The audit objective was to assess the effectiveness of the implementation and administration of the AASC program by the ASC. The extent to which the ASC is able to determine that the program is achieving its objectives was also examined. Particular emphasis was given to the following areas:

  • the implementation and the ongoing management of program; and
  • the selection of sites and administration of grants funded under the program.

The elements of the Building a Healthy, Active Australia package undertaken by other agencies were not included in the scope of this audit.



The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) plays a leadership role in the development and promotion of sport in Australia. It is a statutory authority operating under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (CAC Act) and the Australian Sports Commission Act 1989 (ASC Act). The ASC is governed by a Commission (referred to as the ASC Board) that is appointed by, and reports to, the Minister for Youth and Sport. Its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the ASC.

The ASC is responsible for implementing the Government's sports policy. It manages the Australian Institute of Sport and programs for elite athletes and is the principal funding body for National Sporting Organisations. The ASC has also provided sports participation opportunities for school aged children through its earlier programs such as Aussie Sport and the Active Australia Schools Network, delivered through the States and Territories.

Building a Healthy, Active Australia

In November 2002, Australian Health Ministers agreed that the increase in the rate of overweight and obesity in Australia's population was a significant public health problem, particularly, the rising incidence in children. The National Obesity Taskforce was established in 2003 and developed the National Action Agenda—Healthy Weight 2008 to combat rising obesity levels and declining physical activity.

In June 2004, the then Prime Minister announced the Building a Healthy, Active Australia package to address the growing problems of declining physical activity and poor eating habits of Australian children. A major component of this initiative was the Active After-school Communities (AASC) program. The ASC received $90 million in funding over three years to establish an after school physical activity program in over 3000 primary schools and Out of School Hours Care Services (OSHCS) for an estimated 150 000 children. The program was extended for a further three years (2008 to 2010) in April 2007 and received $124.4 million in additional funding. Implementing the program increased the number of ASC staff by 180, from 458 in June 2004 to 655 in June 2005, an increase of over 30 per cent.

Active After-school Communities program

The AASC program delivers structured physical activity sessions to primary school aged children at sites after school between 3.00pm and 5.30pm. Over 3000 sites in metropolitan, regional, rural and remote communities Australia wide participate in the program. Underpinning the program is the ASC's ‘Playing for Life' philosophy, which uses a ‘game sense' approach to coaching. The activities delivered in the AASC program are designed to increase children's participation in structured physical activity, develop fundamental motor skills, and foster a life long love of physical activity.

The initial long term objectives of the program were to improve the health and physical activity levels of Australian primary school aged children, and to grow community capacity. These objectives were revised in January 2005 to enable the outcomes of the program to be evaluated and to give a greater emphasis to physical activity, which the ASC considers contributes to the health outcomes of participating children. The current program objectives are to:

  • enhance the physical activity of Australian primary school aged children through a nationally coordinated program:
    • increase participation levels of inactive children within structured physical activity;
    • attitude of inactive children towards structured physical activity improved;
    • increase in fundamental motor skill development of inactive children;
  • provide increased opportunities for inclusive participation in quality, safe and fun structured physical activities; and
  • grow community capacity and stimulate local community involvement in sport and structured physical activity.

Table 1 outlines the number of sites and children participating in the program and the actual funds expended since the program was established.

Table 1 Total funding, participating sites and children per financial year

Source: Australian National Audit Office based on Australian Sports Commission data

Delivering the program

The program is coordinated nationally and managed in all States and Territories through a network of State and Regional Managers and Regional Coordinators. The program is only run at ASC approved sites. The sites selected to participate in the program are required to provide appropriate facilities, nominate a co-ordinator for the program, contract and pay ASC registered deliverers and supervise participating children. They are also required to develop strategies to target inactive children. By agreeing to participate in the program, the sites accept responsibility and ownership of the program, including the duty of care for the day to day running of the physical activity sessions.

Sites that have been accepted into the program are eligible to apply for grant funding. These grants are not intended to cover the administration costs associated with running the activity sessions but are directed towards specific program expenses, such as deliverers' fees, costs of supervision, venue hire, transportation costs and equipment.

The funding agreement with the sites requires them to engage ASC registered deliverers to run the AASC physical activity sessions. All deliverers must complete the Community Coach Training Program (CCTP) and be assessed as competent, and receive a satisfactory national criminal history check before becoming fully registered with the ASC. Deliverers must be re registered every two years, including undergoing a new criminal history check. 2

Audit scope and objective

The audit objective was to assess the effectiveness of the implementation and administration of the AASC program by the ASC. The extent to which the ASC is able to determine that the program is achieving its objectives was also examined. Particular emphasis was given to the following areas:

  • the implementation and the ongoing management of program; and
  • the selection of sites and administration of grants funded under the program.

The elements of the Building a Healthy, Active Australia package undertaken by other agencies were not included in the scope of this audit.

Overall conclusion

The AASC program was established in 2004 as a national initiative to help address the declining physical activity levels of children and the increase in childhood obesity. In 2007–08, approximately 150 000 children and 3250 sites Australia wide participated in the physical activity program that is underpinned by the ASC's ‘Playing for Life' philosophy.

The ASC successfully implemented this program within a very short timeframe. National and State managers and a network of Regional Coordinators administer the program and oversight the delivery of the activity sessions and the sites. The ASC established a management framework for the program and a quality based approach to training and registering deliverers. Systems and processes for selecting sites and administering the grants provided to sites were also developed. Although this management framework is reasonably effective, improvements could be made to strengthen the governance arrangements supporting the program and a number of administrative processes could be streamline.

Quality control processes would also be strengthened through better monitoring of the program's quality standards. A sub-committee of the ASC Board was established to advise and oversee the program. However, its role and responsibilities were not clearly defined. The Board sub committee last met in March 2008 and was dissolved in June 2008. The governance mechanisms supporting the program were oral briefings to the Board by the Chair of the sub committee and fortnightly meetings between the CEO, program Director and General Manager. Key decisions and some approvals were not always sought or appropriately documented, particularly for the evaluation project. At the time of the audit, there were no management reports provided to the CEO (or the Board). Oversight of the program would be improved if the program area was to report regularly on the performance of the program.

In designing the program, the ASC established two key quality controls—deliverers of the structured physical activity sessions must: complete the Community Coach Training Program (CCTP); and have satisfactory criminal history checks. To monitor program delivery at sites, the ASC developed a national quality management model, with the quality assurance role being undertaken by the Regional Coordinators. However, a number of exemptions to these two quality controls have been granted to probationary deliverers, which risks undermining the standards and philosophy that underpin the program. In 2007, 634 probationary deliverers received an exemption from training and 298 from the criminal history check, without oversight or review by State Managers or at the national level.

Sites were selected to participate in the program either through an expression of interest process or direct recruitment by Regional Coordinators. In the earlier years of the program, assessments were not properly documented, particularly for those sites directly recruited by Regional Coordinators. The assessment process for selecting sites improved considerably in 2007. Sites received grants ranging from $320 to $3518 to assist them in running the program. Given the number of grants and the relatively small amounts involved, the processes currently in place to assess and acquit the grants are overly complex and resource intensive. Improvements could be made by simplifying processes and assessing the merits of automating the grant application process.

The ASC is undertaking an evaluation project to determine the success of the program and the final report for Phase One (2004–2007) is expected to be finalised in late 2008. Phase Two will cover the period 2008 to 2010. The ANAO has highlighted a number of issues relating to the evaluation methodology and reporting the evaluation results. The ASC has advised that it will ensure that all relevant caveats and interpretation notes are included in the final report.

The ANAO has made four recommendations aimed at improving the administration of the program.

Key findings by chapter

Establishment of the Program (Chapter Two)

In response to the then Prime Minister's request for options to address childhood obesity, the ASC prepared a brief outlining a proposal to deliver a national out-of-school hours physical activity program for primary school aged children. In late May 2004, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) advised the ASC that the AASC program had been approved with specific parameters and funding. The program was to be delivered by the ASC through a network of staff rather than through its State and Territory counterparts.

Implementation planning

As the AASC program was monitored by the Cabinet Implementation Unit (CIU) in PM&C, the ASC developed an implementation plan, which it lodged in September 2004 (Plan One). A second plan was lodged in November 2005 (Plan Two), which included a revised budget and timetable for recruiting sites. The ASC advised that it worked closely with PM&C during the early stages of the program and that both implementation plans were emailed directly to PM&C. The AASC program management team advised that oral approval of the plans was given by the responsible Director. The quarterly reports to the CIU were also approved by the Director and the General Manager of the program.

The AASC program's implementation plans were comprehensive and included a risk management plan documenting eleven risks across key areas and appropriate mitigation strategies. The ANAO considered this was a reasonable assessment of the strategic risks facing the program at the concept stage. However, the practical experience gained in establishing the program was not reflected in the risk management plan submitted in Plan Two, 14 months later, as it did not include operational risks. This was particularly important as the ASC advised that this was the only risk management plan developed for the program.

As the Government decision did not define objectives for the program, the ASC developed the program's long term and short term objectives for Plan One. These were later revised as part of the evaluation project and included in Plan Two.3 The revised objectives gave greater emphasis to the concept of inactivity and moved away from the original health focus. Neither the initial nor revised objectives were endorsed by the then Government or approved by anyone outside of the AASC program management team. It would have been prudent to have sought formal approval of the program's objectives from the then Minister to ensure alignment between the Government's expectations and the ASC's plans for delivery of the program.

Establishing the AASC program at the national, State and regional levels

Within a very short timeframe, the ASC established the program at the national, State and regional levels, including:

  • recruiting State and Regional Managers and Regional Coordinators;
  • accommodating regional staff and developing communications infrastructure;
  • delivering staff induction training;
  • selecting primary schools and OSHCS for the program; and
  • training and registering deliverers for the program.

Governance arrangements for the AASC program

The governance arrangements in place when implementing the program included oversight by the ASC Board and a management framework within the ASC responsible to the CEO. Under these arrangements, the General Manager of National Junior Sport Division met fortnightly with the Director of Sports Performance and Development.4 There were also fortnightly meetings between the Director and the CEO. Reporting at this meeting was by exception, with action items agreed and updated. Although the AASC program was discussed at these meetings, key decisions and the reasons for these decisions were not routinely documented. There were no formal management reports relating to the AASC program prepared for the CEO.

A sub committee of the ASC Board was set up to ‘advise and oversee' the program. The AASC sub committee first met on 6 August 2004 but minutes of meetings were not recorded until May 2005. Although the sub committee was created ‘to advise and oversee' the implementation of the AASC program, the CEO advised that the sub committee was not intended as a decision making body and minutes of the sub committee meetings confirm that no decisions were made. There were no formal terms of reference for the sub committee outlining its role and responsibilities nor was a quorum specified for meetings, as required by the Australian Sports Commission Act 1989.

Managing Program Delivery (Chapter Three)

The ASC established two major quality controls over program delivery—deliverers of the structured physical activity sessions must: complete the Community Coach Training Program (CCTP); and have satisfactory criminal history checks. On successful completion of the training and the criminal history check, a deliverer will usually progress to probationary deliverer status and commence delivering sessions at AASC sites. A deliverer can be given an exemption from the training and/or a criminal history check for the six month probationary period. In these cases, the site is required to sign an exemption form for the deliverer as it bears the risk. In 2007, 8384 deliverers were presenting physical activity sessions at AASC program sites and, of these, 3625 (43 per cent) were probationary deliverers. Of these probationary deliverers, 634 (17.5 per cent) had a training exemption and 298 (8 per cent) had an exemption from a criminal history check.5

Exemptions are negotiated between the deliverer, the Regional Coordinator and the site without oversight by the State Manager or national office. Under current arrangements, a deliverer may commence presenting sessions with no training or national criminal history check, which means that there are no minimum standards operating for deliverers. The ANAO considers that allowing exemptions for these two key quality controls runs the risk of undermining the quality of program delivery. Minimum standards should be introduced such as requiring a probationary deliverer to complete a criminal history check form, if there is no existing check, and to complete the mandatory modules of the CCTP before commencing delivery of AASC physical activity sessions.

Ongoing review and assessment of sites and deliverers

The AASC program quality standards also require the ongoing assessment and review of sites and deliverers by Regional Coordinators. Although there was sufficient time to conduct site and deliverer appraisal visits in 2007, the program was not operating at full capacity until Term Three. The ASC advised that the number of visits will increase from 2008 and this could impinge on the Regional Coordinator's ability to perform other tasks, such as community development work with local sporting organisations.

AASC database

The AASC database captures key information about the program. Although a business case was not prepared for the database, the need for one was identified in the AASC implementation plans. It has been continually modified as the information needs of the program became better understood. It is now used as a management tool by Regional Coordinators and, as at June 2008, had cost approximately $1.1 million.

The absence of clearly defined business requirements means that the effectiveness of the database as a management tool cannot be properly assessed. There was also no budget for the initial development, ongoing maintenance or future development of the database. Ongoing changes have been made to the database without considering costs or alternative options. The ANAO considers there would be benefits in reviewing the operational effectiveness of the database in line with current arrangements for delivering the program and good management practices.

Ongoing governance arrangements for the AASC program

The governance arrangements during implementation of the program continued until the AASC sub committee was dissolved by the Chair of the Board and the CEO in June 2008. These arrangements involved oral briefings to the Board by the AASC sub-committee and, since July 2007, fortnightly meetings between the Director of Community Sport and the CEO.6 During the audit, the Director began documenting these meetings. There are no formal reports relating to the program provided to the CEO (or the Board).

Conflict of interest

Where there is a potential or actual conflict of interest, the procedures to be followed are outlined in the CAC Act, essentially requiring members of the Board to declare their interest and abstain from voting. During the course of the audit, the ANAO noted an issue relating to the AASC program and a member of the Board. In 2006, the AASC program contracted two sports ambassadors to raise its media profile. One of these sports ambassadors was a member of the ASC Board and of the Board AASC sub-committee. A perception of a potential conflict of interest could have arisen as the Board member was paid to provide services to a program the member was also responsible for oversighting. According to the minutes of the Board meetings, the decision to contract the member of the Board for this role was not discussed or decided by the Board.

The Chair advised that he had been approached by the CEO and endorsed the appointment as he considered there was no potential conflict of interest. The decision to engage the Board member was made outside the ASC Board's general business and the legislative procedures for making decisions where a potential conflict of interest exists were not followed. Also, the rationale, process for selection, contract negotiations and the decision to engage and contract with the Board member were not documented by the ASC.

Governance arrangements at program level

The governance arrangements at the program level generally operate well. Operational planning and reporting are linked with performance management. The Community Sport Business Plan and AASC State/Territory operational plans also align with the ASC's Strategic Plan. The risk management plan in the implementation plans is the only risk management plan for the program and was last reviewed in November 2005. The program was not fully implemented until Term Three, 2007 and, during the intervening period, new risks have emerged in the strategic and operating environments and previously identified risks may have changed. The plan does not currently include operational risks, although the design of the program addresses some operational risks. The ASC advised that it has recently engaged a consultant to undertake an assessment of the risks facing the program.

State Managers report to national office biannually on the operations of their State and regions, with a particular emphasis on program delivery. While each report is reviewed, the information is not consolidated and analysed to provide a national perspective. More frequent reporting would provide assurance that the program is being delivered consistently across regions and enable key aspects of program delivery to be reported and monitored. The reports could form the basis of regular and formal management reports to the CEO and Board.

Assessment of Sites and Administration of Grants (Chapter Four)

Sites are selected to participate in the AASC program either through an Expression of Interest (EOI) process or direct recruitment by Regional Coordinators. When accepted into the program, the sites may apply for grant funding twice a year, with each application being for two consecutive school terms. The ANAO reviewed a sample of 67 EOIs for sites selected between 2004 and 2007.

The ASC advised that time constraints did not allow it to undertake a comprehensive needs based analysis of sites Australia wide that would most benefit from participating in the program. Instead, to determine the target number of sites in each region, the AASC program management team equally apportioned potential sites to educational regions. This approach meant that places were allocated without being able to consider the relative needs of regions.

Sites were to be assessed against specific selection criteria. However, these criteria were only applied where there was competition within a region for a place in the program. For the 15 sites recruited in 2004 reviewed in the ANAO's sample, the only documentation completed to support the selection process was a selection report that noted the name and type of site, and whether it had been accepted into the program. The reports did not include an assessment against the selection criteria. For six sites, there was no selection report available.

Ongoing recruitment of sites

The EOI form was reviewed and updated in June 2005 and used for EOI rounds in 2005 and 2006. A new selection report was also developed in 2006 and, unlike the earlier selection report, included a provision for an assessment of the site against the selection criteria. The ANAO examined EOIs and selection reports for 13 sites selected in 2006. Five did not have selection reports or other assessment documentation on file. For the eight sites for which there were selection reports, three did not use the revised selection report and, of the five that did, three did not have the accompanying assessment form on the site file. In 2007, the selection criteria for assessing sites and the selection report also changed.7 From the ANAO's sample of 31 EOIs submitted in 2007, 29 had selection reports and were assessed against the selection criteria. The other selection reports were not on the site files.

Direct recruitment

In regions where the number of EOIs received did not meet the target, Regional Coordinators contacted sites directly to invite them to deliver the program. As the Regional Coordinators did not document their assessments of these sites, the ANAO was unable to determine whether all sites were assessed consistently across regions. Regional Coordinators continued to directly recruit sites until 2007.

Reducing the administrative effort involved in processing grant applications

Sites apply for grant funding bi-annually by completing a Grant Application Form (GAF). In 2007, grants ranged from $320 to $3518.8 The grants process is resource intensive, involving sites, Regional Coordinators, a grant administration team, and the ASC's Corporate Finance section. Many tasks are duplicated and the AASC database does little to facilitate the process. The costs involved in processing the grants have not been calculated or compared against alternative approaches.

The ANAO considers that there are several options available to reduce the level of administrative effort required to process the grants. The grant cycle could be reduced to once per year, with scheduled term payments, and combined with the EOI for first time applicants. The current system is a combination of paper based and electronic assessment. Automating the grant application process would reduce the resources currently required to administer grants and could include a verification process to ensure all fields are completed accurately before submitting. This would obviate the need for AASC staff to follow up incomplete or inaccurate information.

Acquittal of grants

Sites are required to acquit their grants each term, up to four times per year.9 Sites submit their completed and signed acquittal form to their Regional Coordinator, who is required to certify that funds were spent by the site on running the program. Given the value of grants, there should be a better balance between the financial integrity of the grants process and the quality of program delivery. Less resource intensive acquittal processes could be introduced for the program. For example, a risk-based approach to acquittals could require the testing of only a sample of grants annually, rather than the confirmation of all 3250 grants four times per year. For the sample of 41 grants reviewed by the ANAO, all grants were appropriately acquitted.

Measuring the Success of the Program (Chapter Five)

The announcement of the AASC program included the requirement that the program be evaluated. The ASC planned the evaluation project in parallel with implementing the program. The ASC outlined in the RFT the broad objectives of the proposed evaluation and some key methodological processes. The contractor was expected to refine the evaluation objectives with the ASC and propose specific methodologies to undertake the evaluation.

Negotiation of the proposed contract

The ASC entered into discussions with the successful contractor about the evaluation objectives, development of the evaluation plan and methodology during October 2004. These discussions led to the program objectives being revised in January 2005, increasing the complexity and cost of the evaluation project. The ASC considered the revised objectives better articulated the program's objectives.

The ASC had allocated $600 000 to meet the projected costs of the evaluation. As this amount exceeded the threshold of $500 000, the ASC sought approval for the contract from the then Minister as required by the ASC's procurement guidelines. Changes in the evaluation methodology increased the cost of the four year contract (2005 to 2008) from $587 030 to $1.1 million. There was no documentation to demonstrate that the ASC had sought the then Minister's approval for the 80 per cent increase in the cost of the evaluation resulting from these changes. There was also no documentation to show that the CEO, the AASC sub-committee or the ASC Board had been advised of the increase in project costs, revised objectives and methodology.

On 11 February 2005, the AASC program management team approved the proposed contract variation and revised costing. However, when the contract was signed by the CEO on 17 February 2005, it had not been amended to reflect the variations to the methodology or the revised contract amount of $1.1 million. The ASC advised that the acceptance of the evaluation plan, with the revised methodology and costing, constituted the ASC's and the contractor's acceptance of the variation. There was adequate time to amend the contract to reflect the revised methodology and costs before it was signed by the CEO.

Measuring the effectiveness of the program

The ASC is undertaking a wide-ranging review of the program's impact and operations across eight objectives and a range of useful information will be provided by this evaluation. The absence of predetermined targets will impact on the ASC's ability to effectively measure the program's success. A number of points have been raised about the survey questions, in particular, the bias inbuilt into some of the questions, the length and interpretation of key questions and the treatment of attrition and non response rates. Care also needs to be taken when reporting evaluation results.

In the past, the ASC has published preliminary results in its Annual Report, and in briefings to the former Minister and the AASC sub-committee that may have been misleading. The reporting of evaluation results could be improved by providing, where relevant, appropriate information to qualify these results. Qualifications are needed to adequately interpret findings because results can be compromised by the methodologies employed or by the way in which differences of statistical significance are ascertained. For example, definitions used and attrition and non-response rates can affect the assessment of outcomes. The ASC has advised that all relevant caveats and interpretation notes will be included in the final evaluation report.

Summary of agency response

The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) is pleased to note that the ANAO has found that the Active After-school Communities (AASC) program was successfully implemented by the ASC. The ASC believes that it overcame a number of significant challenges to successfully implement such an important high priority initiative within a very short timeframe.

The ASC has recognised that improvements can be made to the ongoing implementation of the program and has continued to review and refine Governance procedures and implementation processes. The ASC has taken on board the ANAO recommendations and has already addressed them or is currently taking steps to address them.


1 Sites are participating primary schools and Child Care Benefit (CCB) approved Out of School Hours Care Services (OSHCS).

2 Deliverers may be recruited from a variety of sources, such as parents, community members, high school or university students, teachers, OSHCS workers, and local sporting club members. Deliverers may be volunteers and receive a small fee to reimburse their costs, or may be professionals contracted by the site.

3 The original and revised objectives are outlined in Table 2.2 in Chapter Two.

4 As of July 2007, Community Sport became its own division, and the Director of Community Sport now reports directly to the CEO. The AASC program and Junior Sport are contained within this new division.

5 Probationary deliverers could have received both exemptions.

6 In July 2007, the position of Director of Community Sport Division was created and included responsibility for administering the AASC program. Prior to this date, meetings were held with the Director of Sports Performance and Development.

7 The 2007 selection report included an assessment against program requirements as well as a regional strategic assessment.

8 The maximum grant available to sites is based on the number of children participating per session and the number of sessions run at the site per week. Sites do not automatically receive the maximum grant available if they have applied for less than the maximum amount.

9 With three school terms, sites in Tasmania are required to acquit three times per year.