A practice theory approach to primary school physical activity: opportunities and challenges for intervention

Fiona Spotswood, Gareth Wiltshire, Sara Spear, Yvette Morey, Jennifer Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
102 Downloads (Pure)


A significant body of critical scholarship exists problematizing the dominant behavioural-individualist approaches to public health policy and intervention, and practice theories have been noted for their potential in providing an alternative. Children’s physical activity in primary school settings continues to be a major area of attention in public health, yet no critical examination of a practice theory approach exists in this context. This paper addresses this gap by applying the prevalent three-elements model of practices to the case of children’s school-based physical activity. Drawing on focus group, interview and observation data from pupils, staff and parents at one primary school setting in England, our analysis highlights; first, how the configurations of (a) physical resources (e.g. playground space and equipment), (b) practical know-how (e.g. a skilled understanding of performing the activity), and (c) the socio-cultural significance of practices (e.g. the values and meanings of the activity) impact how, and whether children’s physical activity happens, and is sustained or interrupted; and second, by showing how physically active practices are contingent on being simultaneously in harmony or conflict with other routinized practices of the school day. We conclude that the three-elements model offers a helpful framework for understanding school physical activity which de-centres the individual, but that there are challenges in using this analysis to support primary schools as they attempt to enable physically active practices more effectively. Further research is required to develop and evaluate a practice theory approach to promoting children’s physical activity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)392-403
Number of pages13
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number4
Early online date13 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021

Structured keywords

  • MGMT Marketing and Consumption


  • physical activity
  • school
  • children
  • social practices
  • public health


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