Primary schools, the health and physical education learning area and ACHPER - Education Matters Magazine

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Primary schools, the health and physical education learning area and ACHPER

With the innate enjoyment that children have for movement and play-based learning, it is essential that HPE be supported through every primary school environment to ensure that every student has the skills, knowledge and understandings to be engaged, confident and capable learners, writes Alison Turner, ACHPER National Executive Director.

How often do we open a news article and hear of the concerns that face our children and youth regarding Health and Physical Education (HPE) issues? Reports range from articles focused on sedentary living, disengagement with physical activity, bullying, obesity, mental health and general student wellbeing in schools.

Often primary schools and teachers can be expected to provide a “cure” for all social determinants of health and wellbeing. HPE is a learning area that can support children in the choices they make and can manifest in the skills, knowledge and understandings that will ensure students are equipped to make decisions that will impact on their own and others health and wellbeing choices, hopefully for life.

As the leading professional association representing teachers and other professionals working in the fields of HPE, the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) is invested in making a difference to schools, teachers and students. The “available for use” (not yet endorsed) Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education delivered through the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is being implemented in schools with diversity amongst states. ACHPER has been proactive in advocating for the value of the HPE learning area, developing partnerships that can contribute to school’s HPE, sport, health promoting frameworks and activity. ACHPER also delivers professional learning opportunities to generalist and specialist primary teachers, with the aim of contributing to enhancing teacher career pathways.

The importance of HPE

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians is strong and clear in its intention for all young people to be supported through education to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008). The Australian Curriculum: HPE has been developed with this goal central to its construction.

HPE is the curriculum area that engages students in worthwhile learning experiences to develop skills, knowledge, self-efficacy and dispositions that will enable young people to live healthy and active lifestyles. The HPE learning area supports students to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing and also engage in lifelong activity.

A unique aspect of the HPE learning area is the wide range of learning contexts that provide substantial opportunities for developing interpersonal and collaborative skills, good communication, decision-making and goal-setting skills. Movement is a powerful medium for learning and, through it, students can develop and practise a range of personal, social and cognitive skills. HPE is a contributor to the development of resilience strategies and skills for conflict resolution and assertiveness.

Challenges in the provision of HPE as a learning area in primary schools

Schools are challenging as well as highly-rewarding environments. Primary schools and teachers have much asked of them to deliver a holistic scaffold that will ensure students will develop the confidence and capabilities in all learning areas. A ‘crowded curriculum’ is a phrase often reiterated and recognised universally. Schools have community demands placed upon them to address each and every student’s needs. ACHPER also recognises that educators and schools may be immersed in the “Literacy and Numeracy” conversation and pressures brought to bear by NAPLAN and the impact that this may have on decisions in regards to timetabling support for HPE. Advocacy with principals’ associations and federal and state policy makers is imperative to supporting the delivery of quality HPE and supporting teachers as they do so.
ACHPER blogs, including one by Norm Hart, former Australian Primary Principals Association President, (see and recent academic research have brought wider attention to the emerging evidence between HPE, physical activity and cognitive development. Emerging evidence indicates an improvement in academic results when more, not less, HPE and physical activity is timetabled into the school program. Therefore improved student health and wellbeing and academics equates to great incentives for schools!

Much is asked of primary teachers to deliver across all learning areas and engage each and every student on an individual learning pathway. Primary teachers play an important role in delivering HPE and extra-curricular sporting programs that also enhance school communities. Not every teacher may feel confident in the delivery of HPE, however should be commended on their ability to know their students and deliver pedagogy that will engage with the needs of their students.

HPE is best taught in curriculum time by a teacher delivering the learning area to students. The HPE learning area, teachers and schools are aware of the responsibility to support students through education to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens. For this to be achieved, the importance of quality HPE delivery in schools cannot be understated to ensure children are given developmentally appropriate opportunities to engage in active play and positive health choices.

Parents also play a vital role in their children’s engagement in healthy and active lifestyles particularly in primary school aged children where lifestyle choices are often reinforced through parent modelling. Choices around sedentary lifestyles, health self-efficacy and literacy, and engagement with screen time are supported by skills, knowledge and understandings gained in HPE curriculum, but require reinforcement by parents and primary schools.

How can ACHPER support primary teachers in HPE?

ACHPER advocates for HPE, provides partnership links with education authorities, National Sporting Organisations and other health stakeholders, and also delivers professional learning and resources that can enhance school HPE and teacher quality.

ACHPER supports the Australian Curriculum: HPE in its current ACARA form with curriculum content identifying what teachers are expected to teach and students are expected to learn in HPE from Foundation to Year 10. We strongly believe, as would many of you in your roles as primary teachers, that the implementation of the Australian Curriculum: HPE in the early years of schooling from Foundation – Year 2 is imperative to ensure that holistic child development outcomes from the Early Years Learning Framework are transitioned into the Australian Curriculum through HPE.

Learning in HPE is enhanced when primary teachers are aware of the five interrelated propositions underpinning the Australian Curriculum: HPE; focussing on the educative purposes, developing health literacy, including a critical inquiry approach, taking a strengths based approach and valuing movement. This has been the focus of much of ACHPER professional learning both at the state branch level and through our International Conferences. ACHPER will continue to unpack the five propositions and will support teacher understanding of the implications these propositions have for the HPE learning area.

Whilst we recognise that some decisions are best made at the state and school level, ACHPER also believes that it is necessary for schools to provide opportunities for physical activity participation throughout the year. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (Department of Health, 2014) highlight the need for minimisation of sedentary behaviour and engagement in regular physical activity to gain health and wellbeing benefits. The primary years of schooling are important periods for establishing lifelong physical activity participation by fostering opportunities to appreciate and value movement and this is best delivered to students by teachers.

A school environment, curriculum and parental expectations make schools vibrant and evolving communities. ACHPER would like to advocate strongly for HPE as a learning area and other enrichment activities such as sport, dance, outdoor education and evidence-based health programs, to be a crucial element of your school. With the innate enjoyment that children have for movement and play-based learning, it is essential that HPE be supported through every school environment to ensure that every student has the skills, knowledge and understandings to be engaged, confident and capable learners.


Alison Turner is the National Executive Director of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation Inc. (ACHPER). She is originally from Adelaide where she was educated and completed her tertiary studies before teaching in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia. She has held various positions including that of Principal Consultant HPE K-12 for the WA Department of Education 2008 – 2012 and recently has led the Active Living WA project as the principal policy officer for this project.

With a background in elite level Volleyball and coaching, she has been Vice President of the WA Branch of ACHPER, member of course advisory committees for writing and developing senior school courses in West Australian Certificate of Education Senior School courses in Physical Education Studies, Health Studies and Outdoor Education, worked with gifted and talented programs including the establishment and review of specialised programs in WA secondary schools, worked as a sessional lecturer at Edith Cowan University in Health Studies from 2009 -2011 and led the WA education department consultation processes during the development of the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education.


Celebrating its 60th year in 2015, the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation Inc. (ACHPER) aims to promote active and healthy living for all Australians through education, advocacy, partnership and professional practice. ACHPER is represented at a National level, and also has branches in each state and the Northern Territory.

ACHPER has direct contact with over 30,000 HPE professionals and reach to over 3.5 million Australian students in over 9,000 schools throughout Australia. These contacts include specialist and generalist Primary and Secondary HPE teachers, academics and tertiary educators leading HPE teacher training, Principals, students, sport coaches, and education policy and curriculum leaders. We are a member based, not-for-profit organisation with a significant profile across the country.

ACHPER also deliver resources, blogs and ongoing opportunities to enhance teacher quality through our website and our two National publications; The Active and Healthy Magazine and the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education. By offering continuous and current information to teachers, it provides members with the opportunity to tap into the ACHPER academic networks and current evidence-based information that may influence their practice. For further information, please visit



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