Pupil Voice in Physical Education and the desire for (in)visibility

David Littlefair, Michael Jopling, Nancy Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The importance of children is a universally accepted concept in schools. However, do we actually listen to what children have to say? Rudduck and Fielding (2002, p.2) argue that the voices of pupils are ‘silent’ or ‘silenced’. The aim of this study was to listen to the voice of pupils, concerning their experiences in Physical Education (PE) in schools, with the direction of the study being driven (although not co-designed) by pupils and thereafter following the issues that they raised. It involved 154, 14-16 years old pupils across the two schools, one an independent school and the other a state academy.

A focus group in each school (6 pupils per study) drove the direction of the study which then sort breadth through a questionnaire to the whole year group in both schools (154 respondents) and finally depth through 12 individual interviews. A theoretical framework (Social Field Theory) was selected post findings to ensure that it best represented the emergent data.

Through this Pupil voice method, five themes emerged, those being Participation, Choice, Pressure, Ability and Development, and Health. These indicated that pupils have vastly different experiences in the PE lesson, in particular, if they are at either end of the ability spectrum. For some it is that of humiliation and censure, and for others it is about success and achievement. The uniqueness of the lesson with regard to physique and the exposure of both skill and body can affect this duality, negatively and positively. This can lead to the desire for, or coerced, (in)visibility for many pupils. Solutions from pupils, at both ends of the ability spectrum, to counter issues in PE involved giving choice of activity and having ability setting for classes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalSport, Education and Society
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2024


  • pupil voice
  • physical education
  • secondary schools
  • social field theory
  • independent schools


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