Changes in experiences and engagement of adolescent girls in Physical Education classes, during a school-based physical activity programme : a qualitative longitudinal study.
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There is a growing body of literature investigating age-related declines in physical activity (PA) participation among young people and especially girls, who have lower rates of PA than boys throughout the teenage years. Low PA is particularly apparent within the context of the school physical education classes – termed here as the Physical Education (PE) environment. My PhD thesis aims to explore the reasons for some girls disengagement in PE classes. Using a longitudinal qualitative approach the study tracks the experiences of a sample of ‘disengaged girls’ from four case study schools in Scotland taking part in a school-based physical activity programme, Fit for Girls (FfG). My research investigates the impact of the programme on their engagement through recording and analysis of the changes that take place in their attitudes and behaviour over the course of two years. The study involved the design of a questionnaire to identify a cohort of disengaged girls for baseline focus groups. Twelve focus groups (n=41 girls) were carried out during 2008/09 (three in each case study school) to capture girls’ opinions, perceptions and experiences of PE classes. Twenty disengaged girls were then selected across the four schools, based on their willingness to participate and self-disclose PE experiences. The girls were recruited for three phases of longitudinal in-depth interviews, over a one year period. The aim of these was to track changes in girls’ engagement and experiences in the PE environment. My theoretical framework is based on Welks (1999) Youth Physical Activity Promotion model (YPAP), a socioecological approach which divides the influential correlates of physical activity into 1) individual-level predisposing factors, 2) enabling factors, including personal attributes and environmental variables and 3) reinforcing (social) factors. The results indicate that individual predisposing factors, such as perceptions of competence and identity in the PE class along with the social context (peers and teachers) contribute to girls’ disengagement in PE. This suggests that aspects of the wider psychosocial environment in which PE takes place may be more important than the physical activity itself, impacting on levels of participation and enjoyment. There were subtle, as well as clear changes in engagement among many of the girls. However, for others no change was evident. Individual girls’ experiences across time or ‘journeys’ illustrate the importance of the relationships between the individual, social and PE environment in facilitating and sustaining positive change.