Implementing PDHPE into practice: An ethnographic case study on primary teachers' experiences

Year: 2012

Author: Hennessey, Angela, Dionigi, Rylee, Gard, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This presentation reports on some of the preliminary findings from an ethnographic case study into generalist teachers' experiences of implementing Personal, Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) into practice.  Using purposive sampling, generalist teachers from one regional catholic primary school were the focus of systematically employed qualitative methods over a six month period.

Existing research suggests that the implementation of PDHPE in primary schools is fraught with challenges for many generalist teachers (e.g., Armour & Duncombe, 2009).  However, very little of this research is empirically grounded in the complex, day-to-day realities of teaching.  Instead, it has tended to rely on the beliefs and attitudes of pre-service teachers or 'after the fact' reflections of in-service teachers on specific aspects of their practice, such as self-efficacy. This ethnographic case study is an attempt to understand more holistically primary teachers' day-to-day working lives as they unfold.  In simple terms, this study asks: what is it like to be an in-service primary PDHPE teacher?

The study's conceptual framework, and therefore its findings, rest on three general areas of interest. They are: i) the personal orientation of the teacher to PDHPE; ii) the school context; and, iii) the programming of and pedagogical approaches to implementing the written PDHPE curriculum.  This presentation will offer some initial findings about the connections and/or gaps between i) and iii); that is, the relationship between aspiration and practice. 

Most teachers were enthusiastic about PDHPE.  However, their practice was constrained by the pressure of a crowded curriculum and limited professional development opportunities.  Interview data revealed that the participants believed that using 'outside expertise' to deliver particular curriculum areas such as athletics and swimming was necessary to make up staff's lack of expertise. Furthermore, teachers raised the concern of 'up-skilling' current staff members but not being able to retain these staff.  Interestingly, teachers saw themselves as having a professional obligation to provide current information about an array of health issues to both parents and students, but were acutely aware of the difficulties of playing such a role. 

In conclusion, the primary teachers in this study felt they are doing the best they can in the context of a crowded curriculum, high stakes testing, numerous health policies and initiatives for which schools are accountable, and the low-status perception of PDHPE.  In other words, the good will and enthusiasm of these teachers was severely compromised by the policy and administrative weight they must bear.