How prepared are postgraduate primary pre-service teachers in delivering physical education as they approach their NQT Year?

How prepared are postgraduate primary pre-service teachers in delivering physical education as they approach their NQT Year?


Year on year, my primary pre-service teachers (PPST’s) on their initial teacher education (ITE) course would discuss their experiences they are having whilst on school placement and what they are receiving whilst on the course. It was clear, from these discussions, that some of the PPSTs had a lot of anxiety as they approached transition towards becoming newly qualified teachers (NQTs), lacking confidence and/or competence when it comes to teaching physical education (PE) lessons. With my PPSTs expected to be able to hit the ground running once they are NQTs, this study was important to gauge what experiences they have received, related to teaching PE and what, if anything, can we do to better prepare our PPSTs.

This study (to read the full research paper please click here) particularly explores how prepared PPSTs feel in regards to teaching PE but also how the primary PE and school sport (PESS) premium funding could be affecting this. The funding has catalysed distinct changes to the PE workforce in primary schools that has also had an effect on the experiences of PPSTs whilst on school placement. Therefore, in order for schools and ITE to respond and better prepare PPSTs to teach PE, an understanding of these feelings would be beneficial to promote more effective development towards primary pre-service teachers feeling confident and competent to teach PE.

Therefore, after gaining ethical clearance was gained in February 2020, data collection took place between May – July 2020. With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting this study, it has therefore been estimated that the PPSTs participants in this study completed a minimum of 75 days in placement.

Data Collection

Data collection involved an anonymous online questionnaire, involving 48 participants across six universities in England. Twelve questions were asked, based around four key concepts:

  1. Experiences
  2. Outsourcing
  3. ‘Preparedness’
  4. Continual Professional Development

Key Findings

The key findings were separated across the four concepts:

  1. Experiences:

Prior to starting the course, the majority response was primary pre-service teachers had taught (54%) zero hours of PE, but had observed (39%) 1-5 hours of PE. On completion of their PGCE, the majority of PPSTs had taught (66%) and observed (58%) 1-5 hours of PE.

  1. Outsourcing:

The majority (73%) of primary pre-service teachers found the use of outsourced coaches to be a benefit to pupils; however, they had mixed feelings (50%) regarding the benefits towards teachers.

  1. ‘Preparedness’:

The PPSTs felt that their university contact time on PE was ‘about right’. The PPSTs ability to use technology within PE was rated as their lowest area of confidence. Activity areas of least confidence were swimming, dance and gymnastics, with a lack of experience being the defining factor.

  1. Continual Professional Development:

Learning technology was found to be the largest CPD need. Observing other teachers/coaches was determined as the most likely method of CPD in their NQT year, whilst engaging in social media was least likely.

Whilst it is clear that a number of factors affect how prepared a PPST feels towards teaching PE, it is clear that what is currently taking place within the ITE process is not always best preparing PPST’s to feel prepared to teach the subject. With the limited hours given at ITE and the lack of experiences allowed whilst on placement, transformation is required to better prepare NQTs.


Therefore, based upon the four key concepts, I encourage action be taken on the following four recommendations:

  1. The delivery of PE to become the sole domain of the teacher with QTS, a recommendation specified in the APPG (2019) report, but not transpiring into the current day.
  2. Schools to provide as many experiences in PE for the primary pre-service teachers whilst on placement. With the majority of PPSTs receiving between 1-5 hours, it is no wonder that not all feel prepared for their NQT year.
  3. A call for ITE to address their use of technology when teaching PE.
  4. Provide additional experiences during ITE around PE, including activity areas outside of games, namely swimming, gymnastics and dance. This would include additional hours, rather than a change of content.

Moving into the future, this study highlights further questions that require answering and ones that are often initiated on social media: Who is best suited to deliver primary PE? Whilst I encourage the use of teachers with QTS, it is clear from the literature that it is a real mixture at the moment and therefore those teachers joining the profession fell underprepared. I recommend that we evaluate the effectiveness of primary PE and discuss conceptual models towards future transformative practice, investigating whether a generalist teacher (with the support of a co-ordinator) or a specialist primary PE teacher (a secondary model) be responsible for delivering PE in the primary school of the future and define what the role of adults other than teachers (coaches in most cases) are in physical education, physical activity and school sport delivery.

To read the research paper in full please click here.

Grant Huddleston (@GHuddPE)

Senior Lecturer in Physical Education, Birmingham City University

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