How might physical education contribute to a whole school approach to emotional wellbeing for primary school aged males?
: An ethnographic study.

  • Amy Bushell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Educational Psychology (DEdPsy)


Over recent years, there has been a decline in the emotional wellbeing (EWB) levels of children and young people (CYP), and an increase in mental health conditions diagnosed. Within national and local policy, schools are increasingly situated as key locations for supporting the EWB of CYP through the application of whole school approaches (WSAs). Such multi-component approaches call for the consideration of EWB at all levels within schools. The current study explores physical education (PE) as a universally delivered part of school life and, therefore, as a possible contributor to WSAs to EWB for a group of primary school aged males.

The current study is qualitatively orientated to support a philosophical acceptance of the multiplicity of CYP lived experiences and interpretations of these experiences. Using ethnography, the study sought to illuminate the PE experiences of CYP, and to consider the ways in which PE might contribute to a WSA to EWB. Over ten weeks, participant observations and conversational interviews were employed with a class of year five males (aged 9-10 years), at a single academy school in the South of England.

It was found that, for the most part, PE is positively experienced by males, though feelings may fluctuate both temporally and in terms of individual emotional regulation skills. Regarding a contribution to a WSA to EWB, three main themes were identified: relationships with other children, relationships with adults and individual differences. It is suggested that PE can contribute to WSAs to EWB for males, provided the social, emotional and physical environments of PE are considered, and alongside an understanding of individual differences in how such environments are appraised. Limitations are noted, including that the study only considers males, and cannot provide insight into the experiences of females in PE. Suggestions are made for how EPs may support schools to harness PE as part of their WSA.

Reflections are shared, the quality of the study is appraised, and the potential contribution of the current research is highlighted.
Date of Award28 Nov 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorWilliam Turner (Supervisor) & Rob Green (Supervisor)

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