Increasing the implementation of mandatory physical activity policy in NSW primary schools across three NSW jurisdictions

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What is the problem?

Schools across Australia, and internationally, are introducing physical activity policies in an effort to reduce childhood obesity. These policies are based on clear evidence demonstrating the relationship between physical activity and health outcome indicators, including chronic disease.

Despite the often mandatory nature of these policies, less than 20% of Australian schools are meeting their objectives. Greater engagement from schools and more effective implementation of physical activity policies is expected to achieve improved health outcomes, however, there is little research measuring the effectiveness of any interventions designed to support schools in providing the requisite amount of physical activity.

About the research translation project

In 2015 the NSW Department of Education amended its Sport and Physical Activity Policy to require students from Kindergarten to Year 10 to participate in a minimum of 150 minutes (increased from 120 minutes) of planned moderate to vigorous physical activity across the school week. Planned physical activity includes time spent in PE and sport that is inclusive of all children. 

The research team has previously demonstrated the efficacy, feasibility and acceptability of a multi-component implementation support strategy to increase primary school teachers’ time for planned physical activity during the school week. This project is scaling up the proven support strategy to approximately 100 public and Catholic primary schools in the Hunter New England (HNE), Mid North Coast (MNC) and Central Coast (CC) Local Health Districts (LHDs), using a non-controlled before and after study.

The specific support strategies used in different schools were determined in consultation with stakeholders and advisory group members and in consideration of school type and size. These included:

    • access to a support officer, (a PE teacher and health promotion practitioner) who has worked directly with the schools and school champions to overcome resource and expertise barriers and provide ongoing support;
    • a training workshop for the identified in-school champions who have been driving their schools’ implementation of the policy; and
    • tools and resources for the in-school champions and for classroom teachers.

What will be the impact?

This project is scaling up an effective model of implementation support to 100 primary schools in regional NSW to support their implementation of a mandatory physical activity policy. It is the first trial internationally to scale an effective implementation support strategy to increase schools’ compliance with a mandatory physical activity policy, thereby addressing a fundamental research translation gap. 

The project is also building active partnerships between LHDs, academics, the Office of Preventive Health, the Department of Education, and key stakeholders including primary school teachers and health promotion practitioners.

Most importantly, however, this study is increasing the number of schools in regional NSW effectively implementing a physical activity policy, and the amount of physical activity undertaken by children at these schools. 

By working to increase the exercise levels of primary school children, this project has the potential to impact upon children’s health, mental health and wellbeing, now and into the future.

For more information, contact Nicole Nathan – Nicole.Nathan@health.nsw.gov.au