Academic journal article Journal of Physical Education New Zealand

Seeking a Realistic Contribution: Considering Physical Education within HPE in New Zealand and Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Physical Education New Zealand

Seeking a Realistic Contribution: Considering Physical Education within HPE in New Zealand and Australia

Article excerpt


Is physical education trying to do too much in the new Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum? Although the new HPE curricula in both New Zealand and Australia offer new opportunities for physical education teachers, such opportunities are not unproblematic. This paper considers the purposes of physical education within the context of HPE, and the extent to which the achievement of such goals is realistic. Above all, the paper is intended to provoke dialogue regarding what is possible and realistic for physical education within HPE.


Physical education has a long history of making grand claims regarding its value within the school curriculum. In recent years there has been an increasing sophistication of the official curriculum documents created to 'deliver' on these claims. In both New Zealand and Australia we now have HPE curricula in which we read of conceptual frameworks, essential skills, learning strands, achievement objectives, levels, assessment and reporting, and a raft of other characteristics that define the focus of teachers' work. There are two perspectives embedded in the New Zealand and Australian HPE curricula. First, they claim to provide opportunities for students to become more intelligent, sensitive, informed participants in physical activity - to become healthy, physically active, informed citizens. Second, they advocate social justice principles and so represent a socially critical agenda.

When journalist Richard Worrall wrote `New curriculum heralds fundamental change' for the New Zealand Physical Educator (1999) he based his story on an interview with curriculum writer Ian Culpan. Culpan was quoted as saying "It's [the curriculum] not just about sport. It's also about mental, social, and physical health"(p.5). Moreover, paraphrasing Culpan, Worrall informed us that "The three later issues are some of the most radical departures from the previous syllabus as they encompass learning about respect for one-self, others and social justice"(p.5).

In Australia, the HPE National Curriculum Statement (Australian Education Council, 1994), on which various state curricula have been developed2, clearly articulated the principles of diversity, social justice and supportive environments as underpinning the new curriculum. Not-with-standing the differences in how various states have interpreted and responded to the National Statement, the Queensland HPE Syllabus for years 1- 10 (1999) exemplifies these principles when it states:

The sociocultural perspective and social justice principles underpinning the syllabus encourage students to consider social and cultural developments which may affect themselves and others, now and in the future. (Queensland HPE Syllabus Years 10, 1999; p.5).

As a long-time advocate of a socially critical curriculum (see, for example, Tinning, 1987) and as an advocate for the educative purposes of physical education (see, for example, Tinning, Kirk and Evans, 1993), I should be delighted to read the intent of these new HPE curricula. My enthusiasm for the new curricula is, however, somewhat measured. While they do offer new opportunities for physical education, such opportunities are not unproblematic. I am nervous that when it comes down to implementation, in presenting itself to be the best curriculum solution to a multitude of individual and social problems, HPE might be trying to do too much. In the process physical education (within the HPE curriculum) might be losing sight of its possible unique contributions that centre on physical activity as a worthwhile human experience.

In this paper I want to (re)consider the purposes of physical education, especially within the context of HPE as a learning area. I want to revisit the social context in which the HPE curricula were developed and consider the extent to which what I call `second order' objectives might become privileged. I also want to consider some of the criticisms of the new curriculum and to raise the issue of what is realistically possible for HPE. …

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