Author: Dr Chloe Woodhouse
This qualitative study explores the Physical Education and School Sport (PESS) experiences of young people who are or who have been looked-after , i.e. who have been under the care of their local authority at some point. In recent years, there has been unprecedented awareness within policy and research of the disadvantageous trajectories that children and young people in care often face; particularly in relation to their education, health and wellbeing (Sempik et al., 2008). Despite the perceived capacity of sport/physical activity to contribute to young people s positive development (e.g. Holt, 2008; Bailey et al., 2009), few studies have considered the role of sport and physical activity in the lives of looked-after children and young people (LACYP). Indeed, to date, there remains a dearth of research on LACYP s experiences of sport and physical activity in educational contexts. This study, therefore, seeks to contribute to an increased understanding of this under- researched area. In keeping with more recent attempts to place person and circumstance at the heart rather than the periphery of sociological research (Holland et al., 2008) and in the interests of promoting the voices of marginalised and vulnerable young people (e.g. Heath et al., 2009; O Sullivan and MacPhail, 2010), this thesis provides new insights into the ways in which LACYP experience PESS, and how their broader life circumstances impact and shape those experiences. In so doing, the study adopts a conceptual framework in the form of a social ecological model that possesses five levels of influence at the individual, interpersonal, institutional, community and public policy level (see McLeroy et al., 1988). Considering both adult and youth voices (generated through semi-structured surveys and interviews with young people, PE teachers and local authority professionals), the empirical data presented makes an original contribution to knowledge by foregrounding the multiple social ecological influences that are at play within LACYP s experiences of PESS. For example, the study highlights how the social ecological context for each LACYP presents notable difficulties in relation to personal and physical environment, pre-care experience, health and wellbeing, and educational engagement. What the resultant findings depict is that LACYP s lives are highly complex and multi-dimensional and should not be viewed in isolation from wider life circumstance. To this end, the study seeks to challenge the wayin which PESS is currently offered to LACYP (and others with complex needs) and therefore has implications for research, policy and practice. This includes issues with regards to the different perspectives of adults and young people; the appropriate training for PE teachers; and the methodological challenges of doing research with LACYP.