Research confirms being active helps pupils in school

14th October 2020

Encouraging physical activity can play a vital role in helping children and young people to catch-up on missed schoolwork and support their mental health throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, new research from Sheffield Hallam University reveals.

The study, which has been commissioned by Sport England, Activity Alliance, Association for Physical Education and the Youth Sport Trust, finds that 92 per cent of staff believe young people being physically active helps with schoolwork and 91 per cent of pupils feel that it improves their mental and physical health.

The research evaluates student and teacher attitudes and has been carried out by Sheffield Hallam as part of Sport England’s Secondary Teacher Training Programme (STT).

The data reveals:

  • Active students are happier (70% v’s 50%) and more confident to try sport (76% v’s 38%) than inactive students.
  • Young people report that being physically active improves their mood (71%), behaviour (55%) and schoolwork (49%).
  • The vast majority of staff agree with this, with 93% reporting they feel that being active benefits pupil behaviour and 92% reporting they feel it has positive effects on schoolwork.
  • Activity provides social opportunities and enables students to connect with one another, with 59% agreeing that it helps them to make friends.
  • Physical activity has the potential to reduce stress and anxiety by providing routine and structure and increasing feelings of wellbeing:  71% of students and 99% of staff feel that being active has a positive effect on their mood.
  • Students who are active report higher levels of happiness and self-worth
  • 87% of staff feel that being physically active has a positive impact on the school environment (ethos, values, culture, identity)
  • The majority of students surveyed (78%) enjoy being physically active.

Tim Vernon, Senior Research Fellow and STT Evaluation Project Lead at Sheffield Hallam, said: "We’re really excited to be sharing learning from Sport England’s STT programme. Our research shows the benefits of being physically active and suggests that both teachers and students perceive being active as important for many aspects of their school life, including helping with schoolwork and improving happiness and confidence. The depth of data, provided by 75,000 respondents in over 500 schools, is providing great insight into the attitudes and behaviours of staff and students towards PE, physical activity and school sport."

The Secondary Teacher Training Programme provides funding and access to professional development opportunities for all PE teachers, to support the design and deliver of PE, school sport and physical activity that best suits pupils’ needs. It also helps teachers promote the importance of PE physical activity within schools.

Activity levels of many children and young people have reduced significantly from pre-lockdown – with a third of children saying that the absence of school has had a major impact on their ability to be active.

With schools now re-opened, the STT programme can help with simple measures, such as helping schools offer more choice in how to be active and how to build in activity across the school day. This is important because active students are happier (70% vs 50%) and feel more confident (76% vs 38%) to take part in sport compared to inactive students.

The data also shows that schools with an active travel plan in place were able to get more children active before reaching the school gates. Next week, many primary schools will be encouraging parents and pupils to take part in ‘Walk to School Week’ to help build essential active minutes into the day and set children for a positive day in the classroom.

Tim Hollingsworth, CEO, Sport England said: “When schools were closed, we know that children found it harder to get active and did less activity than normal. Now that they are back open, we have a fantastic opportunity to help them reengage with both sport and exercise – and this new research tells us it’s not only great for their physical health, it boosts their mental health, supports good behaviour, and academic achievement too. 

“Teachers are under pressure right now and we hope we can relieve some of that by delivering with our partners free support for schools in how to engage students with physical activity. It is based on our knowledge of what it takes to build physical literacy - that they are more likely to take part if activity is enjoyable, if there’s choice, and they are involved in the design of opportunities. It will also help staff to take a whole school approach to healthy lifestyles, creating opportunities before, after and throughout the school day.”  

As more children return to school, the STT programme can help schools plan their PE, school sport and activity provision. There is free support to help schools include physical activity in lessons and adapt PE to make sure more students enjoy and build in active travel to and from school.

Imran Iqbal, Deputy Headteacher, Telford Priory School said: “At Telford Priory School we decided to involve students in establishing our priorities for our PE curriculum. The Secondary Teacher Training programme has helped to support our teachers deliver enjoyable sport for all abilities, which has helped create a monumental shift in reaching students who traditionally sat on the periphery of PE lessons.

“The benefits of keeping students safely active has never been more important than it is now.  Our lessons include building communication skills, teamwork and resilience, as well as making sport and physical activity fun. This helps manage their mental and physical health, do better in school and develop positive habits for a lifetime.”

Schools can sign up to the programme and access the new range of resources available on the Sport England website.

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