Exploring Australian teachers’ perceptions of physical literacy: a mixed-methods study

Inimfon Essiet, Elyse Warner, Natalie Lander, Jo Salmon, Michael Duncan, Emma Eyre, Lisa Barnett

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Background: Physical literacy (PL) has generated substantial international interest across sport, health and education sectors. Teachers play a crucial role in supporting children’s PL growth. Despite PL featuring in several physical education curricular texts, research into teacher understanding and perception of the concept is scarce. This study aimed to explore the understanding and perception of PL among Australian teachers of health and physical education (including generalists and specialists). Methods: Utilizing an explanatory sequential mixed-methods study design, the first phase involved an online survey of 174 Australian teachers. The survey, developed from relevant literature, aimed to elicit an understanding of teachers’ awareness, understanding, and perceptions of PL, and comprised a combination of open-ended, yes/ no, Likert, and multiple-choice response options. The second phase involved semi-structured telephone interviews with nine survey participants, to build on survey responses. Interviews lasting on average 37 (range 28–58) minutes were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. For quantitative data, bivariate comparisons were made using chi-square tests to examine the relationships between teacher training (generalist versus specialist), age group, years of teaching experience, and teacher PL understanding. Interview data were analyzed using an inductive thematic approach to identify emergent theme clusters.
Results: Respondents (n=122, male 48.4%) were mostly specialist trained teachers, with 10–14 years of teaching experience. Quantitative findings revealed that while most teachers were aware of PL, many only partially understood the concept, often interpreting it as an understanding of bodily movements and/or the benefits of physical activity participation. There were no differences in PL understanding by teacher training, age group, or years of teaching experience. Two main themes, identified from qualitative interviews, which provided further explanation of teachers’ understanding and perception of PL were: (a) ‘physical literacy has been a bit of a buzzword’: perceptions of the PL concept and (b) ‘It’s a concept that needs to be ingrained’: implementing PL in schools. Teachers acknowledged the potential importance and applicability of PL, however, expressed scepticism (e.g. buzzword) about the concept. Narrow understanding of the concept persisted during interviews. In terms of its implementation within schools, teachers highlighted the need for curriculum alignment, provision of resources and professional development opportunities, and policy changes. In recognizing these implementation strategies, teachers further noted potential barriers that could hinder PL implementation including time constraints, workload and busyness, and the lack of prioritization of physical education (PE) within schools. Conclusion: Study findings revealed the urgent need to clarify the concept of PL for teachers given their critical role in ensuring effective and successful translation of research into educational practice. Resources, professional dialogue, and continuing professional development opportunities can support teachers’ overall understanding and implementation of PL. This is important for potentially maximizing children’s PL development across the lifespan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-37
Number of pages20
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number1
Early online date27 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


IE is supported by a doctoral scholarship from Deakin University Faculty of Health, Australia. JS is supported by a NHMRC Leadership Level 2 Fellowship (APP 1176885).


  • physical activity
  • fundamental movement skills
  • physical educator
  • qualitative
  • quantitative
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Education
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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