Place and meaning of ‘physical education’ to practitioners and children at three preschool contexts in Scotland
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This thesis investigates the place and meaning of ‘physical education’ to practitioners and children at three preschool settings in a city in Scotland. The thesis examines the discourses of physical education at the preschools, and interrogates the ways in which the participants engaged with these discourses in order to construct their subjectivities. Preschool physical education has been largely unexplored by researchers and this study thus gives insight into how practitioners and children engage with, take up and resist particular discourses. The study contributes to physical education and early childhood education research by connecting separate bodies of sociocultural, and more specifically poststructural, research related to both fields. A poststructural, Foucaultian theoretical framework underpins the thesis. It features discourse analysis and particularly draws on Foucault’s work around techniques of power and the ‘technologies of the self’. The first step in the discourse analysis involved examining potential sources of discourses the practitioners were likely to draw on. This entailed analysing the physical education sections of the curricular documentation used at the settings (Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence), and analysing texts related to preschool physical education continued professional development (CPD) that some of the practitioners participated in. Analysis indicated that physical activity and health discourses are prevalent throughout the curricular documentation. Discourses related to motor skill development and play also prevail. Motor skill development and physical activity discourses are prevalent in the documentation related to CPD. The second step in the discourse analysis involved analysing language patterns in the participants’ talk. Fourteen practitioners and 70 children participated in the study. Research methods employed were observations, interviews with adults, a group drawing and discussion activity with children, and interviews with children. Discourses related to motor skill development, play, physical activity and health, along with a related pedagogical discourse concerning ‘structure and freedom’, appeared to underpin ‘physical education’ at the three contexts, in different ways. For instance, the settings differed in the extent to which motor skill development underpinned physical education, with pedagogies often being more adult-led where this discourse was stronger. This thesis highlights that preschool practitioners and children engage in multiple, complex ways with a range of physical education discourses that currently have currency in Scotland.