The curriculum future of Health and Physical Education in Australia: How influential can a national professional association be?

Year: 2008

Author: Penney, Dawn, Hetherington, Sharon

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Amidst Federal government advances towards a National Curriculum, this paper focuses on the prospective future curriculum position, content and requirements for Health and Physical Education (HPE) across Australia. Research that is exploring political and policy discourses relating to these issues is used as a basis from which to identify the current position of HPE as simultaneously one of marginality and opportunities. In Federal and State/Territory arenas, limited attention is being directed towards HPE amidst a dominant focus on other learning areas that have widespread acceptance and privileged status as 'core' curriculum components. From the perspective of the States and Territories, Health and Physical Education is not amongst what have been termed 'fundamentally important disciplines: English, mathematics, science and languages other than English' (Council for the Australian Federation, 2007, p.14). In the Federalist paper 2 it was acknowledged, however, that 'Health and physical education are increasingly critical for student and community well-being' (p.14).

This paper identifies HPE as a learning area capable of presenting a strong case that it has the potential to effectively service multiple political imperatives, and more specifically, prompt greater linkages between health and education. Continued diversity in HPE curriculum across the States and Territories is highlighted, however, as posing questions, about the willingness and capacity of key stakeholders to actively advance that linkage. Further, it is acknowledged that some members of the HPE professional community may justifiably challenge the merits of pursuing enhanced policy alignment between health and education. Amidst a professional arena renowned for fragmentation, this paper explores whether and in what ways, a national professional association may be able to facilitate collaborative action that will enhance the curriculum future for HPE across Australia. The paper reports and critically analyses the action that the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) has instigated and may seek to advance in this regard. At the end of 2007 ACHPER formed a national working group with a remit to develop a national statement and national action plan in response to a rapidly changing education policy scene in Australia. The stated view of the States and Territories at that time was that 'it is time to reassert the importance of national collaboration to promote high-quality schooling for all Australian students, whatever jurisdiction, school system or individual school is involved' (Council for the Australian Federation, 2007, p.6). National professional associations are identified as having a potentially important role to play in facilitating, informing and mediating collaborative action with regard to curriculum provision and expectations for student learning across State/Territory jurisdictions. National and international examples are drawn upon in evidencing this potential. Revisions to the National Curriculum in England are presented as exemplifying highly effective strategic action on the part of a national professional association to secure a core curriculum presence for physical education across all years of schooling.

From this backdrop, ACHPER's prospective role and progress to date in countering continued marginalisation of HPE in education policy and curriculum developments, is addressed. Ball's (2007) emphasis that most policies are 'ramshackle, compromise, hit and miss affairs' that are also destined to be 'reworked, tinkered with, nuanced and inflected' as they are progressed towards expression in practice (p.44) is used as basis from which to identify scope and potential for the HPE professional community to counter marginality and actively inform future curriculum directions. The concepts of policy 'borrowing and copying' (Ball, 2007, p.44) are presented as potentially productive tools to employ in this endeavour.