The Importance of Primary School Physical Education

A recent study that I co-authored found that Australian children are significantly behind their Belgium peers on a test of basic coordination at 6 – 8 years. Moreover, both countries are behind normative data of children tested 41 years ago.

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We need to make Physical Education priority

Classroom teachers mostly teach Physical Education (PE) in Australian primary schools.  Staggeringly, the LOOK studies based in Canberra found that there were only two specialists PE teachers teaching PE in 30 randomly selected primary schools. These were similar to findings reported in NSW where classroom teachers mostly teach PE.

PE is perceived as one of the most challenging subjects in the curriculum for primary school teachers to deliver; yet, classroom teachers only have a small percentage of their pre-service training dedicated to PE.

It is therefore not surprising that a recent study revealed that children received only 13.5% of the mandated 150 minutes per week of PE when the lessons were delivered by a classroom teacher.

Should we bring back the dedicated PE teacher?

YES! The role of the dedicated PE teacher in schools with a focus on children’s development in education is paramount.

As highlighted in the LOOK studies, PE in Australian schools has the potential to enable children to be healthy and engaged learners at school (and achieve higher NAPLAN scores).

Critically, when PE was delivered by specialist PE teachers (as opposed to a classroom teacher), many positive health and academic benefits were observed. These included:

  • Reduced incidence of elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol
  • Lower body fat percentage
  • Enhanced insulin resistance
  • Improved numeracy and literacy

Given the rise in childhood obesity and the related physical health risks, now seems more important than ever for authorities to make trained PE teachers compulsory in all schools.

References

Bardid, F., Rudd, J. R., Lenoir, M., Polman, R., & Barnett, L. M. (2015). Cross-cultural comparison of motor competence in children from Australia and Belgium. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 964.    
Telford RD, Cunningham RB, Telford RM, Daly RM, Olive LS, Abhayaratna WP. (2013). Education Can Improve Insulin Resistance: the LOOK Randomized Cluster Trial.  Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise.
Telford RD, Cunningham RB, Waring P, Telford RM, Olive LS, Abhayaratna WP. (2013). Pysical education and blood lipid concentrations in children: the LOOK randomized cluster trial. PLoS One.
Telford RD, Cunningham RB, Fitzgerald R, Olive LS, Prosser L, Jiang X, Telford RM. (2012). Physical education, obesity, and academic achievement: a 2-year longitudinal investigation of Australian elementary school children. American Journal of Public Health.

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