‘I actually used to like PE, but not now’: understanding care-experienced young people’s (dis)engagement with physical education

Young people’s experiences of, and (dis)engagement with, physical education has received considerable attention in recent years. Yet one ‘group’, care-experienced young people, remain ‘hidden’ within the prevailing literature. In light of their apparent invisibility within research, this novel, exploratory study seeks to gain some understanding of the factors associated with (dis)engagement from/with physical education among this youth population. In contrast to the few studies that explore the broader physical culture experiences of care-experienced youth that prioritise the voices of adults, this paper combines data from two studies to give voice to the experiences of four care-experienced young men in England, alongside those of key adults, namely residential staff, foster carers and physical education teachers. Data were derived from participatory research methods with the young people and semi-structured interviews with the adults who work with/for them. Drawing upon Bourdieu, principally his notions of field, habitus and capital, the findings suggest that these care-experienced young people are at a pedagogic disadvantage, since they are not as well positioned to access opportunities for learning and participation or develop, maintain and extend those skills and dispositions that are recognised as valued capital in physical education. Moreover, the changing room, as a sub-field of the broader physical education space, where bodies are particularly on display, may present obstacles for care-experienced young people’s engagement due to their prior experiences of physical and/or sexual abuse. This study therefore calls for further research exploring care-experienced young people’s experiences of physical education, teachers’ understandings of care-experienced youth, and how their pedagogic practice might shape (dis)engagement with physical education.