With childhood obesity and mental well-being prominent in the press how can school leaders use PE, physical activity and sport to tackle these and to drive whole school performance?
As a father of two primary aged children I recently attended their respective parents’ evenings. It was rather dispiriting in both to spend the whole 10 minutes talking entirely about their progress in numeracy and literacy. Not a jot about science, topics, art, music or for that matter... their ‘physical literacy’ progress in PE and sport.
This I know is unfair...The pressures on schools in these building block subjects are intense, the teachers themselves are excellent and I know for a fact both schools take huge pride in providing a ‘broad and balanced’ primary education but... I couldn’t help thinking.... could we not view the situation from the other end of the telescope?
If you take PE and sport for example; ensuring that students are healthy enough to learn is vital. We can’t simply just keep giving pupils more English and maths, more English and maths, more English and maths, (you get the drill...) and expect it to magically be absorbed if pupils’ minds and bodies fundamentally aren’t in the right space to take it all in...
And some clearly aren’t. The most disturbing piece of research I saw this year around obesity was from the Obesity Health Alliance that predicted three in five (yes three out of every five!) primary age boys qualifying for free school meals will be overweight or obese by 2020. Given the proven links between childhood obesity and poorer GCSE performance later in life, surely getting this group active in schools is a social mobility issue in every sense of the word?
...So what can school leaders do to improve the health and well-being of their students?
There are many great schools and leaders who absolutely ‘get’ the link between PE, sport and physical activity and a student’s readiness to learn. This starts right from the early years where PE’s focus on physical control (motor skill development) links unquestionably with handwriting control. Many will also be familiar with the ‘Daily Mile’ initiative from Elaine Wyllie, formerly of St Ninians in Firth, which championed the impact running a daily mile had on improving attention levels and reducing behaviour incidences. We know from our own YST member schools, that those putting on a strong programme of lunchtime activities reduce reported behaviour incidents dramatically.
Actually the science is quite compelling too... Dr William Bird who advises the World Health Organisation has consistently advised how sedentary behaviours lead to greater incidents of depression and anxiety in children compared to how an increased programme of physical activity correlates with better concentration, faster brain development and increased mental well-being.
I know of other schools where they go even further than just realising the health and concentration benefits of increasing physical activity. These schools skilfully use PE and Sport as a tool to develop numeracy and literacy. Whether this is using the stats from exercise bikes or rowing machines to generate data to support maths lessons or, like Hunters Bar primary school, successfully applying the editing and improving processes common in sport and P.E. to developing children’s writing skills.
Some schools have even taken a radical approach to making their whole curriculum more active, like Hounslow Heath Infant school, who have developed a physically active ‘EARTH curriculum’ that gets pupils ‘physically experiencing’ every single subject they teach.
The best schools I have seen though have a clear vision for how the school uses PE and Sport across its whole school development plan. For example, how Leigh Wolmaran’s from Lings Primary in Northants, used sport as a vehicle not just to improve the health and well-being of students but to develop a strong, whole school ethos around motivation, passion and belief, lifting his school out of special measures in the process.
So with the arguments posed that PE and Sport, like literacy and numeracy, is very much a ‘need to do’ rather than a ‘nice to do’, is it now time as a school leader to re-think how PE and sport can make even more of a difference to your school? June 26th heralds the start of National School Sport Week www.youthsporttrust.org/nssw and is perhaps a perfect opportunity to re-imagine how PE and school sport is used across your whole school.
Much of our work at the Youth Sport Trust focuses on how you can get your own school more active across three fronts: travel to school/ break times/ lunchtimes, the curriculum and finally, after school sport. We have a wealth of advice and solutions to support you use PE and sport across the whole school to develop young people’s well-being, leadership skills and achievement. For more information please visit www.youthsporttrust.org
About Dominic Judge
Dominic Judge is Assistant Director for Education Policy and Partnerships at the Youth Sport Trust. The Youth Sport Trust is an independent, national charity focussed on changing young peoples’ lives through PE and sport. YST focus on how PE and sport can develop well-being, leadership skills and drive achievement
Dominic started off as a secondary teacher and previously worked at the National College for Teaching and Leadership for 11 years where he led the national succession planning programme (focussed on the headship pipeline) between 2010-2012. He lives in Nottingham and is a governor within a secondary MAT in the city.