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Research Case studies

The Impact of School Sport Partnerships on High Quality Physical Education and School Sport for Young People


School sport partnerships (SSPs) have been at the centre of a national strategy for Physical Education and School Sport (PESS) in England for seven years, aiming to improve both the range and quality of opportunities for young people to be physically active.


While annual surveys show significantly increased opportunities for young people to be physical active, both in curriculum PE and in out of school sport there has been less evaluation of the quality of these new experiences using insights from qualitative research. This research drew on ethnographic data (interviews, observations and questionnaires) from one SSP over a period of three years, and sought to explore how coordinators adapted to their new role, and specifically how they responded to, and made sense of their practice in relation to the gender equity. The findings showed the difficulties of many coordinators to ‘think outside the box’ and provide activities other than competitive sport.


There was little evidence of strategies aimed at increasing the physical activity participation of under-represented groups, such as girls and young women.


The second part of the research took place in the final year of the strategy and drew on interviews with experienced coordinators across eight sport partnerships in the north of England. After several years in the role, what were their perceptions of good practice in high quality PESS. Good practice was described as underpinned by educational rather that performance pedagogy, linked to wider whole school agendas, and sustainable (for example, through the continuing professional development of non-specialist primary teachers). Interestingly, interview data showed coordinators recognised the importance of providing activities other than traditional sport for engaging previously inactive young people was also recognised, although there was less evidence of an accompanying, innovative pedagogy.

Research outputs

  • Flintoff, A., Foster, R., & Wystawnoha, S. (2011) Promoting and sustaining high quality physical education and school sport through school sport partnerships, European Physical Education Review, 17, 341-351.
  • Flintoff, A. (2008) Targeting Mr Average: Participation, Gender Equity, and School Sport Partnerships, Sport, Education and Society, 13, 413-431.
  • Flintoff, A., & Cooke, B. (2005) Playing to Learn: Out of school hours learning in PE and sport., British Journal of Teaching Physical Education, 36, 43-47.
  • Flintoff, A. (2003) The School Sport Co-ordinator Programme: Changing the Role of the Physical Education Teacher? Sport Education and Society, 8, 231-250.

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