Prominent developments in English PE and school sport (PESS) policy across the period of Conservative-led governments since 2010 have not been empirically or comprehensively researched. In addressing this shortcoming, this study was uniquely underpinned by punctuated equilibrium theory in order to respond to long-standing difficulties of differentiating and explaining both policy change and continuity. Application of this theory benefited from the collection and analysis of qualitative and quantitative data from ten elite interviewees, policy documents and searches of broadsheet newspapers and parliamentary records across a 15-year period. Overall, the ring-fencing of significant funding for PESS since 2013 indicates that successive Conservative-led governments maintained and further embedded the enhanced status of PESS that had initially emerged in the 1990s. On the other hand, significant modifications in PESS policy increasingly aligned it with health-related objectives and were implemented through a decentralised model that differed significantly from the standardised, top-down approach enacted by preceding Labour governments. It is argued that these policy changes represent a ‘policy punctuation’ which occurred across 2010 and 2013 when the attention of cabinet ministers was drawn to PESS as a result of a confluence of external events and dramatic spikes in wider media and political interest. Subsequently, a reconstituted but expanded coalition of key PESS policy actors has supported the re-establishment of ‘equilibrium’ and continuity in PESS policy. These findings demonstrate the broader importance of distinguishing the continuation of a relatively high status for PESS from the intermittent salience that it has at the highest levels of government. In-depth explanation of both a rare policy ‘window’ for PESS policy change and long-standing institutionalisation of policy continuity was also significantly enhanced by the utilisation of punctuated equilibrium theory, demonstrating its distinctive value for future studies of PESS and sport policy.
Lindsey, I. (2020). Analysing policy change and continuity: Physical education and school sport policy in England since 2010. Sport, Education and Society, 25(1), 27-42. https://doi.org/10.1080/13573322.2018.1547274