The experiences of children and young people with social emotional and behavioural difficulties in physical education

  • Richard Stephen Medcalf

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Research has previously highlighted the physical, social, affective and cognitive benefits of engagement in quality physical education (PE) (Bailey, 2006). Furthermore, practical, physical and expressive creative experiences in education have also been cited as being an important constituent when educating children and young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) (Cole and Visser, 1998). However, research has yet to address the experiences of the child with SEBD, as told by themselves, alongside the ideological benefits of their participation in physical education. As such, this study has examined how children and young people experience the National Curriculum of PE in England and Wales. Specifically working with those deemed by their school to have SEBD, this study aims to give voice to how participants create meaning of their PE experiences.

    A case study methodology was adopted whereby, after a period of piloting and familiarisation, two periods of twelve weeks were spent with six adolescent boys, each described by their schools as having SEBD. A range of participatory methods were used to elicit their perceptions of PE. Inductive processes of analysis generated outcomes which showed signs of the idiosyncratic nature of varying experiences and multiple truths.

    A number of themes emerged from the analysis of each case, aside to the contextualised responses of individuals. Participants spoke of their affinity towards the inherent practical nature of PE, which appeared to be forgiving of their desire for cathartic opportunities to participate physically. They regularly discussed their perception of PE being a subject allowing for relative freedoms not found elsewhere in their curricula. Narratives which described their experiences were also characterised by issues which focussed upon the non-educational aspects of the subject. The perceived pardon from the academic demands of school life, and the subsequent opportunities for socialisation with peers, were described as times which cemented the both positive and negative social systems at place in their classes.

    The case studies have resulted in the discussion of experiences which demonstrate the rich and highly individualised nature of children and young peoples‟ time in PE. The nature of their difficulties appeared to exacerbate and heighten the responses to participation which have been commonly reported in previous studies. Participants' time in PE was shown to be an example of the challenges that they face in their school lives more broadly. PE served to magnify both the positive and negative responses to education that were described as being experienced elsewhere in their curriculum subjects.

    This research has shown that, when adopting methodologies which privilege participatory methods, it is possible to gain greater depth of understanding as to how children with social emotional and behavioural difficulties experience physical education.
    Date of Award2010
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    • University of Worcester
    SupervisorJoe Marshall (Supervisor), Ken Hardman (Supervisor), Malcolm Armstrong (Supervisor), John Visser (Supervisor) & Lynn Kidman (Supervisor)


    • children
    • behavioural difficulties
    • youths
    • special education needs,
    • physical education

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