December 29, 2007

Recommendations to Improve Primary School Physical Education: Classroom Teachers’ Perspective

By Morgan, Philip Hansen, Vibeke

ABSTRACT The quality of physical education (PE) programs in primary schools has been questioned in the literature because of the difficulties that classroom teachers experience when teaching PE. The authors used a mixed-mode method to investigate teachers' insights into ways in which the quality of primary school PE can be improved. Questionnaire data were collected from 189 teachers in 38 randomly selected schools in New South Wales, Australia. Thirty-one of those teachers also volunteered to be involved in semistructured interviews. Results indicated that teachers were not adequately planning, implementing, assessing, reporting, or evaluating PE programs. Key recommendations that teachers described for improving PE related to school-level leadership, simple innovations, and specific professional learning needs. Keywords: classroom teacher perspective, physical education, primary school

In most New South Wales (NSW) primary schools, the classroom teacher is responsible for the design and delivery of physical education (PE) programs. However, research literature over the past 20 years has identified difficulties that many classroom teachers experience when teaching PE. Some major barriers that seriously inhibit teachers include inadequate training, insufficient equipment and facilities, low levels of teacher expertise and confidence, and time constraints for teaching PE in an already crowded curriculum (Curtner-Smith, 1999; Morgan & Bourke, 2005; Tinning & Hawkins, 1988; Webster, 2002). The belief of many classroom teachers that they are not qualified to teach PE (Faucette & Patterson, 1989) adversely affects their level of PE teaching confidence (Morgan & Bourke, 2005).

Furthermore, researchers have indicated that many classroom teachers have negative attitudes toward PE (Howarth, 1987; Portman, 1996; Xiang, Lowy, & McBride, 2002) and do not believe that PE is an important subject (Downey, 1979; Faucette & Patterson, 1989). Others have found that classroom teachers do believe PE is an important part of the curriculum (DeCorby, Halas, Dixon, Wintrup, & Janzen, 2005) but prefer to teach classroom-based subjects such as mathematics and English (Morgan, in press). DeCorby et al. found that a belief in the value of PE by teachers did not necessarily transfer to the delivery of a quality program.

A range of barriers adversely affects the type and quality of PE programs delivered by primary school teachers. For example, lack of time, training, and resources has resulted in the delivery of PE lessons resembling supervised play (DeCorby et al., 2005). Also, teachers may avoid teaching PE if the perceived barriers are too substantial. Many teachers believe that they do not possess the knowledge or skills to plan and implement developmentally appropriate and meaningful learning experiences in PE (Faucette, Nugent, Sallis, & McKenzie, 2002). The quality of PE lessons provided by classroom teachers has been seriously questioned in the literature (Hardman & Marshall, 2001). Most teachers do not provide students with opportunities to achieve syllabus outcomes in PE (Webster, 2002). Researchers have emphasized that many teachers are doing as well as can be expected with substantial impediments (DeCorby et al.).

Strategies to Improve Primary School PE

Given the recent poor state of primary school PE, along with the considerable evidence that highlights the value of PE for children (Bailey, 2006; Sallis & McKenzie, 1991), several major reports have outlined recommendations to improve PE. A Senate Inquiry Into Physical and Sport Education (Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts [SSCERA], 1992) detailed the major problems inhibiting the delivery of PE in Australian schools. The conclusions drawn from the senate inquiry were that PE classes were being dramatically reduced throughout primary schools and that there was a lack of political commitment that addressed problems associated with the provisions of PE. Researchers investigating the current state of PE in primary schools (Morgan & Bourke, 2005, in press; Webster, 2002) highlighted the lack of improvement in the quality of PE since the senate inquiry. Given that one of the major recommendations from the senate inquiry called for increased time allocated to PE and improved support for teachers (SSCERA), their findings present a cause for concern.

The argument by many researchers that schools should employ PE specialists has been continually presented in the literature as a solution to improve primary school PE. In general, the literature has suggested that primary school children taught by PE specialists demonstrate significantly higher levels of achievement in most key outcomes, such as motor performance, academic achievement, fitness, and physical activity levels, than do those taught by nonspecialists (Sallis et al., 1997). Furthermore, specialists exhibit higher levels of enjoyment, confidence, and knowledge related to teaching PE than do nonspecialists (DeCorby et al., 2005). Despite these findings, primary school PE specialists will not likely be employed full-time in all schools. Also, the presence of a specialist does not guarantee a quality PE program. Aside from the considerable cost of employing specialists, the philosophy behind the classroom teacher in the primary school derives from the appeal of students having only one teacher for psychological reasons, such as security and depth of communication, and the teacher's understanding of the individual needs of all the children (Youngman, 1979). In addition, primary school educators often use integrated units to deliver instruction in a holistic manner.

Recommendations from researchers have endorsed the benefits of specialist assistance and staff-development programs (McKenzie, Sallis, Faucette, Roby, & Kolody, 1993; McKenzie, Sallis, Kolody, & Faucette, 1997), which may improve the PE instruction of classroom teachers. Some researchers have found that classroom teachers can improve the quality of their PE lessons with regular training and assistance from specialists (McKenzie et al., 1993; McKenzie et al., 1997). However, others have questioned the value of increased training and support for teachers. Curtner-Smith (1999) found that extensive inservicing of classroom teachers in England had no impact on teacher knowledge and beliefs about PE. DeCorby et al. (2005) warned that improving the knowledge and training of teachers alone would not improve programs.

Classroom teachers experience considerable problems implementing PE programs (Morgan & Bourke, 2005). Many strategies that have been recommended or employed have been inappropriate or insufficient to adequately help teachers deliver quality PE. Similarly, it is unclear what type of support teachers would most welcome. For example, would teachers welcome additional professional learning in PE and perceive it as beneficial? An in-depth understanding of teacher concerns may help policymakers, teacher educators, and researchers design appropriate interventions to prepare and support classroom teachers in PE teaching.


Our purpose was to investigate teachers' insights into ways the quality of primary school PE can be improved. No researchers have focused on teachers' suggestions to improve PE or have investigated specifically the type of support that teachers need. We also examined the quality of teacher-implemented PE programs, which does not appear in the literature. A greater awareness and appreciation of teachers' perceptions and practices is warranted so policymakers can determine current practices in PE, rather than practices that they perceive should occur. An important stage in the design of potential interventions to support teachers is improved understanding of their perceptions of factors that contribute to the success or failure of PE programs. Ultimately, to affect some level of change in PE instruction in schools, teachers' opinions must be sought and valued, and their needs must be understood. If teachers' opinions or suggestions are acted on appropriately, teachers should be more likely to accept proposals to support their teaching PE.

The following research questions guided this study:

1. Which components of PE program implementation (planning, programming, assessing, reporting, evaluating) do teachers complete appropriately?

2. Which components of PE program implementation do teachers feel competent to perform in relation to PE? Why or why not?

3. Are PE specialists, external providers, or both used (and desired) in primary schools and, if so, in what capacity?

4. What specific professional learning needs do teachers have in relation to teaching PE?

5. What are teachers' perceptions regarding ways to improve the quality of PE?


We used a mixed-mode methodology in this study. Our research was approved by the research ethics committee of the University of Newcastle and the NSW Department of Education and Training. We used quantitative (questionnaire) and qualitative (interviews) data collection to obtain a detailed understanding of important issues. We expected that the data-source triangulation achieved by the combination of the two methods would increase confidence in the validity of the quantitative data. We developed a questionnaire to examine teachers' PE programs (see Appendix). The names of teachers did not appear on the questionnaire for reasons of anonymity and confidentiality. The questionnaire included open-ended questions that required teachers to describe various aspects of their PE programs, including any use of delivery agents such as sports- development officers or external consultants in physical activity- related areas. We also developed a 19-item instrument that employed a 6-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) to examine teachers' PE programming practices. We used a 6-point scale because an even number of categories generates greater scale reliability (Bourke & Frampton, 1992). Those authors justified the generation of interval data from 6-point Likert-type scales that are used to help respondents provide accurate answers and as valid and reliable scales that could be developed from correlated individual items. Items related to planning, implementing, assessing, reporting, and evaluating. The questionnaire was field tested with primary school preservice teachers at the University of Newcastle who answered questions by reflecting on their previous school practicum PE experiences. The questionnaire also asked teachers to indicate whether they would be willing to participate in a telephone interview as part of the study.

For the qualitative component, we developed a semitructured interview that focused on teachers' perceptions of specific aspects of PE programming and ways PE could be improved. Whereas the framework was used to guide the interview topics, we ensured that specific prompts in the interview were tailored to each teacher's responses to the written survey. That process allowed more detailed insight into the reasons and justifications for the feelings, attitudes, and practices that the teachers indicated.


Seventy-two primary schools from 10 educational regions in NSW were selected randomly from regional lists provided by the NSW Department of Education and Training. We sent principals from each school an information packet about the study and invited them to volunteer their school for participation. After we received consent from the principal, we sent the requested number of teacher- information packets for distribution to teachers in the second term of a four-term school year. We received consent from 40 school principals. Principals distributed questionnaires to teachers at a staff meeting or by internal school mail. The information packets included instructions for teachers who were willing to participate to return their completed questionnaire together with a signed consent form.

We received completed surveys from 189 teachers in 38 schools; 56 teachers indicated a willingness to participate in an interview. We did not interview all teachers because of budget constraints. However, we used a purposive sampling strategy to select 31 teachers for interviews, which were conducted via telephone and audiotaped. We selected teachers for interviews on the basis of questionnaire responses to amass teachers who had described both positive and negative PE programming practices.

We based the selection criteria on overall scores for the PE programming variable (see Data Analysis). We examined each participant's median score on the PE programming variable, which represented whether a teacher adequately planned, implemented, assessed, reported, and evaluated PE programs in relation to other teachers. The sample median score was 4.55. We selected 31 teachers so that 15 were in the bottom 50th percentile. That strategy ensured that a range of teachers was interviewed with variation evident in the quality of their PE programming practices. We conducted the interviews, which lasted for approximately 30-40 min, before, during, and after school. Teachers selected the most convenient time to be interviewed. We prepared verbatim transcripts of all interviews.

The sample consisted of 78.5% female teachers and 21.5% male teachers, which represented the gender bias inherent in primary school settings. The median age category for teachers was 46-50 years. The average number of years spent teaching was 18.4 (SD = 10.4). Teachers were from urban (51.8%) and rural (48.2%) areas in 10 regions of NSW. A relatively even spread of teachers existed across the range of year levels: 16.8% (kindergarten), 20.7% (Years 1 and 2), 18.5% (Years 3 and 4), and 19% (Years 5 and 6), and for composite classes, 25% (Years 1-6).

Data Analysis

In the early stage of code development, we examined transcripts from three interviews for thematic content and formulated inductively derived codes. We met to discuss content and codes and to reach agreement. We developed a draft of a detailed nonhierarchical coding scheme on the basis of the initial analysis. We revised the draft after the coding of two additional transcripts and developed a final coding scheme. We then coded the remaining data. During coding, we developed and continually revised detailed code descriptors. In that process, we applied the constant comparison method, which formed the basis of a thematic analysis.

We analyzed the quantitative data with SPSS (Version 14.0) and observed a small amount of missing data (less than 0.25% of the total data input). We examined items for missing values and made substitution decisions, as recommended by Anderson and Bourke (2000). We gave an item a value based on the mean value of other similar items responded to by the participant, comprising the same scale. We also conducted a normality check for the interval variables to ensure that distributions were not seriously skewed. For the variables to be considered normally distributed, they had to satisfy skewness and kurtosis criteria; that is, skewness divided by the standard error of skewness must be between -2 and 2 (National Institute of Standards and Technology & Sematech, 2005). Because all variables satisfied normality criteria, we examined them with parametric tests. We also examined frequency distributions and other descriptive statistics. We generated Pearson productmoment correlation coefficients to establish bivariate relationships between all variables. We used several statistical tests to analyze the relationships among selected variables, including t tests and analysis of variance (ANOVA). We used independent-sample t tests to contrast mean scores for the PE programming variable between male and female participants. We also used one-way ANOVAs to examine differences between age categories of teachers. We conducted post hoc analysis for multiple comparisons to locate the statistically significant difference after the null hypothesis had been rejected.


Overall Programming in PE

We asked teachers to indicate the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with 19 statements relating to their PE program; scales were generated according to item grouping. We refined scales initially through principal components confirmatory factor analysis by Varimax rotation to ensure the construct validity of the scales. We assessed scale reliability with Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficient. The specific aspects of programming that we explored and their reliability coefficients were planning (a = 0.80), programming (a = 0.77), assessing (a = 0.93), evaluating (a = 0.94), and reporting (a = 0.88). In general, PE programs were not implemented adequately. Mean scores for each programming component included programming (M = 3.73, SD = .94), planning (M = 3.31, SD = .98), assessing (M = 3.55, SD = 1.15), evaluating (M = 3.42, SD = 1.19), and reporting (M = 3.67, SD = 1.22). Planning and evaluating were the least adequately implemented components. We found significant and positive correlations between all programming component scales with rs between .36 and .72 (see Table 1). The teachers who planned and implemented effectively were more likely to assess, evaluate, and report effectively.

Quantitative analysis of individual items revealed that most programs were not developed from an overall PE policy. Furthermore, no formal curriculum time was allocated to PE. Many schools did not work from a school-level scope and sequence overview to guide planning or set up a formal planning team or school PE plan. Generally, parents were not involved in the planning process, but student needs were usually considered. Formal assessment was rarely conducted, and when it did occur, it was limited. Approximately 70% of teachers believed that outcomes were not adequately reported to parents. Evaluation of PE programs was not perceived as comprehensive or ongoing. Independent-samples t tests revealed no statistically significant difference between male and female teachers for any of the programming components. Using ANOVAs, we found no statistically significant differences between the age categories.

Findings from qualitative analysis supported the statistical results and provided further insight into the PE programming perceptions and practices of teachers. Many teachers (78%) indicated that PE was not highly prioritized because of their need to focus on literacy and numeracy. A lack of adequate programming and assessment resulted from an already crowded curriculum.

We have a very crowded learning curriculum with high demand for time in all KLAs [key learning areas]-there is no way it's possible to fit into the number of hours timetabled when we are with the children face-to-face for all KLAs as requested. (interview, female teacher from an urban primary school)

We asked teachers which of the components they felt most and least competent to perform in relation to PE. Assessment was the component that teachers perceived as the most difficult and, hence, ignored. Mean scores for individual items relating to assessment suggested that few teachers used a range of assessment strategies (M = 3.31, SD = 1.18) or based their assessment on the syllabus (M = 3.75, SD = 1.31). Most teachers (92%) reported that assessment is a skill that they believed they were lacking and needed to learn more about how to perform it properly. If performed at all, the most common form of assessment was an informal mental checklist in which teachers subjectively rated individual student interest and participation in PE. Teachers reported that assessing in that manner was particularly tedious, time consuming, and worthless. A few teachers believed that the fun of PE would be lost if they were required to perform formal assessments. The teachers believed that students should not be burdened with the pressures of assessment in PE. However, many teachers recognized that lack of formal assessment made teaching PE easier to avoid. Most teachers (84%) noted that they forgot or did not have time to assess PE lessons, which they believed required practice and training. Most teachers (91%) reported a lack of skills or knowledge for incorporating assessment into their programs. Some teachers spoke of the dangers of assessing students in PE and believed that their assessments could adversely affect the experience of teachers and students.

If you hold teachers accountable, and PE turns into work, then it could start to become a negative thing. . . . You've got to be really careful not to overburden them with testing. That's a full- time job in itself, isn't it? It would be impossible and, like, you'd spend all your time assessing, and not teaching anything and taking away from the kids' enjoyment. (interview, female teacher from an urban primary school)

Most of the teachers (84%) also viewed reporting on student achievement in PE as problematic because they did not understand how to appropriately assess attainment of outcomes. Not all teachers (56%) reported on specific outcomes of the syllabus (M = 3.77, SD = 1.30). Reporting on PE for most teachers was a subjective retrospective judgment about how much students enjoyed PE rather than whether they had met syllabus outcomes. About half of the surveyed teachers perceived that they provided appropriate feedback to parents (M = 3.57, SD = 1.30). However, teachers did not believe that PE reporting was important because they thought parents were not interested in PE. When teachers were asked how they reported student outcomes if PE consisted of taking students out for games several times a year, 1 teacher explained:

Well, what they're doing is, they're reporting on the minority of the occasions that they do. So if they take them out two times a year, well hey, they're going to have to think back to those two times that they actually took them out. And that's what happens, and that's pretty poor, but that is exactly what happens . . . the same thing for their assessment in PE. (interview, female teacher from a rural primary school)

Use and Perceptions of External Providers for PE

Given the various problems that teachers encounter with many aspects of program implementation, an increasing trend in schools is the use of external providers to deliver PE activities. Every school in the study employed an external provider in some capacity. The external providers delivered 17 physical activities, the most popular of which were rugby league/Australian rules (26%), gymnastics (20%), basketball (9.2%), soccer (7.8%), and swimming (7.8%). In most cases, the delivery agent was a development officer from a sporting association or a private company specializing in primary school PE activities. Contact varied from one-visit sessions to full-term programs. Approximately 40% of schools identified external providers as having a high level of involvement at their school.

The majority of teachers (88%) were enthusiastic about the concept of external providers and happy to supervise while having experts teach the skills. Teachers viewed that type of delivery as a unique avenue for them to learn new skills and activities. Some teachers (32%) did not want providers to take over their class but, rather, preferred to co-teach with the experts or observe their sessions and then continue once the experts had left. However, many teachers (74%) used the terms PE, sports, and physical activity interchangeably when describing lessons. Most teachers (88%) believed that external providers provided activities that were more interesting, beneficial, and entertaining for children than they could provide. Most teachers (92%) presumed that external providers brought a level of expertise to the PE program that the children would otherwise not receive. Another important benefit of using external providers was that someone else was supplying and setting up the equipment. However, 46% of teachers expressed concern about the cost to the students or parents of several of the programs and believed that this was an equity issue and a significant disadvantage. For example, the cost of one of the basketball programs was $3 per student each week.

Perceptions Regarding Employment of a PE Specialist

We asked the teachers whether they would be amenable to the school employing a PE specialist for their students. Analysis of questionnaire data revealed that the majority of teachers (93%) believed that specialists should be involved in at least a consultative capacity; 72.2% of the teachers believed that this should occur on at least a part-time basis. Teachers also indicated whether they wanted to have a specialist teach any of their other subjects. Approximately 60% of the sample listed at least one subject for which they would prefer a specialist to teach. Of those listed, music (44.7%), creative and practical arts (24%), computers (14.5%), and science and technology (9.5%) were most commonly reported. Most teachers (81%) appeared to favor a PE specialist taking every class for all content areas of the PE syllabus. The teachers believed that a specialist who was passionate and confident about PE teaching should be the provider. Teachers also believed that a PE specialist would ensure that the students participated in recurring PE, as it would no longer be at the classroom teacher's discretion. Teachers felt that with a PE specialist, lessons would be delivered consistently and sequentially from week to week and from year to year.

Whereas some teachers thought of PE specialist involvement as an opportunity to learn new skills and activities themselves, others viewed it as an opportunity to transfer responsibility for teaching PE. Only 3% of teachers perceived any direct disadvantages of having PE specialists employed in primary schools. Several teachers preferred to not miss seeing the children grow and develop in PE lessons. These teachers believed that they were better equipped than were PE specialists to cater to the individual needs of the students.

Teacher Insights Into Improving Quality of Primary School PE

Reasons provided for success and nonsuccess of PE programs. Throughout the interviews, teachers expressed opinions regarding the value of PE and offered explanations regarding why some PE programs were successful and others were not. In our analysis of the interview data, we observed a number of key reasons for the perceived lack of success in achieving outcomes in PE. Many teachers (78%) believed that, in general, other teachers put more value on academic subjects and were simply more focused on delivering lessons in literacy and numeracy. Overall, that focus was exacerbated when there was a perceived lack of support from the school executive and not enough value placed on PE. The teachers from schools in which the PE program was perceived to be unsuccessful proclaimed that there was no accountability at a school level for PE outcomes, which resulted in the planning and implementation of PE being the responsibility of the individual teacher. One of the teachers stated that when individual teachers face barriers to teaching PE, the subject is often not taught: "It's so ignored, because it's not an academic subject, and it's just not valued at all. . . . There should be more accountability" (interview, female teacher from a rural primary school).

Conditions conducive to PE. All teachers interviewed provided suggestions for ways to improve the school context or environment to make it more conducive to PE. Some of the solutions were external to the school, such as getting more help to supervise children during PE lessons and improving PE teacher education to better prepare teachers for the classroom and foster positive PE experiences. However, the main suggestions related to directing principals' focus to PE and ensuring the involvement of all staff. Ninety-two percent of the teachers believed that when everyone (including the principal) is committed to teaching PE, students are more likely to achieve syllabus outcomes in PE. Teachers who believed that their schools conducted effective PE programs spoke strongly about the importance and key role of a PE coordinator or coordinating team to facilitate program implementation across all stages.

Seventy-seven percent of teachers believed that a lack of school- level leadership leads to teachers avoiding teaching PE or PE becoming little else than playing supervised games. Whereas some teachers believed that all staff should be directed to teach PE, others felt that it would be more beneficial to draw on the PE skills and interest of certain staff members.

Successful strategies. Some teachers (45%) described successful and innovative strategies occurring in schools that they perceived as conducive to PE teaching. The majority of those innovations centered on capitalizing on the skills and interest of specific teachers within the school, such that teachers to some extent were allowed to specialize according to skill and interest. Other teachers who lacked confidence in certain skills capitalized on the special talents of students in their classrooms, for example, to demonstrate or lead warm-up routines. Other strategies included drawing on senior students from nearby high schools and older primary school children to help prepare and teach lessons. Some teachers had success allocating time for regular PE through incorporation of PE into other subjects. A few teachers (12%) admitted that they felt inadequate when they taught PE because of a perceived lack of ability and skill. That proportion of teachers was relatively small, presumably because of selection bias introduced by the self-selected convenience sampling used, possibly causing more confident PE teachers to volunteer for the qualitative part of the study. However, 42% of the teachers questioned the commitment of other teachers, largely attributable to personal characteristics such as lack of interest and ability in physical activity.

Well, the teachers here are very much academic people. They don't play sports themselves and they are not physically fit, and in all honesty, they don't value that type of activity. (interview, male teacher from an urban primary school)

A programming model of rotating classes within stage groups between teachers was a common strategy of schools in which teachers believed they ran successful programs. Teachers could focus on one area that they felt comfortable with and teach to a number of classes.

Professional learning needs and areas for potential improvement. All teachers believed they could be better PE teachers; most suggested that they could improve their planning, preparation, resources, performance, and so forth. The most commonly mentioned qualities that teachers wanted to improve included how to (a) teach skills, (b) improve personal motor-skill competency, (c) be more up to date, (d) improve ability to deliver productive and engaging lessons, and (e) learn programming skills.

Almost all teachers interviewed agreed that more professional learning would be welcomed. Qualitative analysis identified major areas of PE for which additional knowledge is needed:

1. Assessment strategies

2. Programming ideas, support, and knowledge (outcomes, scope, sequencing, integration)

3. Teaching skills, techniques, and pedagogical knowledge

4. Knowledge of syllabus

5. Fundamental movement skills

6. Gymnastics and dance

Most teachers (86%) had not attended in-service courses relating to PE or seen any courses advertised or available. Many teachers (91%) said that they had not actively searched for course offerings and believed that they would have difficulty attending a PE in- service because of costs for the course and staff replacements. Some teachers (24%) reported that the schools were often reluctant to pay for the cost of replacing a staff member for the day. Teachers perceived that priority was given to in-service training in academic subjects. Teachers stated frequently that in-servicing should be held by the Department of Education and Training during school hours to compensate for the difficulty that teachers had attending afterhours or weekend courses.

Some teachers (31%) also suggested that the benefits of professional learning in PE may be realized only when the facilitator was engaging and inspirational. They complained that too often, in-service days were considerably boring, did not engage or inspire teachers, and were not tailored to their needs.

Teachers were adamant about the types of professional learning that appealed to them. The courses or in-services needed to be skills based, hands-on, and demonstrate techniques and teaching strategies rather than only didactic instruction. Ideally, in- servicing would involve someone using an actual class to demonstrate how to teach PE. The teachers indicated clearly that manuals or information that were provided to them, despite how effective they were as a resource, would not be used unless they were accompanied by hands-on professional learning with practical ideas for teaching. Some teachers (28%) spoke of the benefits of rolling professional learning in terms of a consultant or specialist who visited weekly, monthly, or each term to provide ideas or feedback throughout a unit. The teachers believed that type of learning was particularly important when they were unsure about the skills or ideas to improve the quality of lessons.

It was evident that teachers found it difficult to justify time spent outside teaching PE and said that time constraints affected their ability to plan, program, and assess effectively in PE. Most teachers (96%) spoke of the value of being provided with examples of scope and sequence charts, lessons, assessment tasks, and fitness activities per stage, rather than having to develop their own. Teachers could then use their teaching skills and experience to adapt activities to any individual student needs.

There is a lot of pressure on teachers to identify the outcomes and write their own programs, and it's all mad. The easier it is for teachers, the more likely you'll get people involved . . . but we need somebody to come in and say, "Let's try this, let's get that up, here's a program, this will work in your school." The department really needs to get a real grip on getting back and helping teachers. I think that's really important. (interview, female teacher from an urban primary school)

Another suggestion to counter the argument for time and financial issues surrounding professional PE learning was to select only key teachers to attend in-service days who could later conduct brief and targeted workshops at the school. Most teachers (89%) expressed considerable angst at the difficulties that they incurred trying to teach PE with limited equipment and facilities. They believed that the NSW government needed to make stronger contributions to ensure that PE programs are adequately supported.


Results from qualitative and quantitative analysis indicated that many teachers (76%) attempted to implement PE programs without adequate planning and programming. Few teachers (16%) assessed students formally in PE or evaluated programs. In the current study, reporting outcome achievement was based on subjective judgments of students' interest and participation and provided little useful feedback to parents. Of considerable concern was that most schools did not have a PE policy that outlined formal curriculum time allocated for PE or used a school-level scope and sequence to guide whole-school program implementation. Teachers expressed a willingness to learn more about those aspects, particularly assessment in PE (67%), and said that lack of assessment was a key contributor to many teachers who avoided teaching PE.

Our findings are discouraging given that PE syllabus documents outline how the effectiveness of a teaching program in PE depends largely on how well the program has been planned and implemented (Board of Studies, New South Wales Government [BOS], 1999). The BOS explained that PE teaching programs are best developed in the context of a whole-school policy and plan that establishes a sound philosophical and organizational basis for developing, implementing, and evaluating learning experiences. The syllabus documents state that to achieve syllabus outcomes, effective implementation requires each school to undertake a process whereby it plans, develops, implements, monitors, and evaluates relevant policies and programs.

Approximately 75% of teachers believed that poorquality PE was associated with the values held and programming decisions made by other teachers at their schools. They expressed concern regarding the emphasis placed on academic subjects at the expense of PE. The teachers perceived that PE was unsuccessful in schools where teachers could choose not to teach PE or were not required to assess students in PE. They said that a lack of accountability led invariably to ad hoc PE. Webster (2002) discussed the difficulties teachers face given restrictions of time caused by a crowded curriculum. Schools should ensure that wholeschool PE planning occurs so that all teachers teach from a sequential and syllabus- oriented program of learning experiences. Ideally, a PE policy should guide teachers in terms of allocated curriculum time, assessment procedures, evaluation, and reporting. Failure to do so may result in PE that is infrequent and of poor quality.

The rapidly increasing use of external providers to deliver aspects of the PE syllabus has advantages and disadvantages. External providers usually are development officers promoting various sports or specialized instruction from private companies in courses such as gymnastics and aquatics. Some merit is evident when schools use external providers during times in which teachers view the providers as an opportunity for hands-on professional learning and a supplement to their PE program. However, the extra cost to schools and families is exacerbated when teachers are not involved in the sessions. Schools and teachers need to be careful that their PE programs are not delivered solely by external providers. Many of the programs described in this study generally did not satisfy or align with syllabus requirements, which complicated assessing, reporting, and valuing the learning experience.

Teachers (74%) often used the term PE interchangeably with sports and physical activity. One negative consequence of that confusion was the use of predominantly team-based sports delivered by outside agencies as a surrogate PE program. A sports-oriented curriculum does not recognize the scope of the syllabus and the importance of learning in, through, and about movement; sports is only one component of PE. In PE, students learn about the importance of health and fitness, develop fundamental movement skills in various forms of recreation, and develop skills in problem solving, interacting, communicating, and decision making.

Researchers have expressed concerns regarding the overuse of outside agencies. Tinning, Kirk, and Evans (1993) warned that the use of outside experts who deliver sportbased sessions in place of PE substantially underestimates the value, scope, and role of PE in the primary curriculum. Similarly, Hickey (1992) cautioned against placing the PE programs in the hands of community sporting bodies and other government agencies. Webster (2002) found that 60% of NSW primary schools employed outside agencies. He highlighted the dangers of relegating responsibility for the delivery of PE programs when a bias exists for a specific sporting area and raised the issues of equity, inclusivity of the syllabus, and payment for PE. Webster emphasized that the curriculum framework developed by the BOS states that syllabi are to be inclusive of all students attending schools. He expressed doubts as to whether PE is equally accessible to students of low socioeconomic status in NSW primary schools, given the common requirement for students to pay for specialist instruction. Our findings in the present study support Webster's suspicion. Teachers seem to believe that they require and would benefit from other forms of hands-on guidance to teach PE, such as a PE specialist. As has been reported in the literature over the last 15 years, 93% of teachers in this study believed that specialists should be involved in at least a consultative capacity in PE program implementation. Teachers felt that a PE specialist would have the maximum amount of knowledge and enthusiasm that would most benefit students. That finding contrasts with that of Webster (2002), in his analysis of NSW classroom teachers, who found that many teachers believed that there was no need for specialist PE teachers. However, Webster did not ask teachers whether specialists could play a support or consultative role, and he noted that many schools he surveyed relied on outside agencies or external providers to deliver aspects of the PE program.

The argument by educators against the employment of specialist PE teachers rests largely on the premise that a one-teacher-per-class model allows a holistic delivery of the curriculum and caters to the individual needs of students. As an alternative to the high-cost proposal of employing specialist PE teachers in primary schools, some researchers have found benefits from increased support for classroom teachers in their delivery of PE programs (Faucette et al., 2002). As such, teachers should have access to a PE consultant to assist their PE teaching. The Department of Education and Training employed 20 PE consultants across NSW in 1997 and 1998 to support PE teaching after the release of the new syllabus, but reintroducing consultants to support teachers may be worthwhile.

Of most interest in this study were the suggestions and recommendations from teachers regarding what needs to happen for PE programs in primary schools to improve them to an acceptable standard. The key recommendations described by teachers can be summarized in three themes: (a) school-level leadership in PE, (b) simple innovations in PE, and (c) PE professional learning needs.

School-Level Leadership in PE

Ninety-two percent of teachers in this study said that the success of PE relies on a strong leadership team, which includes key members of the school executive board (including principals and assistant principals). Given the many barriers that individual teachers face in teaching PE, they stressed the importance of a PE coordinator or coordinating team guiding overall school-level decisions about all aspects of the program. In some schools, principals may need to appoint a coordinating team and establish a management plan to support the implementation of the syllabus, whereas in other schools, it may be more appropriate for them to nominate a coordinator who has relevant experience or interests. As recommended by the BOS (1999), whatever approach is adopted, it is desirable that school planning promotes the sharing of information and ideas. The team should be responsible for evaluating current programs and practices in relation to PE and identifying the expertise and needs of staff.

Many teachers (77%) believed that the executive staff should ensure that all teachers are accountable to teach PE so that the entire staff is more likely to be committed to teaching the subject. Also, education authorities and school communities must develop strategies to improve the quality and quantity of resources, facilities, and equipment to support the implementation of PE programs. Inadequate resources can have a deleterious effect on the motivation of teachers and add another substantial barrier to presenting meaningful learning experiences. The Department of Education and Training must recognize the importance of training and encourage schools to set up a leadership team to promote effective implementation of PE programs.

Simple Innovations

Fifty-six percent of teachers believed that a considerable barrier to successful PE teaching was lack of confidence in key areas of the syllabus. The teachers clearly desired a considerable level of support or extensive training to feel confident to deliver effective lessons in PE. Those requests may take many forms, including employment of a PE specialist, access to a PE consultant, or formalization of contact with outside agencies to ensure that teachers are involved in some capacity in the sessions delivered by specialists or consultants. Some teachers (45%) described strategies or alternative-delivery models that they believed greatly enhanced their capacity to deliver PE programs, including (a) using the PE expertise of other staff members so that the teachers could specialize according to skill and interest by rotating classes, team teaching, or providing intraschool in-service and workshop opportunities; (b) using preservice teachers, students from nearby high schools, and senior primary school students to prepare and teach lessons; (c) using talented students or parents in a lesson for demonstration and explanations; and (d) integrating PE activities into classroom-based units.

Researchers need to examine interventions to help teachers deliver PE lessons. For example, Move It, Groove It (NSW Health, 2003) was a 1-year intervention designed to improve children's physical activity levels and motor skills. Classroom teachers attended professional-development sessions and worked with preservice PE teachers. Results indicated some promise regarding the capacity and success of undergraduate PE students working with teachers to improve the quality of PE lessons.

Professional Learning Needs

Many teachers (76%) believed that they had experienced inadequate preservice education and required further professional learning to feel confident about teaching PE. Because it is unlikely that specialist PE teachers will be employed in primary schools, strategies to raise the skill level and help teachers deliver PE instruction are a key intervention idea. For example, professional learning programs offer real potential if appropriately designed and delivered. An encouraging finding was that teachers (90%) felt that opportunities for professional learning in PE would be welcomed, especially in assessing, programming, and improving pedagogical knowledge in PE. However, teachers believed that in-servicing for PE was not a high priority in schools; most teachers (86%) had never attended a PE in-service course. Hickey (1992) reported that 32% of primary schools had not been involved in any in-service course for PE in the previous 2 years. Webster (2002) found that 60% of teachers in NSW had not received professional learning in PE, and 67% of teachers reported that their PE teaching was not influenced by the Department of Education and Training. State education authorities should ensure appropriate levels of financial support for schools to relieve teachers who attend in-service days. Schools should consider ensuring that teachers have ample opportunity to attend professional learning days for PE.

The teachers in our study made it clear that in-servicing must be needs-based, relevant, and engaging. Also, they stated that in- servicing should occur only during school hours. The adult learning literature in general purports that adult learners enjoy the process if they have developed some competence during training, which ensures that it is more motivating and meaningful (Wlodkowski, 1999, cited in Faucette et al., 2002). That framework was adopted by the well-known Sports, Play & Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) intervention program to engage teachers in PE professional learning. Faucette et al. described the benefits and acceptance by teachers of ongoing, supportive professional learning, which led to improved PE programs. They described the benefits of classroom teachers observing specialists during in-service courses. The general consensus seems to be that classroom teachers require support to feel confident to teach PE effectively. However, as teachers in this study clearly expressed, in-servicing needs to be targeted, relevant, engaging, and available for all schools.


Although we considered the randomly selected schools representative of the total population, teacher participation was conditioned on principal consent. Also, the self-selected convenience sampling may have introduced a selection bias, possibly causing more confident PE teachers to volunteer for the qualitative part of the study.


It is ironic that the key school program responsible for encouraging students to lead healthy lifestyles is delivered inadequately, as research has highlighted the consequences of the sedentary lifestyles of many children (Cavill, Biddle, & Sallis, 2001). A quality PE program should ensure that children develop the knowledge, understanding, skills, values, and attitudes needed to lead healthy and fulfilling lifestyles. Now, more then ever, it is time for the PE profession to react to many of the issues affecting the delivery of quality programs; a sound starting point is a consideration of the concerns and suggestions of practitioners. Affecting change at the school level and fostering support and engagement in the change process will be facilitated by teachers' understanding that their opinions have been valued and their suggestions were acted on. Teachers also have articulated a desire to increase their skills in key areas of PE insruction. Various teachers have provided insights into the contributions that factors such as school-level leadership, professional learning opportunities, PE coordinators, and various delivery innovations have made to the successful implementation of PE programs. Researchers need to develop interventions that target those areas to assess their impact and benefit. REFERENCES

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University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Address correspondence to Philip Morgan, School of Education, Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle, Callaghan NSW 2308, Australia. (E-mail: [email protected])

Copyright (c) 2007 Heldref Publications

PHILIP MORGAN is a senior lecturer, University of Newcastle, Australia. His major research interests include health-related physical education in primary schools and the impact of school and community-based interventions to promote physical activity and prevent and treat childhood obesity. VIBEKE HANSEN is a research officer, Centre for Health Research and Psychooncology, also at the University of Newcastle. The author is particularly interested in exploratory qualitative research, and is coordinating a survey focusing on professional burnout with members of the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia and finalizing recommendations to the Cancer Council in New South Wales from a qualitative study of unmet needs of recent cancer survivors.

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