Schools ‘critical’ to tackling inactivity crisis

Schools ‘critical’ to tackling inactivity crisis

Research shows 81% of Australian children are not meeting physical activity guidelines.

A report card released by the Active Healthy Kids Australia late last year scored Australia a D-minus for children’s physical activity levels, ranking our nation 32 of 49 countries.

According to Sport Australia CEO, Kate Palmer, schools are a “key vehicle” to solving the nation’s inactivity crisis.

On Monday, Sport Australia launched the 31st Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) International Conference at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

The ACHPER conference, which runs until Wednesday, includes 250 delegates from around the world including physical education teachers, sport educators, coaches and associated health practitioners.

“Sport and physical activity can play a crucial role in the holistic development of children, putting them on the path to vibrant and productive lives,” Palmer said in a statement on Monday.

“It can impact positively on their physical and mental health, social development, and their ability to learn. There is also a long-term gain because we know children who grow up active and playing sport are 10% more likely to remain active as adults.”

Palmer said the Federal Government’s $200m Sporting Schools program, managed by Sport Australia, is one example of how Australian children get free access to physical activity.

“In just over three years, the program has reached 84% of Australian schools,” she said.

However, she said that despite the program’s enormous reach, evidence says more needs to be done.

Increasingly, Australian children are unable to perform basic fundamental movement skills such as running, throwing, kicking, catching or jumping.

To reverse this, Federal Sports Minister, Bridget McKenzie, says state governments should make sports and physical literacy compulsory in schools.

While physical education as a subject is already compulsory in high schools, McKenzie said it is often “hit and miss” whether public schools were offering sport as part of the curriculum, especially in regional areas where schools often struggle to attract specialised teachers.

NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) president, Chris Presland, said that a more important part of tackling the inactivity and obesity crisis in Australia is the need to focus on the dietary habits established by parents.

“There also needs to be a more serious approach to the way our society handles fast food advertising and food labelling. Schools simply cannot be expected to pick up everything,” Presland told The Educator.

Like Presland, Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) president, Dennis Yarrington, said he would welcome teacher education courses having mandatory competency levels of graduating teachers to teach the PE Learning Area of the curriculum.

"The challenge is supporting all teachers in the primary school to have the necessary competence and confidence to teach the curriculum," Yarrington told The Educator.

"A focus on physical activity is a whole of community task, not just schools. It requires parents, community organisations, governments and sporting clubs to work together in collaboration with schools. Physical literacy begins well before school, as does readiness for learning in literacy and numeracy."