Despite the burgeoning contemporary interest in education history, there has been an absence of literature documenting the histories of Physical Education (PE), School Sport (SS), and Health Education (HE) in New South Wales (NSW) public schools from 1880 until 2012. This gap was significant in the wider context of the NSW education system as all three subjects were operating throughout this period. Another noticeable gap in the literature was that of a combined history of these subjects, which could be explained based on the lack of clarity, until now, concerning the nature of the relationships between them, despite their coexistence in the NSW public education system. The literature that does exist reflects histories of the subjects in isolation, with a notable prominence of research into PE compared to SS and HE; however, these histories tend to be narrow in scope rather than situating developments and changes in these subjects within broader political and social contexts.
Therefore, this study filled these gaps by chronicling the individual and collective histories of these subjects in the NSW public education system, spanning from the introduction of compulsory schooling in this state in 1880 up to the release of the draft Australian Curriculum for Health and Physical Education in 2012 (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2012a, 2012b), which marked the first official shift from a state-based to a national approach to curriculum in this subject area. These rich and comprehensive histories of PE, SS, and HE were produced by addressing the following two major research questions: (1) what factors influenced the historical development of the individual subjects in NSW public schools from 1880 to 2012?; and (2) how did the factors driving curriculum development and change affect the relationship and status of these subjects from 1880 until 2012?
A history of education methodology was used to record the curriculum developments and changes in PE, SS, and HE through the analysis of primary and secondary documentary sources. The implementation of the theoretical framework of curriculum history by Goodson (1983) and Musgrave (1973, 1978, 1979, 1988) enabled this study to present a timeline of the events in light of past traditions and factors influencing the subjects as individual and combined entities from 1880 to 2012. Together, the application of a history of education methodology and curriculum history theory provided the opportunity to delve into the interplay of the relationships between these subjects, their shifting status over time, and the broader contexts shaping them during the span of this history. It was the application of theory to the historical analysis that revealed the subjects were socially constructed and in turn elicited the major themes of this study.
By viewing PE, SS, and HE as social constructs, this thesis signposted significant politico-social contexts and events in NSW, Australian, and international history as driving curriculum developments and paradigm shifts in these subjects in the NSW public education system. Consequently, a key finding to emerge was the consistent link between the influence of political and social factors at a state, national, and global level and the thematic preoccupations in the subjects’ over time. The second theme acknowledged that although the subjects’ originated as discrete entities in 1880, as time progressed they developed partnerships and were re-defined to better service politico-social agendas of policy makers, educationists, and society at large. It was investigations into the shifts in the status of the subjects that revealed the third theme, which was that PE was the dominant subject of the three from the outset of compulsory schooling in NSW through to the 1970s. From the 1970s until 2012, HE was more prominent given its capacity to serve the politico-social priority of public health, whilst PE was re-defined to overtly encompass health-supporting endeavours to remain educationally relevant and maintain a place in the school curriculum. Throughout the span of this history, the subjects were found to be ‘cooperating to compete’ with one another and other subjects, especially amidst the climate of an increasingly crowded curriculum from the 1970s.
Extending the individual subject histories and recording a collective history of the subjects in the context of broader politico-social factors has not been heretofore attempted in a combined analysis, even though there was widespread evidence suggesting that the three subjects have rarely sat separately in the NSW curriculum since 1880, based on their synergetic pedagogies and rationales. This combined history also contributes original scholarship by highlighting the subjects’ longstanding struggles for dominance and status as part of their coexistence in the NSW public education system. Upon reflection on the emerging themes, there is scope for future studies to investigate the individual and combined histories of these curricula Australia-wide and/or specific to other types of education systems, such as the private or Catholic school system, to determine whether the subjects in these environments were equally influenced by politico-social factors.