Leaping the Hurdles: Using an Ecological Approach to Develop Physical Education for Autistic Students: an Action Research Study

PhD Thesis

Stockley, C. 2020. Leaping the Hurdles: Using an Ecological Approach to Develop Physical Education for Autistic Students: an Action Research Study. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Education and Communities https://doi.org/10.15123/uel.892xq
AuthorsStockley, C.
TypePhD Thesis

Literature demonstrates how physical activity can support the needs of autistic students. Physical activity includes all forms of physical education (PE) and school provides an important environment for physical activity in PE lessons. However, for many autistic students, these are inaccessible. This study describes how PE practice was improved collaboratively in an autism school by exploring how seven teachers, 34 teaching assistants and one senior leader engaged in action research during one academic year. Sixteen students were asked about their perspectives.
Teacher and TA questionnaires revealed that PE practice pre-intervention was unfit for purpose due to insufficient subject knowledge and confidence. Thematic analysis provided direction for an intervention which included staff training, timetable changes and formation of a working party. Planning and a resource bank were created during the intervention, with working party minutes providing evidence of the process. Three semi-structured interviews with PE working party members’ post-intervention unearthed multifactorial experiences and understandings of PE for autistic students.
Student preferences did not match staff perceptions which characterised a deficit model of needs. A pre- and post-intervention audit confirmed how developing a PE co-ordinator role improved practice and although staff valued PE and believed there should be a PE teacher, they maintained class-based teaching. Thus, PE lessons were outsourced post-intervention. Viewed through an ecological lens, findings indicated how teacher agency and policy discourse interacted across interconnected systems. Complex factors of environment and individual dispositions impacted staff engagement, and organisational structures of funding and staffing influenced staff enactment of the PE intervention.
Further research and strategic direction are required to map PE initiatives focussing on change in a local context with wider implications of initial teacher training and models of professional learning. Recommendations for PE practice in autism schools and beyond are discussed and a pathway for pedagogical change is presented.

PublisherUniversity of East London
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/uel.892xq
File Access Level
Publication dates
Online06 Apr 2021
Publication process dates
SubmittedOct 2020
Deposited06 Apr 2021
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