The "academicification" of 7-10 HPE: a critical reflection


By Yasmin Atwani, Board Member
ACHPER Queensland

Most learning areas are no stranger to the pressure of preparing students for the increasing demands of Senior Syllabuses. It is becoming increasingly common for schools and subject leaders to shape the 7-10 Australian Curriculum interpretations and align as closely as possible to the subject matter, assessment modes and cognitive demands of Senior Subject Syllabuses.

Although this trickledown effect from increases in academic rigour in the new ATAR system may seem like a natural progression for Health and Physical Education as a learning area, there remains much to discuss. This article is written in support of protecting the fidelity of our approach to teaching Year 7-10 HPE and maintaining its status as an educative tool intended to provide socially accessible Health and Physical Education. 


For HPE, this trend has appeared in Year 7 to 10 classrooms in many forms. My discussions with colleagues and peers as well as experiences from my first year of teaching have pointed to the omission of key ‘life-based’ units of the likes of alcohol and drug education to make room for ones more aligned to senior subject matter. Further, it has become increasingly common for schools to sharply increase assessment demands, employing assessment modes and stipulations well beyond the recommendations made by the QCAA 7-10 Assessment Techniques and Conditions Framework. The pressures for 7-10 HPE to mirror senior demands makes the 7-10 HPE curriculum less accessible to all students and congests an already time-poor learning area.

My primary concern lies in the abandonment of our responsibility to contribute to graduating young people that understand how to make responsible and safe decisions as young adults and beyond. Many young people, especially from disadvantaged populations (e.g. EALD students) rely on 7-10 HPE as perhaps their only source of formal health education. As the academic pressures of HPE continue to rise, so too does student disengagement, as young people start to see the subject as being ‘too hard’. The reality remains that most students in our junior secondary classrooms never go on to enrol in a Senior Health or Physical Education subject. These young people may never use the academic skills of the Senior Curriculum however will leave school and require skills to lead productive, safe, and healthy lives. 

Being a teenager in 2022 is pronounced with complexity and health challenges unique to this generation moulded by technology, pandemic survival, and cultural change. Young people wrestle with anxiety more than ever. The rise of vaping and drug culture silently festers below the surface. Issues of respect and consent remain under addressed. If there has ever been a time to protect the educative purpose of 7-10 HPE, it is now. 

I feel there is real fallacy and danger in the pursuit of transforming Health and Physical Education into what could be described as a typically ‘academic’ subject. The reality is, HPE attains its primary value and recognition from its position as one of the only subjects taught in schools that has the capacity to truly touch and change the life trajectory of every single young person that it reaches. It is this that makes HPE unique and in this that my fear lies as we slowly tinker away from this core educative purpose. 

My secondary concern lies in the possible impacts of this trend on teacher feelings of motivation and contentment. In conversations with fellow preservice teachers during my time at university, it was apparent that a vast majority of individuals enrolling in HPE Teacher Education courses sought a career made purposeful by the mission of educating young people on how to live healthier lives. I have seen inspired, motivated, and eager beginning teachers enter the classroom with a clear vision of achieving this calling, only to turn away from the subject, disenchanted by an inability to align this vision with the "academicification" of 7-10 HPE. 

My hope in sharing this reflection is not to detract from the value and growth that comes from all Australian Curriculum aligned junior secondary HPE units of learning. I however aim to provoke a discussion into the potential conflict between the temptations of ‘getting ahead’ in secondary preparation and the core objectives that bring the most value to our subject area and roles as teachers of health and physical education. 

Contact Yasmin here.