Physical Education Futures

Normally around this time of the year my out of school reading time is taken up with proof reading reports, the odd copy of Australian Mountain Bike magazine or a quick flick through the newspaper before work.

But after a recent discussion on Twitter with Dr Ashley Casey (@DrAshCasey) on Physical Education pedagogy, he recommended a book by Professor David Kirk called “Physical Education Futures”. “What the hell “, I thought, it could do me good!

I’m not going to review the book here, but in recommending it to Physical Education teachers I’m going to comment and quote extensively as a  way of explaining why I think it’s so important.

Firstly, for a guy that finished his last foray into post-graduate study quite a while ago, it was pretty hard going at times. Big words aside, the depth to which Prof. Kirk goes to lay out the background as to why PE is ready for reform is profound. But it makes sense.

Oh..and I didn’t buy it, I borrowed it from my excellent DET library.

If I read it correctly, Kirk suggests that current PE practice  is affected  by some tensions, including:

  • That a typical PE program consists generally of “skill learning”  in isolation and that this disengages kids. This view of PE has developed and evolved over the time that PE has existed in schools.
  • That the quest for academic acceptance has diminished the real world role that PE should play in schools

He also suggests that the future for PE has 3 possible paths.

  1. “More of the same…. where the multi activity, sport based programs with molecularised teaching of techniques informed by the hegemony of biomechanics” is the short to middle future, supported by teachers and schools based in a traditional, Industrial Age logic where PE was meant to be a release from academic study and a way to socialise and school the body. He sees this scenario as seductive because it fits well with the expectations of our stakeholders, but it may not produce the best outcome for our students or us as teachers.
  2. Radical Reform – moving from the “physical education as skill learning” to multiple  ideas of physical education( PE as sport, PE as exercise, PE as active leisure and so on) that takes into account and meshes with changes in society like the digital education revolution. It would need things like Playing Games for Understanding, Games Sense and Sport Education to become more the focus of PE programs in schools.
  3. Extinction – without reform, Kirk sees this option as a possibility. “More of the same” could lead PE to reap what it sows, and be judged on its ability to change student outcomes. How many PE teachers would be prepared if “detailed, intensive testing of their work was mooted?” Although unlikely, extinction could become a reality for schools in hard economic time where funding is under review.

Kirk says that reform is a hard thing to do because of the fundamental form it must necessarily take. It also should affect not just teachers and schools, but the training institutions as well. He draws on 5 “foundational premises” for reconstructing PE, as put forward by Hal Lawson(2008):

  1. New physical education programs must take forms that fit the new institutional forms of the school, in particular with “community- school” designs. Community school design means including play opportunities out of school time with some linked to regular day classes; conditions for genuine play – true choices, opportunities to experience flow, engaging in activities for intrinsic benefits, learning without reference to grades or tests
  2. PE must end its quest to be treated just like other school subjects, and recognise and celebrate the things that make it a different, unique and valuable source of educational experience.
  3. PE needs to be more astute in actively identifying the powerful forces that offer competing and often harmful lifestyles to young people, and take them into account when designing programs
  4. PE needs to take on a “life course” development perspective
  5. PE should exploit its power in offering programs that are stand-alone and combined social intervention strategies that help other agencies address urgent social problems.

Kirk offers a sixth, which is that PE programs in schools must be as tightly aligned as possible with the sort of physical culture that we value and wish to transmit and renew.

I found David Kirk’s book to be very valuable in the sense that I’ve had a feeling that my Faculty may not have been as effective in delivering “physical education” as it could have been. My searching for an alternative to what we do now has been given some direction after reading this book.

I’d be interested to hear if what I’ve tried to convey here has struck a chord with PE teachers, and what they see the future of their subject area is.


Kirk, D (2010) “Physical Education Futures” , Routledge, New York

Lawson, H.A ” (2008) “Crossing borders and changing boundaries to develop innovations that improve outcomes” The Cagigal Lecture, AIESEP World Congress, Sapporo

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2 thoughts on “Physical Education Futures”

  1. I have recently held this discussion with a group of Head of Departments of the Gold Coast. The discussion was based around where the future of HPE lies within the Australian Curriculum. I think HPE, PE, PDHPE whatever you want to call the subject, is a very holistic subject that encompasses so much, which is where I see as been part of the problem. Trying to find our ‘niche’. What do we hold dearer, physical activity, health issues, nutrition, exercise science or the other multitude of things which can be incorporated into our subject?

    The more that PE teachers and leaders have this type of discussion the better.

    I may have to try and track down this book.

    • Its a discussion that many PE teachers don’t know they should be having! Get the book on loan ( at around the $100 mark it was too rich for me to have a personal copy) through your state education library. It’s a heavy read, but well worth it.
      Thanks again for your interest and comments.


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