Essential Components of Physical Education: Policy and Environment

Sheri L. Burson, Shannon C. Mulhearn, Darla M. Castelli, Hans van der Mars

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose: Physical education policies provide guidance and accountability to develop quality programs that increase physical literacy. The purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic review of physical education policy research to explore its effects on the school environment and programming as an essential component of physical education. Methods: Using the PRISMA guidelines of identify, screen, determine eligibility, and include, studies were extracted from four different databases, using search terms related to the essential physical education component of policy and environment. Of the 225 publications identified, 42 studies met the inclusion criteria for this investigation. Each paper was coded, and emergent themes were identified. Results: The policy research was predominantly descriptive and focused on: (a) minutes in physical education (83%), (b) moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA; 31%), (c) certified/qualified teachers (24%), (d) exemptions (17%), and (e) student-teacher ratio (12%). Emergent themes of adherence, policy strength, and implementation accountability were identified as influential physical education policy aspects. Conclusions: Policy research over the last 20 years was focused on the regulatory mandate of time. Policy research did not directly address disciplinary process variables of learning activities or outcomes of physical education. The effects of policy exemptions and class size were underrepresented. Themes may explain the lack of reporting student performance as the primary outcome. Further research is needed to examine the downstream effects of physical education policy and determine whether well-written policies increase the number of physically literate individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-221
Number of pages13
JournalResearch Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Educational policy
  • physical activity
  • physical education
  • school

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Nephrology


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