Primary school physical education and sports coaches: evidence from a study of School Sport Partnerships in north-west England

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Drawing on interview data from a study of one School Sport Partnership (SSP) in north-west England, this paper examines (from the perspective of teachers): (1) some of the ways in which the SSP programme facilitated the increasing use of sports coaches to deliver aspects of physical education (PE) in state primary schools in England and (2) how coaches were accommodated within existing curricular arrangements. The use of coaches was found to be widespread and normalized, especially in extra-curricular PE which was often a coach-only zone. In some schools, coaches delivered all aspects of PE provision without the presence of teachers regardless of when the subject was delivered, and in other schools teachers were present but often acted in a supervisory capacity. This raised questions about the degree to which teachers were meaningfully involved in the planning and delivery of sessions and whether the use of coaches was likely to enhance teachers’ confidence in, and specialist knowledge of, PE. Grounded in discussions of the differences between teaching and coaching pupils, teachers felt that coaches made a valuable contribution to the delivery of individual sports but often experienced particular difficulty in controlling pupil behaviour and classroom management, and that their lack of knowledge about pupils limited learning. It is concluded that it is only possible to adequately understand the trend towards using sports coaches and other non-specialists in PE by locating them within the context of broader social processes, especially the globalization of education policy and practices supported by shifts towards the privatization and marketization of education and other public sector reforms occurring in neo-liberal economies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)872-888
JournalSport, Education and Society
Issue number7
Early online date21 Oct 2013
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Oct 2013


  • Coaching
  • Education
  • Flexible working
  • Neo-liberalism
  • Policy
  • Young people


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