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Physical Education External Provision in Irish primary schools

Jessica Mangione Melissa Parker Mary O’Sullivan

External provision is developing as a trend in schools worldwide, and physical education is no exception to this trend – see for instance New Zealand (Dyson et al 2016), the UK (Griggs 2010, 2012), and Australia (Williams et al 2011; Sperka and Enright 2017a, 2017b). Within the education system, external provision or outsourcing refers to the process of curriculum work being provided by an outside organisation or persons (Lair 2012). In the primary physical education context this means that aspects of the physical education curriculum are delivered not by teachers in the school, but instead by parents, other volunteers or specialised sport coaches, and in some cases by specialist post-primary physical education teachers.

One of the main reasons used to justify the use of external providers of physical education in primary school is to avail of expertise in the private sector. It has been posited that privatisation ‘is not only a governmental intervention based on transferring public education services to the private sector, rather it is a messy assemblage of rationalities, politics, institutions, relationships, discourses, individuals and subjectivities’ (Powell 2015: 73).

‘Regardless of the costs and benefits, external providers, in some way, are involved in the determination of the curriculum and in how students experience physical education in English-speaking countries.’

There are benefits to external provision, such as increased expertise and equipment, the variety of teacher and student learning opportunities (Smith 2015) and, the opportunity to develop partnerships between schools and sport clubs (Sloan 2010; Hogan 2016; Parnell et al 2017). At the same time, there are also potential drawbacks, including poor pedagogical knowledge among some providers, and incongruence between content delivered and designed curriculum goals (Dyson et al 2016). Regardless of the costs and benefits, external providers, in some way, are involved in the determination of the curriculum and in how students experience physical education in English-speaking countries.

In Ireland, primary physical education is taught by generalist teachers, and many do not feel comfortable or confident in teaching it (Kinchin et al 2012). Many primary schools engage with external providers to expand sport and physical education experiences for children – so much so that 85 per cent of Irish primary schools use Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) coaches to deliver some physical education classes (Bowles and O’Sullivan 2012). The purpose of this paper was to understand the nature and scope of the external provision of physical education in Irish primary schools. A network analysis (Hogan 2016) was conducted to identify the most common external forms of provision in Ireland. Findings indicated that 22 different external providers support some aspect of physical education in Irish primary schools: the three most common types of provision are around GAA (Gaelic football, hurling/camogie, Gaelic handball), swimming and dance (Irish dance, hip hop and so on).

In conclusion, it is well-known that external provision is common in primary schools; it is also known that in some way this provision determines what is learned in physical education and how it is learned. What is not yet known is the extent of the provision, the benefits (or drawbacks) of this trend in Ireland, and how the stakeholders involved (teachers, external providers, principals and students) live this experience.


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