Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Sport, Education and Society




Taylor and Francis


School of Education




This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in SPORT, EDUCATION AND SOCIETY on 09/02/2020, available online:

Wilkinson, S. D., & Penney, D. (2021). Setting policy and student agency in physical education: Students as policy actors. Sport, Education and Society, 26(3) 267-280.


© 2020, © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. In turning a spotlight on students in physical education, this paper seeks to extend applications of policy enactment theory, and particularly, the policy actor framework. Following the lead of Stephen Ball and colleagues, the research that this paper draws on examined the various dimensions of context shaping policy enactment in different schools. The focus of the research was policy associated with ability grouping, and setting particularly, in physical education. The research involved case study work in three mixed-gender secondary schools in England, with 15 physical education teachers participating in semi-structured interviews and 63 students participating in semi-structured focus groups. This paper reports on the data arising from focus groups with students. The actor framework is used to bring to the fore differences in student responses to policy, their capacities to proactively engage with policy, and explore what shapes the differences observed. Notably, the data signalled that students were by no means passive recipients of policy. There were clear instances of students exercising agency in physical education, sometimes questioning and challenging how they were positioned within and by setting policies, and at other times, responding in ways that demonstrated their capacity to navigate and mediate policy and its impact on them as learners. This paper therefore explores some of the ways in which students are both positioned by and position themselves in relation to policy.