Originally published July 24, 2017 in the Canberra Times.

By Emily Baker

Canberra researchers have unlocked the key to healthier students with better NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) scores – but the ACT  (Australian Capital Territory) government passed up the offer to formalise an associated program.

Studies led by University of Canberra sports scientist Dick Telford have found either a relationship or conclusive evidence that physical education improves the health and academic outcomes of students. One internationally-published randomised trial undertaken in ACT schools found that children who participated in 90 minutes of physical education each week recorded NAPLAN scores about 10 points higher than those who did not.


Sports scientist Dick Telford at the University of Canberra Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE). Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Irrespective of the intervention, researchers found a linear relationship between NAPLAN scores and the fitness and physical activity of the school sample.

Professor Telford took the program to Victoria, where a trial has been funded by the government, after the ACT failed to express an interest in the results.

This is despite a series of reports that ACT schools underperform when compared with socioeconomically similar schools interstate.

An ACT Education Directorate spokeswoman said Canberra public schools already did more than two hours of PE every week.

Professor Telford said the emphasis was on helping foster a sustainable relationship between children and physical activity.

He acknowledged that teachers were busy and said he understood that sport was often the first thing squeezed out of the schedule, but with his research also showing that daily activity could reduce the incidence of chronic disease symptoms by one-third, it was a “no-brainer”.

“That alone should be the reason we’re introducing physical education,” he said.

“The same way we can increase NAPLAN scores we can reduce the incidence of symptoms of chronic disease.”

An ACT Education Directorate spokeswoman said schools in the public system already exceeded the recommended physical education time outlined in Professor Telford’s study.

“Currently in Canberra public schools, students from kindergarten to year 6 are provided with a minimum of 25 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, or 125 minutes per week, as part of planned physical education and sport programs, while students from year 7 to year 10 are provided with a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week,” she said.

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