Governments, NSOs and schools working together to increase children’s sport participation in Australia? A critical analysis of the Sporting Schools policy initiative

Year: 2016

Author: Hogan, Anna, Stylianou, Michalis

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The Australian federal government launched Sporting Schools in 2015, constituting a significant investment in school-based sports development in Australia. The $100 million policy initiative administered by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in collaboration with over 30 of Australia’s national sporting organisations (NSOs), seeks to deliver sporting programmes to primary school students before, during and after school. Sporting Schools is focused on fostering a lifelong interest in sport in Australian children and its key purpose is to empower schools to encourage children to do more sport-based activities and subsequently, connect children to community sports programmes for ongoing participation.This aim of this paper is to examine the initial roll out of Sporting Schools and the ways that NSOs have approached the development of school-based sporting programmes, and moreover, how these NSOs are interacting with government in the development of sport policy, and schools in the enactment of sport policy. We situate our research within the changing context of sport policy in Australia; from the government’s historical focus on funding elite level sport to a now broader focus on encouraging mass sport participation for all Australians. We also consider the increasing policy focus on school-based sport development globally over the past two decades. Our theoretical framework considers how sport policy in Australia is now enacted ‘heterarchically’, that is, through the emergence of new policy networks and new relationships between government, NSOs, schools, teachers, parents, students and so on. The empirical section of this paper describes Sporting Schools and examines the initial effects of its enactment in Australian primary schools through the work and perspectives of key NSOs. Our analysis reveals that various types of programmes were developed by the NSOs, and were delivered by NSO-accredited coaches and/or private providers. Most NSOs attempted to align their programmes with the health and physical education (HPE) curriculum, and discussed up-skilling teachers through their programmes and materials. In many cases, these programmes were offered during HPE time, thus serving as a form of outsourcing. Challenges identified included administrative burden for NSOs, unclear communication and changes in processes, and the ability of coaches to manage and teach large groups of children. Additionally, there was a lack of processes facilitating and tracking the transition to community clubs. Results highlight both opportunities and challenges for stakeholders in a heterarchical framework of sports governance. These results can inform the future implementation of school-based sports programmes.