A socio-ecological approach to understanding adolescent girls' engagement and experiences in the PE environment: a case study design

Fiona Mitchell, Jo Inchley, Jo Fleming, Candace Currie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adolescence is known to be a period of increased risk for the development ofunhealthy behaviours such as physical inactivity (Currie et al., 2011). Lowphysical activity (PA) levels are especially noted in girls, who typically engage inless PA than boys throughout the teenage years (Whitehead and Biddle 2008).In Scotland, evidence suggests there is a significant decline in PA amongadolescent girls, with only 41% of 13-15 year olds achieving the currentrecommendations, compared with 56% of 11-12 year olds (Scottish Executive,2011). In addition, a proportion of girls are not engaging with school PE classes(Niven et al., 2014; Kirby et al., 2012). In order to understand more about howand why this decline exists, a sample of 20 ‘disengaged’ 12-13-year-old girls(second year of secondary school) were recruited from four case study schoolsin Scotland. This study aims to explore the interaction between the social andphysical environment, and how these affect disengaged girls’ experiences andengagement in PE. Girls were categorised as ‘disengaged’ from PE if they didnot participate regularly and reported negative emotions about the subject. Girlstook part in in-depth interviews to explore their experiences and engagement inPE. The theoretical framework is based on Welks (1999) Youth Physical ActivityPromotion model (YPAP), a socio-ecological approach which conceptualisesthe influential correlates of PA as: individual-level predisposing and enablingfactors, including personal attributes and environmental variables andreinforcing (social) factors. This model was applied within a Scottish educationcontext to understand the importance of each component and also theinteraction between these and the influence that one may have on another. Theresults indicate that although the type of activity offered in PE is important, itappears that perceptions of competence and the social environment these weredelivered in, such as single-sex classes, had more of an influence on girls’engagement in PE. For this group of Scottish adolescent girls, the widerpsychosocial environment in which PE takes place may have a greater impacton levels of enjoyment and participation than the PA itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-62
Number of pages19
JournalGraduate Journal of Sport, Exercise & Physical Education Research
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Adolescent girls
  • Physical education
  • Physical activity
  • YPAP model


Dive into the research topics of 'A socio-ecological approach to understanding adolescent girls' engagement and experiences in the PE environment: a case study design'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this