Short shrift for sport in crowded curriculum

William Micallef and Chris Chiam (right) play soccer at Mackellar Primary in Delahey – a school that meets the targets for hours of sport per week.
William Micallef and Chris Chiam (right) play soccer at Mackellar Primary in Delahey – a school that meets the targets for hours of sport per week.

TECHNICALLY Olympic chief John Coates got it wrong when he blamed Australia's lacklustre Olympics performance on the failure to make sport compulsory in schools.

Sport has, in fact, been compulsory in government schools in Victoria since 1994, with the number of hours devoted to the subject mandated in both primary and secondary schools. But it's compulsory in name only and the time allocation is often not met.

An already crowded curriculum, the focus on numeracy and literacy following the introduction of NAPLAN tests and a lack of specialist primary PE teachers mean school sport often falls by the wayside.

The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation estimates that fewer than half of Victorian government schools actually teach the mandated number of hours, which range from 20 minutes of physical education a day in prep to 200 minutes a week of sport and physical education in year 10. ''There is no real penalty for schools that do not meet the mandate,'' said the council's Victorian chief executive Tim Burke. ''I think John Coates' sentiment was on the right track in terms of providing every student every possible chance to develop skills and a love of sport.

''We would like to see every school meet the mandate.''

Education Minister Martin Dixon said he expected schools to teach the mandated hours - ''not just for gold medals at the Olympics, but because it is good for kids socially, academically and physically''.

One school that does teach the mandated hours is Mackellar Primary in Delahey, in Melbourne's west.

The school's qualified PE teacher, Sally Wilson, teaches sport to all students, including those with disabilities.

''We have a very crowded curriculum but the emphasis on the whole child is really important,'' said principal Janice Szmal. ''There is a tendency to focus on literacy and numeracy to the detriment of all else but we don't see that as productive. We find our students are much more focused, happier and more engaged when they have PE and sport - all of them look forward to it.''

University of Sydney academic Dr Steve Georgakis, the co-editor of Youth sport in Australia, said policymakers neglected grassroots PE and sport programs in schools 15 years ago. He said sport was not mandated in the new national curriculum subject Health and Physical Education, which will be introduced from 2014, and sport was no longer a stand-alone subject.

Many schools also no longer participated in competitive sports against other schools. ''ABS statistics say 40 per of children do not participate in any sport outside of school,'' Dr Georgakis said.

''The problem with school sport in the last couple of decades is because of things like NAPLAN and high-stakes testing, literacy and numeracy is the priority.

''No one's really addressed it until Coates said part of the reason we are doing so badly is we don't have a school sport program any more. He's spot on.''

This story Short shrift for sport in crowded curriculum first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.