Leeds Beckett University
TheSociallyConstructedAndEmbodiedMeaningsOfEffectiveness-THOMSON_Redacted.pdf (2.51 MB)

The socially constructed and embodied meanings of effectiveness in the lives of physical education teachers: An ethnographic study

Download (2.51 MB)
posted on 2022-06-16, 11:37 authored by Alan Thomson

While teacher effectiveness research is well established, much of it centres around linking teaching to pupil achievement and identifying specific teacher characteristics. In physical education, little evidence has been generated through gaining an understanding of teachers’ experiences and by listening to their voices. To establish how physical educators have come to conceptualise effectiveness, this inquiry moves away from simply documenting teachers’ assertions, by focusing upon its construction through the contexts of their professional and personal lives. 

In understanding how effectiveness has been socially constructed, it was therefore necessary to use a flexible approach that considered teacher subjectivities. An ethnographic study was conducted in the physical education department at Northton High School* over a period of nine months. Methods were guided by Wolcott’s (2008) thinking around experience, enquire and examine, and specific data were generated using participant observation, a field-work diary, biographical semi-structured interviews, and by scrutinising school documentation. The resulting data was subject to thematic analysis, while a series of life-history narratives were used to demonstrate an understanding of how effectiveness came to be conceptualised by the different teachers in the department. 

Findings highlighted how differing sets of beliefs about the nature of physical education operated amidst several whole school discourses that focused specifically upon the teachers meeting Ofsted criteria for ‘Outstanding’ teaching, and sustaining high levels of examination success. This led to contestation, co-operation and conflict; and micropolitically, power was used to consolidate and strengthen the whole school discourses, leading to performative and normalised teaching behaviours. To help develop teaching to consistently ‘Outstanding’ levels, a CPD initiative based upon Ofsted criteria was introduced and used as an instrument to fabricate the Senior Leaders’ vision for effectiveness. This normalised the dominant discourses and led to the CPD initiative being used by Senior Leaders as a disciplinary surveillant mechanism, rather than a pedagogical tool. 

Teachers were seen to be nameless faceless bodies valued only for generating a series of results that would deem them, and thereby the school to be effective. As well as performing effectiveness, the research also detailed ways in which the PE teachers’ embodied effectiveness, and demonstrated how their identities were constructed through (re)negotiating biographical, social, political and cultural contexts. Thus, the thesis recognises that physical education teachers’ understandings of effectiveness are socially constructed and must take into account the contextual nature of their lives, and the complex environments of schools.


Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Usage metrics

    LBU Theses and Dissertations


    No categories selected



    Ref. manager