New governance and Physical Education and School Sport policy: A case study of School to Club Links

Lesley Phillpots, Jonathan Grix

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Background: International concern regarding the marginalisation of physical education in school curricula worldwide led to international calls for the establishment and strengthening of national, regional and local networks to integrate physical education into education, sports, health and related policies. The subsequent introduction of the national Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy in England in 2002 appeared to address some of these concerns and was an innovative, ground breaking infrastructure in which schools and local partners worked together to deliver PESS to their communities. The School to Club Links (SCL) initiative was one of nine PESSCL work strands designed to empower and strengthen the links between schools and local sports clubs in order to increase the number of children and young people in accredited sports clubs. A European Union (EU) study entitled the Current Situation and Prospects for Physical Education in the European Union trumpeted the PESSCL strategy as a model of good practice.

Purpose: In this article we use the SCL work strand as a case study to examine the policy-making process. We draw upon a growing body of literature in political science that focuses upon the concept of ‘new governance’ which postulates that policy-making in Western states during the past 20 years has substantively changed from one of hierarchical modes of governance instigated by governments, to horizontal models that involve local policy actors and interest groups in power sharing agreements. This article investigates the extent to which these ‘new governance’ arguments hold true and are reflective of policy-making and implementation for PESS in England.

Methods: We draw upon empirical data from a project that analysed policy change for selected aspects of the PESSCL strategy and the SCL work strand in particular. Interviews were conducted with a range of government, sport and education agents who had been involved in the policy area for at least five years in order to elicit an agent-informed perspective. Documentary analysis was also used, as it provided an ‘integrated and conceptually developed method, procedure and technique for locating, identifying and analysing documents for their relevance, significance and meaning’ and included a range of government sport policy documents, National (Sport) Governing Body (NGB) annual reports and inspection evidence from quangos such as Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust (YST).

Data analysis: Our analysis used deductive and inductive procedures which involved scanning the data for categories and relationships among the initial pre-defined questions. As Ten Have suggests, a two-stage data analysis process was adopted. Inductive analysis was used in the examination of documentary evidence such as NGB annual reports, whilst deductive analysis arose from the insights provided by ‘new’ governance theory.

Findings: Our data suggests that policy delivery and implementation in this case exhibits few of the characteristics highlighted by ‘new’ governance theory. Indeed we argue that such approaches that privilege the concept of decentralised power hold little weight in policy arrangements for SCLs in England. It appears that government intervention and centralised state control permeate all facets of policy delivery and implementation in this case.

Conclusion: We propose that horizontal models of governance through the involvement of localised policy actors are not reflective of policy area delivery for SCLs. Indeed our case study reveals highly structured and hierarchical arrangements for policy delivery that exhibit little of the celebrated ‘new governance’ principles that many political scientists describe.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-96
Number of pages20
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number1
Early online date11 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • new governance
  • School to Club Links
  • PE and school sport policy
  • policy-making, power


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