the more personal and professional development programmes that academics, at least, might favour) thereby preparing themselves for one of two distinct roles – teaching academic PE or coaching sport.

    The consequences of the continued sportization and academicization of PE for pupils are equally difficult to second guess, not least because of the relative independence of young people's sporting and leisure lives from PE (see Chapters 7 and 8). Evans and Davies (1986) observed that PE makes both friends and enemies of young people, it both inspires and enables and alienates and dissuades pupils; and sometimes both at the same time! Some aspects of the aforementioned processes hold out the promise of enhancing the wide sporting repertoires that appear an important aspect of lifelong participation in sport and physical activity. Nevertheless, to the extent that we are witnessing a separation of PE and school sport – with the former revolving around examinations and HRE and the latter consisting solely of sport – the potential contribution of PE to youngsters' sporting participation is likely to remain under-explored. Nonetheless, there are no grounds for thinking that class, gender and ethnicity will cease to be anything other than the most significant of determinants of participation and success in PE and sport, because of the continued significance of cultural and social capital irrespective of economic developments. Boys' and girls' involvement in PE and sport may well continue, by degrees, to converge as girls' participation in leisure sport and PE increase, albeit to an optimal level: with both girls and boys there are always likely to be out-of-reach groups. Even though girls are likely to participate in increasing numbers – including in activities once associated with boys, such as football, basketball, cricket and some outdoor pursuits – the constraints caused by the relative incompatibility of sport generally and some sports in particular with many girls' perceptions of preferred femininity (as well as some boys' perceptions of masculinity) will very probably continue to delimit levels and forms of participation. Women's and ethnic minorities' perceptions of some places and some facilities as unconducive even prohibitive to their participation will undoubtedly continue to restrict the involvement of all but the most independent. That said, increasing numbers of young women (especially from the expanding middle classes) are, indeed, beginning to lead the kinds of leisure lives once associated with young males.

    One thing seems certain in the short term: as its borders become more contested, PE is likely to lose some of the coherence it may once have possessed for PE teachers and pupils alike. Indeed, the more the power differentials between more established (such as PE teachers) and less established (sport coaches, for example) occupational groupings with an interest in PE diminish, the more the course of PE is likely to become not merely uncertain, but also beyond the control of any single individual or group. Nevertheless, the portents of a future with PE teachers in the classroom, sports coaches and development officers on the field and in the sports hall and fitness instructors in the gym are there for all to see. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends entirely upon one's ideological position regarding the nature and purposes of PE.

    Notes

    1 There are very many more football coaches in the UK than any other sport.

    2 Also, Green (2003) would add, as PE teachers themselves.

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