​Dick Telford's Study Finds Sport Can Improve NAPLAN Scores

This article has been written by Emily Parkinson (editor for the Financial Review)

This year's lacklustre NAPLAN results prompted some very public handwringing about how schools and teachers can do better. But of all the possible fixes suggested – smaller class sizes, more specialist teachers, etc – there is one that some experts believe has been overlooked: sport.

Fitter schools get better NAPLAN results, is the message from sports scientist and Olympic running coach Professor Dick Telford of the University of Canberra's Research Institute for Sport.

He has spent the past decade tracking the progress of 800-odd primary school kids in a longitudinal study looking at how their young bodies respond, physically and psychologically, to an increased dose of school sport.
The children who had the extra sport and spent that time doing an extra 90 minutes of proper, well-qualified instructed PE improved their NAPLAN scores, particularly their numeracy, and particularly in boys, improved their scores by eight to 10 points, which was quite a lot – a 25 per cent improvement.
Started in 2005 when the kids were eight years old, Telford's Lifestyle of our Kids (LOOK) study charts the effects of a two-year intervention of extra sport on the development of 853 primary school children over the course of their lifetime. The children are now in their teens and will be tracked into old age.
The study exposes half the children to a boosted program of sport, adding 90 minutes to their regular weekly sport for four years. The remaining 400 children followed the normal public school PE program.

Link Between Sport and Naplan Scores

[In] the schools that had the fittest and most physically active kids, we found there was a direct correlation with the NAPLAN scores. In other words, the kids that were playing more sport, doing more PE between grade three and five, particularly – they got better NAPLAN scores.
Telford's LOOK study found that those children not exposed to a boosted program of sport in the primary years entered secondary school with elevated risk indicators for chronic disease: 31 per cent of girls and 23 per cent of boys aged 12 had borderline or elevated insulin resistance, a high risk indicator for type 2 diabetes. High blood cholesterol, another risk indicator for cardiovascular disease, was found in 20 per cent of boys and 16 per cent of girls.

Sport Priorities Vary

The amount of sport a child receives varies widely from state to state and school to school, says Professor Doune Macdonald of the University of Queensland, a former PE teacher and lead writer of the health and physical activity part of the national curriculum, which is one of eight "core learning areas".
While some children take part in up to six hours of sport a week, particularly in the secondary years if they participate in extracurricular team sports, others only receive the minimum as per the curriculum requirements.
At a primary level, the amount of sport varies widely among schools, based on a range of factors, not least of which is resourcing – there are a diminishing number of specialist physical education teachers.
You have PE teachers in many schools but anecdotally evidence suggests there's a diminishing number of specialist PE teachers and they're often required to do various other things, observes Simon Hollingsworth, chief executive of the Australian Sports Commission, the federal government's peak sports body in charge of promoting sport in the community.
Last month marked the beginning of the ASC's Sporting Schools program – a $100 million initiative offering funding to schools partner with local sporting organisations to plan additional in-school sports programs. Clubs involved vary from traditional sports to newer ones like table tennis, ten-pin bowling, water polo and snowboarding.
Hollingsworth says he hopes the program will help retain organised sport relevant at a time when leisure time is increasingly taken up with more individual, fitness-type sports. Read more...