Students as consumers or co-producers in outsourced Health and Physical Education? Blog by Dr. Leigh Sperka

Dr Leigh Sperka is an Associate Lecturer in the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences at The University of Queensland. Her research focuses on the outsourcing of education. This includes investigating decision-making around the practice, how outsourcing impacts curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment, and student perspectives of outsourced lessons. In this blog, she discusses a key finding from a paper presented at the 2018 AIESEP World Congress in Edinburgh. This paper has since been published in the Sport, Education and Society Special Edition ‘Creating thriving and sustainable futures in physical education, health and sport’. The full paper can be accessed here.

Students as consumers or co-producers in outsourced Health and Physical Education?

There has been a growing number of studies about the prevalence of outsourcing in Health and Physical Education (HPE) internationally (see Sperka & Enright, 2018). To date, however, relatively little research has been conducted on students’ experiences in outsourced HPE lessons (Kirk & Colquhoun, 1989; Powell 2015; Tinning & Kirk, 1991). This is concerning not only because students are the primary stakeholders in the educational experience but also because it has been argued that corporate involvement redefines education and repositions students in the educative process (Powell & Gard, 2015). It was therefore necessary to undertake a study that explored students’ positioning in, and perspectives of, outsourced HPE.

Focus groups were conducted with 25 Year Eight students (age 14 years) at an independent co-educational secondary school in Australia that was delivering the ‘Cardio Tennis’ component of Tennis Australia’s Tennis in Secondary Schools Program. Each focus group had either three or four participants and topics for discussion included experiences and learning in HPE in general and in the Cardio Tennis unit specifically. Observations of the Cardio Tennis lessons, which were co-taught by a HPE Teacher and a Tennis Coach, were also completed.

While there was heterogeneity in students’ perspectives on outsourced HPE, we found that the Year Eight students were positioned as ‘active consumers’ but ‘passive learners’ (Ball, 2004) in the Cardio Tennis lessons. They were ‘consumers’ in two distinct ways. Firstly, they were positioned as consumers of education itself. Both the HPE Teacher and the Tennis Coach controlled the enactment of the Cardio Tennis unit, imparting structured and pre-determined knowledge to the students rather than engaging with their voices and encouraging processes of curriculum and assessment negotiation. Secondly, and directly connected to the outsourced nature of the unit, these students were also consumers of the products, services, and philosophies being sold by Tennis Australia. Importantly, many of these students were critical consumers as they were able to recognise the impact that outsourced lessons had on teaching and learning in HPE.

In this paper we advocate for the protection of the educative and socially just intent of the subject through a reconceptualisation of the student as ‘co-producer’ in the educational experience. This would involve more dialogic processes where students’ distinct perspectives are elicited and responded to. In this case, the HPE Teacher was arguably best positioned to interpret, communicate, and bridge the interests of Tennis Australia, the school, and the students.

Overall, this study highlighted how crucial it is to seek out students’ voices and perspectives on outsourced HPE and demonstrated that more research in this area is warranted.


Ball, S. (2004). Education for sale! The Commodification of Everything? Paper presented at the King’s Annual Education Lecture, London.

Kirk, D., & Colquhoun, D. (1989). Healthism and physical education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 10(4), 417-434. doi:10.1080/0142569890100403

Powell, D. (2015). “Part of the solution”?: Charities, corporate philanthropy and healthy lifestyles education in New Zealand primary schools. Charles Sturt University.

Powell, D., & Gard, M. (2015). The governmentality of childhood obesity: Coca-Cola, public health and primary schools. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(6), 854-867. doi:10.1080/01596306.2014.905045

Sperka, L., & Enright, E. (2018). The outsourcing of health and physical education: A scoping review. European Physical Education Review, 24(3), 349-371. doi:10.1177/1356336×17699430

Tinning, R., & Kirk, D. (1991). Daily physical education: Collected papers on health based physical education in Australia. Geelong, Victoria: Deakin University Press.

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