Every-body counts?Reimagining Health and Physical Education in Primary Schools

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Waikato
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2011
Project end date: 
March 2013
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Kirsten Petrie
Research team members: 
Marg Cosgriff, University of Waikato and Dr Lisette Burrows, University of Otago
Research partners: 
Shane Keown and Joel Devcich (Knighton Normal School), Joanne Naera and Deirdre Duggan (Maungatapu Primary School)

Project Description

Health and Physical Education (HPE) in New Zealand primary schools has been dominated by games, sports, fitness, and illness prevention. This narrow and teacher-centred version of HPE has been “nice for some and nasty for others” (Evans & Davies, 2002, p. 17). This project draws on the shared expertise of teachers and researchers to reimagine HPE in ways that support teachers
and children to have meaningful experiences, relevant to their diverse backgrounds, needs and interests. In doing so, this project offers a rare glimpse of curricular ideals enacted in practice.


Two research questions drove the project.

  • What are the characteristics of HPE teaching and learning in primary schools and classrooms?
  • How do teachers take up, adapt and deploy innovative approaches in HPE, and with what effects on student learning?

The research took place with four variously experienced teachers drawn from two ethnically diverse schools, one in Hamilton and one in Tauranga. The classes spanned Year 3 to Year 6. The 2-year duration of the project afforded opportunities for ongoing dialogue and developing respectful relationships among the research team,as well as the chance for the university partners to spend significant periods with teachers and children in their
The overarching methodological approach was focused on building practice through a community of reflective inquiry, where the shared expertise of all participants (teachers and university researchers) was respected. This allowed us to work as partners to co-construct the research, rather than positioning university researchers as “experts”. Across the study we employed a range of research methods, which aligned with the Teaching as Inquiry process articled in The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 35). First, we used ethnographic case studies to glean a detailed picture of the contextual factors which shape teachers’ work. The case studies also gave us a rich understanding of teaching and learning practices, and insights about how curriculum may be reimagined. From this platform for critically reflective inquiry we worked
together to co-construct a reimagined version of HPE. Teachers then trialled alternative ways of thinking about and doing HPE in their classes. Here the research approach shifted to teacher-led action research/inquiry, grounded in the community of reflective inquiry. Our research process comprised four distinct phases.


Project Contact

Dr Kirsten Petrie
University of Waikato

Project Outputs



Naera, J. (2013) Making the most of the Wiggle Room: Negotiating the non-negotiables in primary school health and physical education. Principals Today, Term 1, 2013, p. 16, available at http://www.magazinestoday.co.nz/Magazines/Principals+Today.html

Devcich, J. (2013) Re-visioning what it means to be active: An Interview. Journal of Physical Education New Zealand, 46(1), p. 16. Electronic copy courtesy of Physical Education New Zealand



Petrie, K. (Submitted for publication) Everybody Counts: A reimagining of Health and Physical Education in Primary Schools. Education Aotearoa, NZEI Newsletter.


Conferences, presentations, and workshops

Burrows, L., Petrie, K., Cosgriff, M. (Sept, 2012) Every-body counts: A reframing of health and physical education in primary schools. British Education Research Association Conference. Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom.

Petrie, K., Cosgriff, M., Burrows, L., Duggan, D., Naera, J., Keown, S., Devcich, J. (Nov, 2012) Partnership, pizza, and philosophy: Building respectful research relationships. NZARE National Conference, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Petrie, K., Cosgriff, M., Burrows, L., Keown, S., Devcich, J., Naera, J., Duggan, D. (Nov, 2012) Walking the talk: Inspiration and innovation in Health and Physical Education in New Zealand primary schools. NZARE National Conference, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Devcich, J., Keown, S., Naera, J., Duggan, D., Cosgriff, M., Petrie, K., & Burrows, L. (July, 2012) HPE in the primary school: Teachers talk about their practice. Physical Education New Zealand (PENZ) National Conference. Rotorua, New Zealand.

Burrows, L., Petrie, K., Cosgriff, M. ( Dec, 2012) What’s in a name? Doing health education differently in primary schools. AARE-APERA Conference, University of Sydney, Australia.

Naera, J., Duggan, D., Cosgriff, M. (Nov, 2012) Rethinking HPE at Maungatapu Primary School. University of Waikato, Tauranga Campus.

Devcich, J., Keown, S., Petrie, K. (Nov, 2012) Rethinking HPE at Knighton Normal School. University of Waikato, Hamilton.

Duggan, D., Naera, J. (Sep/Oct, 2012) Presentation to Senior management and BOT, and Staff Meeting Presentation. Maungatapu Primary School.

Keown, S., Devcich, J. (Nov, 2012) Presentation to Senior management, and Staff Meeting. Knighton Normal School.


Conferences, presentations, and workshops

Petrie, K., Cosgriff, M., & Burrows, L. (2011, July) Every-body counts? Researching HPE in the primary school. PENZ National Conference - Physical Education: The route ahead? Methven, New Zealand.

Petrie, K. (2011, July) Ethics in classroom research: More questions than answers. NZ CARN Symposium: Ethical Issues in Action Research, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Cosgriff, M., Petrie, K., & Burrows, L. (Dec, 2011) Everybody counts: HPE in the primary schools. NZARE National Conference, Tauranga, New Zealand.

Petrie, K. (Dec, 2011). Planning for learning or planning for activity: PE in the primary school. PENZ HPE Symposium, Auckland, New Zealand.