The problem with physical education just focusing on physical activity and health/sport based curricula

I have been meaning to write this blog for quite a long time and I feel it is needed after reading several practitioner journals that have been released this month. I have tried to keep it short in the hope you will want to investigate more independently. Firstly, I want to acknowledge that until a year or two ago I have been guilty of encouraging high physical activity levels and adopting models based practices at times in my own work and in my own practice as a teacher. I am advocating here for an education of the physical including all aspects of the physical: physical activity, socially critical actors in communities, body types, relationships, critiques of the obesity ideology, history of sport/activity, ableism… the list goes on but essentially anything physically related. This change in what I advocate for has come from an increasing wealth of personal reading (see below for some suggested reading on where my ideas have amalgamated from) and specifically realizing and acknowledging that, physical education has moved on from preparing students for military action and secondly, access to physical activity outside of school is not equal with not all students having the same resources to partake in movement, so we shouldn’t treat it as such.

What am I talking about? You may be thinking! Well, currently in physical education we privilege a sport and/or health-based curricular. Let’s unpack examples of these curriculum options: sports based units (basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer) and health-based units (health-related exercise/fitness, the mile run). Such curricular has been said to focus on individual responsibility rather than the collective cohort. In my time working in Alabama and from my teaching experiences in England, I am yet to see a large group of individuals deviating from the above, and I have taught many of these, models based practices for multi-activity, sport education and skill themed approaches. Such formal curricula models have underlying issues that we take for granted. For example, in a study by Parker & Curtner-Smith (2012) sport education taught by pre-service teachers to middle school students perpetuated hegemonic masculinity and reinforced masculine bias and sexism within their classes. I’ve seen this myself in sport education units whilst in student teacher observations. Most notably I have seen girls completely disregarded in their role choices and sometimes not given a role at all. I have also been privy to witness two students with a disability completely segregated from a class sport education unit, wandering around the room for an hour. What impact is such a curriculum having on these students? What message is it sending? Now I am not saying all sport education units are bad but what I am suggesting here is when have you considered if your curriculum is elitist? Racist? Sexist? Ableist? Classist? Or even healthist? In turn, some students are put an advantage over others and this perpetuates an unequal system that occurs in society. Have we considered that focusing on just physical activity minutes/health based curricular and sport based curricular might preserve some of the above that seem to be prevalent sociocultural issues in our society?1

How can we move forward?

  • Self-reflect on your practice, being filmed helps with this and putting yourself in a vulnerable position whereby you can look back at the footage and see how (potentially) you may have segregated groups within your lesson or provided feedback to the same students repeatedly and ignored some students.
  • Investigate your social identity, are you a male, heterosexual, able, well versed sporty individual? If so, how does this influence your practice and how/what you teach? What biases do you have? How do you recognize your privilege in your class and attempt to disrupt it?
  • Ask students what they like about the activities offered and co-construct a curriculum with them rather than for them (see @EimearEnright for more information on this approach).
  • Take a sociocritical approach when adopting a models based practice (see @DillonLandi paper below). Rather than focus on a sport and health curricular adopt adventure education (see @AdventureEdGuy for some ideas), cooperative learning (see @VGoodyear Vlogs), and cultural studies models (read paper below by @Derghill56 and Gary Kinchin). These models focus on students using teamwork, taking responsibility and ownership of the task at hand and demonstrating a critical approach to their movement experience.

Lastly, remember your job as a physical education teacher is not apolitical, you are responsible for making the world a fairer place beginning with the confines of your teaching space.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to reach out to me for more information on anything above.

Extra reading on the ideas above:

Social justice agenda in physical education paper:

Azzarito, L., Macdonald, D., Dagkas, S., & Fisette, J. (2017). Revitalizing the physical education social-justice agenda in the global era: Where do we go from here? Quest, 69(2), 205-219.

Sociocritical approach to models based practice:

Landi, D., Fitzpatrick, K., & McGlashan, H. (2016). Models Based Practices in Physical Education: A Sociocritical Reflection. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education35(4), 400-411.

Debunking the obesity epidemic:

Gard, M., & Wright, J. (2005). The obesity epidemic: Science, morality and ideology. Routledge. Find the book going cheap here: *

Hegemonic masculinity study:

Parker, M. B., & Curtner-Smith, M. D. (2012). Sport education: A panacea for hegemonic masculinity in physical education or more of the same?. Sport, Education and Society17(4), 479-496.

Cultural studies model:

Best book I have read this year:

Sensoy, O., & DiAngelo, R. (2017). Is everyone really equal?: An introduction to key concepts in social justice education. Teachers College Press. Find the book here:

*not plugging amazon in any way just providing a visual for the exact book*


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