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Physical activity can help children catch up on missed work

New research shows students and teachers report physical activity can improve pupils' mood, confidence and schoolwork.

Physically active children report improvements in their schoolwork, behaviour and mental health, according to new research from Sheffield Hallam University.

The study, conducted on more than 60,000 students and 4,000 teachers, was part of our Secondary Teacher Training (STT) programme and surveyed their attitudes to work, physical and mental health.

This research shows that helping children and young people to get active during school can play a vital role in helping them catch up work missed during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and in supporting their mental health.

The STT programme is a collaboration between us, the Activity Alliance, the Association for Physical Education and the Youth Sport Trust, and provides funding and access to professional development opportunities for PE teachers across the country.

Part of the programme was this research, which shows 92% of staff believe being physically active helps with school work, and that 91% of students report feeling that physical activity can improve their mental and physical health.

“When schools were closed, we know that children found it harder to get active and did less activity than normal,” said our chief executive, Tim Hollingsworth.

“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’s 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.” 

The activity levels of many children and young people have reduced significantly from pre-lockdown, with a third of children reporting the absence of school had a major impact on their ability to be active.

Happier and more confident

Other findings from the study include:

  • Active students are happier (70% vs 50%) and more confident to try sport (76% vs 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 feeling 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 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.

With schools now reopened, the programme can help with simple things such as helping schools to offer more choice in how to be active and building activity across the school day.

Coming with the new research is free support to help schools include physical activity into lessons, adapt PE to make sure more students enjoy it and to build in active travel to and from school.

The research is particularly timely, with today being the start of Walk to School Week and schools encouraging students to build active minutes into their day before they even get to school.

“At Telford Priory School we decided to involve students in establishing our priorities for our PE curriculum,” said Telford Priory School deputy headteacher Imran Iqbal.

“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 that it is now.”


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