The hows and whys of gendered grouping practices in primary physical education in England

Shaun D. Wilkinson*, Annette Stride, Dawn Penney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Single- and mixed-sex grouping have long been a focus of attention in physical education (PE) and are matters often at the fore of discussions about curriculum planning, teaching, and learning. Nonetheless, there remains little consensus or guidance on which approach (or combination of approaches) should be preferred in PE in primary and secondary schools in England. Further, while single- and mixed-sex grouping have been extensively researched in PE in secondary schools, hitherto there remains an absence of research examining these practices in PE in primary schools. This research sought to address gaps in the literature to build a stronger evidence-base for decisions about gendered grouping practices in PE. Specifically, the study was designed to provide a snapshot of current single- and mixed-sex grouping arrangements in primary PE in England.

Method: Data were collected via an online survey which was administered to all state-funded mainstream and special schools providing for children in Key Stage 1 (aged 5–7) and/or Key Stage 2 (aged 7–11) in the North-East of England (917 at the time of study). A total of 254 surveys were completed giving a response rate of 27.7%.

Results: The responses indicate that nearly all schools were using mixed-sex grouping for PE, with children typically remaining in their mixed-sex form class and taught the same curriculum activities by their class teacher. Notably, no schools were using single-sex grouping for all PE lessons, although some were teaching combinations of single- and mixed-sex classes across different year groups and/or different activities of the curriculum. The responses also challenge the traditional dichotomous representation of single- and mixed-sex grouping by showing that some schools were grouping children into smaller single-sex groups within mixed-sex PE classes, particularly in activities requiring bodily contact. Some schools were also organising children into smaller mixed-sex groups within mixed-sex PE classes to encourage boys and girls to work together and support one another in their learning. Reported reasons for current grouping arrangements reflected both pragmatic considerations and perceived educational benefits of particular approaches, including school timetabling and consideration of gender equity in curriculum provision in PE.

Conclusion: The conclusion calls for further research to explore the efficacy of single- and/or mixed-sex grouping in supporting and meeting the needs of all children in primary PE. Relatedly, we also highlight the importance of intersectional perspectives being brought to single- and mixed-sex grouping debates to inform the development of more nuanced, evidence-based policies and practices that promote inclusion and celebrate the diversity of children. We further suggest a need for research and policy to reconsider the language used in grouping practices to reflect commitments to gender diversity and gender equity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Early online date1 Jul 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jul 2024

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