Physical Literacy Informed Physical Education

Physical Literacy Informed Physical Education


In order for physical literacy to be operationalised within teaching practice it needs to be unpacked for use within physical education. It is difficult to describe in totality what physical literacy informed physical education practice looks like, as it will be different according to each context and situation. Little empirical research has been conducted on capturing what physical literacy informed practice is, but some research indicates conceptually what it may look like.

Key Principles

Durden-Myers, Green and Whitehead (2018) identify seven key principles for physical literacy informed practice. Each principle is identified briefly below:

  • Key Principle 1: The Individual. The individual should be at the heart of physical literacy and therefore at the heart of PE pedagogy (Whitehead, 2010).
  • Key Principle 2: Promoting Motivation. PE teachers should seek to create learning environments that are autonomy-supportive, and mastery focused. Practitioners should be enthusiastic and encourage all participants to engage in their work and make progress in physical activities.
  • Key Principle 3: Confidence. It is essential that participants’ confidence in their ability to make progress in an activity is enhanced, through physical education. Achievement, progress and effort should be celebrated in order to build self-esteem.
  • Key Principle 4: Physical Competence. The development of physical competence facilitated through meaningful interaction with a range of physical activity environments is essential to encourage effective participation. Learners need time to practice and refine what they are learning, thus providing the opportunity for real progress, for movement patterns to be established and for perceptions of competence to be acquired.
  • Key Principle 5: Developing Knowledge and Understanding. Promoting knowledge and understanding is integral to engaging individuals in physical activities.
  • Key Principle 6: Devolving Responsibility. By integrating and internalising key skills related to ‘taking responsibility’, students develop structure and clarity for their lives, values and inner-discipline. The ability for students to take responsibility for their participation is essential to establish life-long participation in physical activity.
  • Key Principle 7: Using Feedback/Charting Progress as a Motivational Tool. Providing positive feedback based on competence (mastery) was shown to encourage optimal intrinsic motivation from students in relation to their continued engagement in physical activity (Mouratidis et al., 2008). Judgements made should therefore be autonomous, criterion referenced and ipsative (related to previous judgements) in nature. When possible, students should be involved in co-construction of assessment tasks and criteria, along with self-assessment and presenting evidence of their own learning.

Durden-Myers et al., (2018) highlight that while these principles are relevant across the life span specific modifications may be needed at particular stages or within specific contexts. For example, approaches for infants, pre-school and early years children are best focused on learning through frequent active play both indoors and outdoors.

Key Questions

Haydn-Davies (2010, pp.168-169) also suggests that practitioners consider the following questions in relation to content selected/planning, organisation and learning and teaching interaction:

Content selected / planning

  • Has the session been planned with the participant(s) at the heart of the experience?
  • Will the content meet the expectations of the participants?
  • Are the tasks selected appropriate to the participants’ abilities and motivation?
  • Will there be regular chances to achieve and succeed?


  • Does the structure of the session meet the physical, social and emotional needs of the participant(s)?
  • Are timings planned to suit the participants or have they been imposed from external factors?
  • Are there a variety of resources, including media, available to support and challenge participants?
  • Have the expectations of behaviour been agreed?
  • Are rules and routines negotiated, agreed and well-articulated?
  • Are organisational cues understood?
  • Is the learning environment safe, stimulating and challenging?

Learning / teaching interaction

  • Does the climate promote mutual respect between practitioner and participant(s) and between participants?
  • Is feedback given constructively, frequently and positively?
  • Is assessment for learning used to promote progress?
  • Will the participants understand if they are improving?
  • Are both verbal and non-verbal communication used effectively and regularly?
  • Is account taken of participants’ responses such that tasks are modified appropriately?
  • Are questions used to support learning and progress?
  • Are participants encouraged to ask questions?

Not just ‘good’ PE

Arguably, these recommendations might be considered as just ‘good’ physical education. The difference is however that the underlying goal, purpose and philosophy for physical education, when informed by physical literacy, is to promote lifelong engagement in physical activity. Haydn-Davies (2010) goes further, suggesting that any practitioner aiming to develop physical literacy will aspire to:

  • Understand the key principles and philosophies of physical literacy and adopt these as central to their values and beliefs;
  • Develop participants’ motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding;
  • Be patient, caring and empathic as well as challenging and demanding, and set high standards at all times;
  • Understand the implications of their practice on all the attributes of physical literacy;
  • Reflect critically and constructively on all aspect of their teaching.

As highlighted above, an understanding the key principles and philosophies of physical literacy are key to promoting physical literacy in practice. An understanding of the philosophy can also promote the facilitation of meaningful physical activity experiences.


This article has aimed to prompt discussion and thought in relation to how physical literacy can inform physical education and importantly identify some key questions that we should be asking in relation to evaluating our physical education offer. If you have any further questions that you think we should be asking please post them in the comment thread below.

Note: This is an adapted excerpt from Durden-Myers (2020).


Durden-Myers, E. J. (2020) Operationalising Physical Literacy Though Physical Education Professional Development. PhD Thesis, University of Bedfordshire.

Durden-Myers, E. J., Green, N. R. and Whitehead, M. E. (2018) Implications for Promoting Physical Literacy. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education. 37, (3), pp. 262-271.

Haydn-Davies, D. (2010) Chapter 14: Physical Literacy and learning and teaching approaches. In M. E. Whitehead (Eds) Physical Literacy Throughout the Lifecourse. Routledge. London.

Mouratidis, A., Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Sideridis, G. (2008). The motivating role of positive feedback in sport and physical education: Evidence for a motivational model. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 30, 240–268. PubMed ID: 18490793 doi:10.1123/jsep. 30.2.240

Whitehead, M. E. (Eds) (2010) Physical Literacy: Throughout the Lifecourse. London: Routledge.

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