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Open Access Research article

Physical activity among adolescents and barriers to delivering physical education in Cornwall and Lancashire, UK: A qualitative study of heads of PE and heads of schools

Spencer Earl Boyle1*, Georgina L Jones2 and Stephen J Walters1

Author Affiliations

1 University of Sheffield, Health Services Research, ScHARR, Research Centre, Regent Court, 30 Regent St, Sheffield, S1 4DA, UK

2 University of Sheffield, Institute of General Practice & Primary Care, ScHARR, Community Sciences Centre, Northern General Hospital, Herries Road, Sheffield, S5 7AU, UK

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:273  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-273

Published: 1 August 2008

Abstract

Background

Recent initiatives have been introduced by the UK government into secondary schools to increase pupils' access to physical activity (PA). Despite this, not enough is known about pupils' levels of physical activity or whether the delivery of these initiatives in schools facilitates or creates a barrier for pupils' PA. The aim of this study was to gain an understanding of adolescents PA levels from the perspective of those responsible for delivering physical education (PE) in schools; heads of PE (HOPE) and heads of school (HS).

Methods

Seventeen semi-structured qualitative interviews were carried out with a snowball sample of HOPE and HS in schools in the Northwest and Southwest of England. Thematic data analysis using NVIVO was used to identify emergent themes.

Results

17 core themes were generated, 12 of which confirmed the findings from similar research. However, five themes relating to 'ethos of performance/elitism', 'lower fitness leads to lower ability', 'undervaluing activities within PE dept' or school as a whole', 'role of the school' and 'PE department doing all it can' offer valuable new insight into the factors which may encourage or prevent PA inside or outside the curriculum.

Conclusion

Despite many positive perceptions of the delivery of PE in schools, it is evident that barriers still exist within that delivery which discourages physical activity. More research is needed to particularly address the complex issues of elitism and the ethos of PA in schools.