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A minimum of 2 hours of fun and effective physical activity is a must each week in schools August 26, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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by Dr Christina Curry

I listen to stories all the time about terrible experiences people have had with physical education (PE) at school. The stories mainly feature: dreaded laps of the oval or standing in lines waiting to have a turn with sporting equipment, as well as the pressure of performing skills while everyone is watching, and feeling totally uncoordinated and humiliated.

Negative experiences in PE during school can result in a total dislike and avoidance of physical activity that is often carried through life. Physical inactivity contributes to the deaths of over 13,000 Australians annually and results in more than $1.5 billion in direct health care costs each year (NSW PA Audit, 2012). Parents and carers need to take some responsibility but as educators we also must play our part in contributing to a happier, healthier Australia.

Schools play a key role in providing positive opportunities for children to participate in physical activity. A report into the physical activity of NSW government primary students found just 30% of schools are mandating the two hours of planned physical activity each week (NSW PA Audit, 2012).

The ideal scenario to ensure all children participate in the required physical activity is to provide quality education in PE through the use of a specialised PE teacher, something I discussed a couple of years ago in a previous blog post.

Until the current NSW state government recognises the importance of a specialist PE teacher, we need to examine what schools can do to warrant generalist primary teachers building their confidence in teaching PE enjoyably and effectively. This action will play a major part in developing students’ lifelong love, and participation in, physical activity.

Let’s explore four ideas for how that might occur:

  • ensure all teacher education programs in universities are providing quality professional preparation of primary pre-service teachers in health and physical education (HPE) curriculum.

 This means supporting pre-service teachers who lack confidence and fear teaching PE. Often pre-service teachers model their own teaching on the style and method they experienced as students or while they were members of sporting clubs. (Morgan & Hansen, 2007). Those previous teaching styles and methods might not reflect best practices that build all students’ enjoyment and confidence in physical activity.

  • place a higher status on PE in schools through promoting the potential benefits of physical activity on overall health and wellbeing.

 Physical activity improves psychological wellbeing and is known to reduce depression; it minimises the likelihood of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Recent studies (Telford, Cunningham, Telford, & Abharatna, 2012) show physically fitter children perform cognitive tasks more rapidly, and that relatively short and specific aerobic exercise training interventions improve the executive functions of mental processing and strategically-based decision making.

  •  provide more professional learning to support and increase the confidence of generalist primary teachers to teach PE.

 In-school support to generalist primary teachers must guarantee PE is programmed in the curriculum, and that PE lesson plans are provided, as well as regular workshops, mentoring and quality resources. Such steps positively influence teachers’ beliefs about PE.

  • use Game Sense as a pedagogical model.

 As Australian schools move towards a national curriculum there is pressing urgency for high quality pedagogy that highlights the possibilities for learning through movement in PE. Such pedagogy involves redressing the division of the mind from, and elevation above, the body. Such views contribute strongly toward PE being relegated to a ‘low status subject’ in the school curriculum (Light, 2002). The isolation of PE from the academic curriculum is exacerbated by remarkably resilient, ‘traditional’ pedagogy for teaching the practical aspects of the HPE curriculum that just focus on sporting skills. To read more about the Game Sense approach to PE refer to a past blog post. As teachers of this critical part of the school curriculum we must ensure that the value of participating in physical activity is recognised and that school students’ experiences of PE are positive and enjoyable so that they come back for more, and stay healthy and active, throughout life.


Audit Office of New South Wales (2012). Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools.

Curry, C., & Light, R. (2007). Addressing the NSW Quality Teaching Framework in    physical education: Is Game Sense the answer? Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Asia Pacific Conference on Teaching Sport and Physical Education for Understanding.

Light, R. (2002). Social nature of games: Australian preservice primary teachers first experience of TGfU. European Physical Education Review, 8(3), 291-310.

Morgan, P., & Hansen, V. (2007). Recommendations to improve primary school physical education: classroom teachers’ perspectives. The Journal of Educational Research, 101(2): 99 – 108.

Telford, R. D., Cunningham, R. B., Telford, R. M., & Abharatna, W. P. (2012). Schools with fitter children achieve better literacy and numeracy results: evidence of a school cultural effect. Paediatric Exercise Science, 24(1), 45.

Dr Christina Curry is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney


1. Serena Mazzullo - August 27, 2013

Australian governments should make sport in schools an ongoing priority and agree that physical education must be delivered by each school as if it were a separate key learning area in the national curriculum. This is important because not only does it decline the rate of obesity it also play a fundamental role in the physical development of gross-motor skills such coordination, strength and agility. Children who withhold these skills are more inclined to participate in sporting activities as they get older. Students who have not developed these skills due to not being taught are then left with a unfair disadvantage. This is because when entering secondary school these students are expected to have already attained these skills.
Why would any teacher want this to be the reason for this to happen to your students? just implement 2 hours a week simple as that.

2. Kenny Pham - August 28, 2013

I agree completely with what you have written Christina. The importance of physical activity is not recognised and acted upon enough in the society we live in. Year by year, statistics shows the detrimental results of physical inactivity however I believe that the way that our education system runs has not been sufficient in supporting change for Australians health status. The importance of PE must be recognised and focused upon for this change to happen. Healthy lifestyles should be instilled into students right from the very beginning when they start primary school with the support of PE trained teachers, this way individuals are more likely to continue physical activity even after schooling.

Kenny Pham (17020914)

3. Tim Wood - August 28, 2013

I believe that physical activity within all levels of schooling is a priority; especially during the later years of high school. I was discussing with my year 12 teacher once about his view of physical activity in sport and why they eliminated physical components of PDHPE in year 11 and 12. His words were: “It has been labelled that students should focus more on studies then wasting time on sport”. That was the ideas of the executives at the school and assuming the government at the time. He also went on to say that: “Physical activity doesn’t just keep you physically health but mentally stable as well. When ever I feel stressed or overwhelmed I use to go for a run or kick a ball around and it would refocus me.” I went on regular runs and played soccer twice a week and I feel that got me through the HSC. Student need an outlet to release their built up stress. I coach a young female soccer team, a lot of parent would pull there girls out of the season to ‘focus on HSC’ and it is such a shame to see them lose their physical activity.

4. Christina Needham - August 28, 2013

Health and Physical Education should be compulsory in NSW and Australian primary schools. As mentioned in this blog, obesity is a major concern in Australia and primary schools provide opportunity to address and prevent the prevalence. Physical activity in primary schools would be an effective approach since it would address many of the social determinants which influence health. In this way all students would have the access and support to participate and improve their health.
The strategies suggested to improve the confidence of generalist primary teachers to deliver physical education would be beneficial. However, there remains a strong need to include health and physical education as a mandatory component of the curriculum in primary schools. The fact that only thirty per cent of NSW government primary schools are meeting the minimal requirement for physical activity is extremely disappointing.

5. Stefan Kljajevic 16535972 - August 28, 2013

Schools in Australia have a greater need to focus on physical education and there is clearly a lack of this focus as seen by Australia’s weight problem in the younger populations. With only 30% of schools providing the standard 2 hours of physical activity, Australia seems to be heading into a downward spiral of negligence towards physical activity and most likely forget the entire subject.

There is a clear need for recognition and focus on physical activity in early childhood as there is evidence to support that healthy habits are continued throughout later stages in life. for example as mentioned motor skills are a crucial stage for primary school students as it enables them to physically participate in secondary sport activities. Without the 2 hours allocation of physical activity, teachers are not given the time to spend developing theses skill and so younger students consider well being and physical activity as less important in and beyond their school life.

It is now our responsibility as pre service teachers to pick up the ‘slack’ and enforce these health habits through pedagogical practices such as games sense in order to motivate teens into physical activity.

6. Dermott Morgan - August 28, 2013

Nice blog, it is almost impossible to argue against increasing the presence and importance of physical education in both primary and secondary schools. There are some alarming facts that highlight the importance of taking action to increase physical activity and this blog nails this on the head. The biggest action I believe that needs to be taken is in regards to having specialist PE teachers in primary schools. The benefits of this are clear and include most importantly an increase in physical activity levels.

7. christinacurryChristina Curry - August 29, 2013

Great to see this important issue has generated some discussion and thank you all for contributing. The important part is supporting schools to ensure that mandated hours are not only met but the experience is enjoyable and contributes to learning and wellbeing of all students. I look forward to the DEC response and action plan from the audit undertaken in 2012.

8. Nader Awad - August 29, 2013

30% of schools mandating the minimum 2hrs of physical of activity is extremely low! I believe it is a difficult task to educate and train teachers of generalist teachers to be competent in teaching PE. Schools must invest in having specialist PE teachers to be bringing in knowledge, passion, and and competence in teaching PE. University must also send out students much earlier to their practicums. Studying for 3 years without going on prac is quite detrimental in the progress of studying teachers. I believe one’s pedagogy can be taught but must be practiced coherently. Therefore studying things such as game sense and TGfU must be practiced as soon as possible in schools as to inscrease motivation and interest for our students in PE.

9. A minimum of 2 hours of fun and effective physi... - August 30, 2013

[…] Physical inactivity contributes to the deaths of over 13,000 Australians annually and results in more than $1.5 billion in direct health care costs each year (NSW PA Audit, 2012). Parents and carers need to take some responsibility but …  […]

Penny Laidlaw - August 31, 2013

I can’t possibly think of any reasons why educated people would have objections to these ideas. they are realistic goals that will most definitely have a positive impact on the lives of young Australian’s. This ideology of PE not being an important factor, which i hope changes for good, is just ridiculous. How could preparing students for a healthy lifestyle in all factors be a negative concept and time wasting? Academics outside the realm of PE need to re-evaluate there thoughts!
I found the statistic of only 30% of schools fulfilling the requirement quite alarming. Although teaching can become some-what of a cycle as a majority of pre-service teachers become teachers because of teacher they had. if that teacher didn’t have strong pedagogical practices then this may result in the pre-service teacher becoming a model of them.
Within the PDHPE course that UWS runs pre-service teachers aren’t sent out into a schooling context for a practicum until they start their post graduate studies. Although it is not a bachelor of ed. the course is taught with the intention of going on to be PDHPE teachers so it would be beneficial for the pre-service teachers to have some sort of experience.
Hopefully these ideas can be implemented soon!

10. Lisa Close - September 1, 2013

It is sad to see that schools use the allocated time for PE, on other key learning areas as PE is not deemed important in their eyes. Research has shown that PE increases students learning abilities and provides an outlet to unwind and enjoy some physical activity. As primary schools do not employ specialised PE teachers, it becomes difficult for students to learn and practice necessary gross and fine motor skills. With this in mind, students reach high school, with many finding it difficult to throw and catch a ball (I have seen it for myself). Ensuring students learn these skills at a young age is important.

The way a PE class is taught, I believe, is the most important aspect of school students. The activity or game needs to be enjoyable for all students, where they feel it is exciting and fun to participate in PE. As a pre-service teacher, we have all heard students say ‘I can’t do PE today cause I am sick or have a sore ankle.’ Yes, this may be true for some, however, it is now an overused excuse, as students either don’t like PE or feel that others will judge them.

11. Melissa Kane - September 1, 2013

I definitely agree with the above comments already made. The requirement of Physical Activity in Schools is something that constantly needs to be stressed to ensure it is being seen through. I believe the main idea is to not just get student’s active, but to incorporate game style activities and promote enjoyment, through inclusive and engaging activities e.g. including both new and known games to encourage excitement but also curiosity. These elements would definitely heighten the experience and willingness children, as well as teachers have in educating them through these means.
I honestly couldn’t agree more that there should be 2 hours at least set aside to PA per week in schools, if not, we should push for even more! 😉

12. Annie Collins - September 1, 2013

Physical education is one of the most beneficial and life enhancig subjects within any curriculum throughout Australia but is unfortunately also considered to be the most indespensible. I agree with the notion that the only way to change this social and educational norm is to promote the presence of HPE within primary schools. The foundations of physical activity need to be compentently and confidently deleivered to young children to ensure these lifestyle behaviors carry on throughou their youth. The only way to achieve this is to encourage primary school teachers to be empowered to modify or even remodel their own teaching values and understanding of health education to ensure HPE strategies are effectively addressed.

13. Alice Poynton 16768983 - September 1, 2013

I agree that it is essential that a minimum of 2 hours of Physical Education is a must in all schools each week. I was shocked when I went on my practical at the amount of students who were breathing heavily after a simple game of ‘lines’. This was only a warm up activity and was not a vigorous form of exercise and at least half of the class where struggling to keep their breath. I think it is very important for teachers to be educated in ways they can provide their students with an adequate amount of physical education each week as they are the ones who the students will take note of. If the teachers are not confident enough and do not display enthusiasm whilst teaching PE than this will create a negative and ‘boring’ atmosphere which the students will pick up on. It is essential that primary teachers are shown engaging, and fun ways to teach PE to reduce the negative image, of running laps etc., they have created associated with PE lessons. This may assist them to build confidence with their development of PE lessons resulting in an engaging environment for their students, which will lead to students becoming more actively engaged in PE lessons during their high school years.

14. Samantha Gale - September 1, 2013

As society becomes more sedentary and the obesity rates of children increase, it is evident that physical education is underestimated in the importance of students lives. It should be mandatory that all students participate in the recommended 2 hours a week of physical activity. This can be achieved by incorporating physical education in the primary school curriculum and employing PE teachers at primary school. As the blog mentions that primary school teachers lack the confidence and knowledge to engage the students in physical activity. Hiring of PE teachers will incorporate a variety of activities, increase the engagement of students, participation rates and decrease the risk of injury.

15. Sheridan Worthington - September 1, 2013

Through reading this I am still shocked that many do not see or place importance of the area of PE in school education. The human body was created to move and if children do not grow up understanding this, how are they going to pass the importance through future generations to come? It is interesting reading some of the comments left in regards to this blog; I agree with many others who have made comment that we need to fight for the support of PE in schools and bring to attention how important it is for the development of the child. Something that really grabbed my attention in this blog is the content learnt in PE surrounding disease and illness is so important. With that crazy statistic of 13,000 Australian dying per year through lack of physical activity is shocking- this is why we should make PE a priority! Students need to be well educated in all aspects of health. It is so important that teachers from primary as well as secondary other KLA’s. as in the past PE is seen as low priority.
I couldn’t agree more with PE using a game sense approach as not only does this get all children active, it provides them with a way of easily learning skills throughout games in a fun setting that can be achieved by all students- no matter what their fitness/sporting level. This also eliminates children with having those horrible memories in the future about running circles round the oval, rather, they will hopefully have fond memories of learning skills throughout games in PE.
Hopefully people will begin to realise how important this actually is!!

16. Lauren Wade - September 3, 2013

As I enter into my second professional experience in another teaching area to PDHPE I am saddened at the general attitude of other teachers towards this subject area. They do not see the importance of physical education to a students health, well-being and performance at school. In fact, this particular school is slowly dwindling the hours of school sport since the teachers are not interested in joining in activities or sports. Many would rather stay and teach their own method area instead of getting out and being physical with the students. The negative effects of this behaviour will rub off on the students and we will see a decrease in structured sport because students will not want to participate either. A whole school approach is needed to emphasise the importance of physical activity and for it to be fun so students fill motivate to participate.

17. Mark Collard - September 12, 2013

Folks, I concur with much of what you are saying here. In the effort to find scientific research and evidence that physical activity is not only useful, but absolutely critical to nourish a human being’s development – not to mention, generate new brain cells – look no further than Dr John Ratey’s work in his latest book ‘Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise & The Brain’ It is a riveting read, and should be compulsory reading for everyone involved in developing the new Australian Curriculum for HPE. Also check out http://www.playmeo.com for a massive online database of group sense type activities which can be easily integrated into HPE classes. Through play, your students will be actively engaged in their learning… and isn’t this half the problem solved?

18. Nathan Francis - September 15, 2013

It’s disappointing to see the statistics surrounding the physical inactivity of primary school students, and even more disappointing to hear that there is very little being done by NSW government schools to ensure that students participate in at least two hours of physical activity per week. As Christina has said, an increased level of support is needed to ensure generalist primary teachers have the confidence to teach PE effectively. I believe this can be achieved at the university level, with teaching programs stressing the importance PE in the primary curriculum, so that pre-service teachers can learn the skills and build the confidence to effectively teach PE. Secondly, ongoing support in the school would ensure that generalist teachers continue to value physical activity, and ensure that the benefits can be seen across all learning areas. This may be achieved through either permanent specialist PE roles being offered in the schools, or through continued training and staff development.

All too often we hear the comments by teachers of other learning areas that PDHPE is not important or beneficial, but as the research shows, there are countless benefits to participating in physical activity, such as the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, as well as the reduced burden of disease, death and disability (WHO, 2004). As PDHPE teachers, we must advocate and promote the importance of physical activity for all young people, by fostering positive attitudes and encouraging/supporting all teachers, especially generalist primary teachers, to see the importance and benefit of including at least two hours of physical activity each week in school.

Nathan Francis

19. Zeinab Youssef - September 15, 2013

After reading this article it shows how schools should take PE seriously due to high number of statistics of deaths and health care cost. The Australian Government should make PDHPE a priority in Primary Schools and High Schools. I believe that the Australian Government should focus more on prevention and have interventions in place to allow the numbers to drop and make Australians more healthy. 30% of schools mandating the minimum 2 hours is a very low number and is very disappointing as this shows that schools are not interested in the wellbeing of there students. I also believe that Primary school teacher’s should be further trained in PDHPE or better yet implementing PDHPE High School teachers to go into primary schools and teach PDHPE to students is also a better option for the Australian Government to implement. I agree with Nader Awad’s comment about making University students go out to Practicum during the 3 year undergraduate degree and that the government should implement putting PDHPE qualified teachers in teaching PDHPE to primary school students. The Australian Government should also think of ways to make PDHPE more appealing to Australians to help prevent diseases and deaths.

20. Kate - November 6, 2013

Yes, it is very important that children, teens and every adult gets enough exercise but it is not something that is, or ever should be, forced upon children via competitive school sports. Please, children can get exercise in many many different ways. Walking, dancing, playing etc, they don’t have to have competitive sports shoved down their throats at school. In fact why doesn’t the education system do something really productive and actually spend more time concerning themselves over English and Maths before it’s only 30% of children that can read, write and spell in this country. Now that is a growing concern.

christinacurryChristina - November 19, 2013

Thank you for your contribution Kate, however you have missed the point in relation to the importance of physical education in schools. If PE is taught correctly it is not about competitive sports at all but rather playing modified games, dancing and experiencing a range of recreational sports. Schools have a responsibility to ensure students can read and write but they also have a responsibility to ensure holistic wellbeing. It is important all children experience and value positive physical activity experiences and continue to be physically active throughout their lives.
Please read my other blogs for further information:

Mark Collard - November 20, 2013

Kate, I too am concerned by the pre-ponderance of PE teachers with sport and competition. BUT… I do agree with Christina’s reply – it doesn’t have to be that way. Also, do not lose sight of the fact that if physical education is delivered appropriately, then there is a direct and strongly correlated relationship between active students and higher academic performance.

To this end, the simple argument is that if our school systems invited our students to take up more physical activity in their day (not just competition or sports, but fun group games too), their brains will be super-charged to absorb more knowledge and ideas which will equip them with the skills to be tackle English, maths, etc.

For more info on the direct scientifically proven relationship between the science of exercise and the brain, seek out Dr John Ratey’s book ‘Spark.’ It is awesome, and aims to revolutionise our educational ‘systems.’

Mark Collard – playmeo.com
playmeo.com – the leading online database of group games & activities

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