In the first of a new series of In Focus articles from UCFB Academics, Dr Gerald Griggs, Head of Academics at UCFB Etihad Campus, reflects on his key research into primary physical education in England.

Gerald has worked in education for over twenty years and brings a wealth of higher education experience to UCFB. He is a globally recognised figure in the field of primary physical education and to date has published four books and over thirty international peer reviewed journal articles.  


The state of primary physical education in England has been a long term concern of mine and remains a key focus of my research. A long line of reports and papers have highlighted that primary physical education is being delivered ineffectively in primary schools and my analysis has served to highlight the same recurring themes: insufficient challenge in lessons; an over-concentration on performance; the delivery of an imbalanced curriculum dominated by games and poor assessment and recording. What results in practice is the perpetuation of lessons in which children are being “busy, happy, and good” with very little learning taking place.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps research attention has been directed towards the training that primary trainees receive. Findings indicate that trainee primary school teachers receive only a handful of hours in specific physical education training and teach very few physical education lessons during their training period resulting in low levels of teacher confidence. Attempts have been made to approach training deficiencies by in service Continuing Professional Development programmes for primary physical education but their impact has continued to be less than positive.

My research has shown that in this climate, in many cases across the country the responsibility for delivering primary Physical Education has increasingly been handed to local sport coaches – often football coaches. This topic remains contentious and within the profession my research raises concerns about: the extent to which coaches lack appropriate teaching qualifications; prioritise activities and sporting objectives over educational goals and lack class management skills.

In a bid to improve the quality of primary physical education in recent years each primary school in England has been awarded approximately £9,000 per year by the government. My most recently published research investigated almost 2,000 schools, reporting the employing of sports coaches, the development of more after school clubs and the hosting of competitions appear highest on the agenda for schools spending their funding. My current work asks challenging questions of schools assessing the impact, quality and sustainability of their provision.

Despite the massive funding increase I believe the key challenge now is understanding how schools’ quality assure current practices and might sustain them into the future, especially when funding will inevitably cease. If the full benefit of this funding is to be truly realised before it is too late, greater strategic planning is required. For genuine long term impact such monies need to be purposefully invested than merely spent and accounted for.