Schooling, as an institution within our society, is charged with the formal and compulsory education of young people. However, social theorists such as Pierre Bourdieu, argue that schooling processes and practices go well beyond formal curriculum and constitute society within the individual, as a means of societal reproduction. In Australia the education system, and its associated research, has only recently begun to focus on the experiences of young people in their middle years of schooling. What is known about these experiences and the influence of practices as enculturation processes is minimal. A focus on the middle years has been the result of concerns over the disengagement, alienation, and marginalisation of young people towards schooling during these middle years and as associated with the transition from primary to secondary school. More specifically within the learning area of Health and Physical Education (HPE), similar concerns exist, coupled with solicitude towards students' participation in physical activity and sport, and the possible relationship to a decline in health. The dearth of literature to illuminate the complex process, practices, and relationships between young people and physical education warranted further research, particularly so for the middle years of schooling in the Australian context where the research fields have not, until now, coincided. The reflexive nature of the study has worked between the generated data from fieldwork in schools and the work of researchers informing what is known about young people, physical education, and the middle years of schooling.
Chapter 1 sets the broader context of the study within Australian education, with particular reference to the field of physical education and the middle years of schooling. The literature that informs what we know about young people, physical education, and transfer as a process within the middle years is mapped in Chapter 2. As outlined in Chapter 3, the study draws from a number of theoretical perspectives including critical pedagogy, post-structural feminism, cultural studies, and youth studies. Through the use of these perspectives, the study attempts to analyse the relational positioning of 24 students within their physical education class using Bourdieu's conceptual tools of habitus, field, capital, and practice. The students participated in the study as one Year 7 class, during their final year of primary school, and as members of nine Year 8 classes in their first year of secondary school or middle school. A classroom generalist teacher and physical education specialist teacher worked with the students in Year 7 and five specialist Health and Physical Education teachers were primarily involved with the classes in Year 8. The participants and their schools are described, as are the methods used for data generation and analysis.
A multi-method approach was taken for data generation in an attempt to include as many students' perspectives as possible over the 16 months of fieldwork. The methods included interviews, field observations, questionnaires, journals, videoing, photography, and Qsorts. The data were analysed using the tools of grounded theory, critical discourse analysis, descriptive statistics and Qmethodology to constitute a theory of practice, as encouraged by Bourdieu. Issues arising from the reflexive research process between data, theory, and my own habitus were ongoing throughout the study and are reflected upon in an Epilogue.
Chapters 4 to 6 inclusively present the literature, data, and discussion focussing on three dimensions that relate to the thesis questions. Chapter 4 centres on the practices and processes of transition within the middle years of schooling, transfer being the primary transition of note. Physical education as a social field acts as the organizing theme for Chapter 5 before concentrating on student habitus in Chapter 6. The key findings of these chapters suggest that schooling in general, and physical education in particular, needs to redefine and refocus practices within the middle years, before, during and after transfer. Transfer can be situated as a powerful disruption, and therefore possible learning process, as part of the middle years, warranting explicit attention by students, teachers, and adults involved in education. It was concluded that three foci require attention within the middle years of schooling, namely learning, the habitus of individuals, and the social nature of the class.
Consideration towards notions of student "participation" and "difference" inform a list of principles in Chapter 7 targeting different agents within the field, to promote shifts from currently oppressive to more socially just practices within schooling and physical education. Two possible future physical education scenarios, using and promoting a pedagogy of imaginative praxis, are then put forward as alternatives to those observed in this study. These scenarios are constructed from my experiences, observations, engagement with research, and imagination, in an attempt to illustrate what practices might look like in the classroom, recognizing that some already exist, but not on a large scale or in a systematic way. The scenarios acknowledge the importance of a multi-agent approach to change within a field including teachers, administrators, teacher educators, policy and curriculum writers, researchers, and significantly, students.
The thesis argues that physical education has the potential to develop other ways of knowing and being in the world for young people and those within the field that includes teacher, administrators, curriculum writers, teacher educators, policy makers and researchers, beyond those discursive spaces dominating our society and reproducing practices that are alienating, marginalising and disengaging. However, this potential will only be realised if the field constantly reflects on its constituted and constituting practices, and shifts towards a more socially-just orientation that is inclusive of its members and open to change. I suggest that subjects and learning areas associated with the field of physical education have no future in the school curriculum should these shifts not be made.