Skip to content

Blog post Part of series: BERA Conference 2023

Learning how to enact student voice and promote meaningful experiences in primary physical education

Grace Cardiff, PhD Student/Primary School Teacher at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, Ireland

Student voice has become increasingly prominent within educational research and practice, with many international curricula mandating for the enactment of student voice practices within the classroom. The physical education (PE) sphere is no exception, with student voice positioned as the solution to the disengagement problems long associated with PE. Student voice offers a method by which PE can be made more engaging and meaningful for students. However, the how of student voice remains a fuzzy concept, particularly at primary level. How best can we support the voices of children in making informed decisions about their PE experience, with the ultimate goal of nurturing meaningful experiences?

‘How best can we support the voices of children in making informed decisions about their PE experience, with the ultimate goal of nurturing meaningful experiences?’

I am a generalist classroom teacher in Ireland, and as part of my PhD research, I aimed to investigate the role of student voice pedagogies in promoting meaningful experiences in PE. Through a self-study approach, I researched my own experience in enacting student voice pedagogies in my primary PE practice (Cardiff et al., in press). I also explored and collated data on my 5th-class students’ (10–11 years old) experience of student voice pedagogies in PE (Cardiff et al., 2023).

Guided by the Meaningful PE framework (Fletcher et al., 2021) and Lundy’s (2007) model of participation, I began to implement a more democratic approach within my lessons. I started with closed choices: for example, the children were encouraged to pick a warm-up game from three choices given or select the order of the activities completed in lessons. Gradually, as I observed the children’s enthusiasm for shared decision-making, I began to use more open-ended choices in PE. The children were encouraged to alter the challenge level of tasks to match their ability and were facilitated in choosing groups that worked for them. A 5–10-minute period of personal practice time was offered in lessons, in which the children could work on a skill of their choosing within the topic being covered. The help of the children was also enlisted in creating and directing new games and activities; a responsibility which was taken very seriously by the children.

The enactment of a democratic approach in my PE practice necessitated the implementation of reflective practices (Fletcher et al., 2021). Encouraging the children to think more deeply about their PE experiences was an essential prerequisite to their full engagement in student voice pedagogies. During lessons, I would prompt the children to think about how an activity could be modified to match their needs  – for example, ‘How could we make this task more/less challenging?’ ‘Are the groups working in their current form?’. After PE lessons, we would reflect together and plan for future lessons – ‘What would you change about today’s PE lesson?’ ‘What does next week’s lesson need to include for it to benefit you?’ The children would also be encouraged to reflect individually through written reflection: they responded to reflection prompts and set personal goals for future lessons.

This research provides some insight into how student voice can be used as an everyday pedagogy in primary PE, within the realities of a generalist classroom teacher. While the enactment of student voice pedagogies within my practice presented a significant learning curve for both me and my students, it played a pivotal role in informing my teaching and empowering my students, allowing us to work together in nurturing more meaningful experiences in PE.

Grace Cardiff received the BERA Annual Conference 2023 – Physical Education and Sports Pedagogy SIG Best Presentation Award for the paper ‘Languages provision in UK further education’.


Beni, S., Fletcher, T., & Ní Chróinín, D. (2017). Meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport: A review of the literature. Quest, 69(3): 291–312. 

Cardiff, G., Ní Chróinín, D., Bowles, R., Fletcher, T., & Beni, S. (2023). ‘Just let them have a say!’ Students’ perspective of student voice pedagogies in primary physical education. Irish Educational Studies, 42(4),

Cardiff, G., Beni, S., Fletcher, T., Bowles, R., & Ní Chróinín, D. (in press). Learning to facilitate student voice in primary physical education. European Physical Education Review. Advance online publication.

Fletcher, T., Ní Chróinín, D., Gleddie, D., & Beni, S. (2021). The why, what, and how of meaningful physical education. In T. Fletcher, D. Ní Chróinín, D. Gleddie, & S. Beni (eds.), Meaningful physical education (pp. 3–19). Routledge.

Lundy, L. (2007). ‘Voice’ is not enough: Conceptualising article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6), 927–942.