Classroom Teachers' Perceptions of the Impact of Barriers to Teaching Physical Education on the Quality of Physical Education Programs

By Morgan, Philip J.; Hansen, Vibeke | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Classroom Teachers' Perceptions of the Impact of Barriers to Teaching Physical Education on the Quality of Physical Education Programs


Morgan, Philip J., Hansen, Vibeke, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


A major aim of the current study was to determine what classroom teachers perceived to be the greatest barriers affecting their capacity to deliver successful physical education (PE) programs. An additional aim was to examine the impact of these barriers on the type and quality of PE programs delivered. This study applied a mixed-mode design involving data source triangulation using semistructured interviews with classroom teachers (n = 31) and teacher-completed questionnaires (n = 189) from a random sample of 38 schools. Results identified the key factors inhibiting PE teachers, which were categorized as teacher-related or institutional. Interestingly, the five greatest barriers were defined as institutional or out of the teacher's control. The major adverse effects of these barriers were evident in reduced time spent teaching PE and delivering PE lessons of questionable quality.

Key words: consequences, physical activity, primary school, program success

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Despite the strong rationale for physical education (PE; Sallis & McKenzie, 1991), the quality of primary school PE has been seriously criticized worldwide (Hardman & Marshall, 2001). PE is generally delivered by classroom teachers or nonspecialists. Over the past 20 years, researchers have highlighted the difficulties primary school teachers face in delivering PE lessons. In Australia, a key recommendation from a Senate Inquiry Into Physical and Sport Education (SSCERA, 1992) was that urgent professional development strategies and/or specialist PE teachers were needed to overcome the significant barriers teachers faced. Barriers considered the most amenable to change were directly related to the classroom teacher, such as their attitudinal disposition to and confidence in teaching PE.

Previous research has shown that many teachers generally do not feel confident teaching PE (Xiang, Lowy & McBride, 2002). Lack of confidence, knowledge, and expertise has been found to be related to the quality of PE teacher education teachers receive (Morgan & Bourke, 2005). Tremblay, Pella, and Taylor (1996) found that lack of teacher preparation was the greatest barrier to quality PE programs. PE teacher education has been described as inadequate in many countries worldwide, including the United States (McKenzie, Alcaraz, Sallis, & Faucette, 1998), Britain (Carney & Armstrong, 1996), and Australia (Moore, Webb & Dickson, 1997). In Australia, most universities offer one or two compulsory courses in PE as part of the preservice classroom teacher training, although it often only represents a small percentage of the total course work required for their degree (Morgan & Bourke, 2005).

Problems with the quality of PE teacher education may be exacerbated when teachers hold negative attitudes toward PE and question its value for children. This finding has been reported in the literature (Andrews, 1987; Faucette & Patterson, 1989; Howarth, 1987), although it is not conclusive. Other researchers have suggested that many teachers value PE but lack confidence. For example, Morgan (2008) found that teachers believe in the benefits of PE but would rather teach other subjects. Xiang et al. (2002) reported that many preservice classroom teachers were unwilling to teach PE but value it as an important curriculum component.

Studies examining the impact of PE methods courses on preservice classroom teachers have reported mixed results (Curtner-Smith 2007; Tsangatidou, 2005; Xiang et al., 2002). Xiang et al. (2002) described how preservice teachers believed they did not possess the knowledge or ability to teach PE after observing a number of PE lessons during a field-based course. Tsangaridou (2005) found that two students reflected more deeply on their teaching after a methods course but indicated the results may have been confounded by previous physical activity experiences. …

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