Policy for physical education and school sport in England, 2003–2010: vested interests and dominant discourses

Hyunwoo Jung, Stacey Pope, David Kirk

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22 Citations (Scopus)
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The salience of physical education and school sport in England changed dramatically in the 2000s in terms of central government investment and political interests. The government put in place the Physical Education and School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy and the Physical Education and Sport Strategy for Young People (PESSYP) for a wide-ranging array of social objectives. Although policy research relating to PESS has centred on the sport policy-making process and the role of government or agents including teachers has been growing from the 2000s, this paper argues for the need to explore the social construction and constitution of school knowledge underpinned and influenced by particular dominant vested interests and their associated discourses to understand certain pedagogical implications for young people. Applying the educational policy sociology approach adapted from Basil Bernstein’s work on the social construction of pedagogic discourse, the focus of this paper was to identify the main discourses which constructed and constituted policy for PESS from 2003-2010 in England. Qualitative content analysis on six policy documents and 467 media articles was conducted. This paper identifies five discourses constructing and constituting policy for PESS during the period under study: sport, health, citizenship, lifelong participation and Olympic legacy. These are sources of policy for PESS that were constructed in Bernstein’s recontextualising field. This paper also seeks to show the complexity of policies and strategies for PESS in that they are anchored in web of significations in terms of complex connections between elements of discourses. It can be argued that as a structure-in-dominance, policy for PESS reinforced competitive sport-based conceptions of physical education and, arguably, created a limited universe of possibilities, of what was thinkable, for and as PESS. This paper argues that the inclusions and exclusions of discourses from policy for PESS are all politically charged, and will have an impact on the quality of young people’s education and their life chances in the future. Furthermore, this paper proposes that we need to explore in further depth the processes of how to maximise the possibilities of realising quality PESS in order for young people to learn citizenship, foster health improvement and facilitate lifelong participation in physical activities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-516
Number of pages16
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number5
Early online date10 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


  • discourse
  • school sport
  • physical education
  • social construction of knowledge


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