Talking heads: is there a link between physical activity and positive classroom outcomes?

Four private school heads discuss

“At Bedford School we know first-hand how physical activity can positively affect what goes on in the classroom. Not only does sport have health and fitness benefits, it also encourages discipline, teamwork and independence amongst our students – all mindsets that can be applied elsewhere in the curriculum. We firmly believe, and many studies confirm what we know from experience, that there is a positive correlation between a healthy mind and a healthy body. We aim to inspire a lifelong interest in sport and hope that students will apply the skills they have learned to life after school.” 

James Hodgson, headmaster, Bedford School


As ever, the answer depends on each individual, but in general it’s yes, certainly, in several different ways. Many people (not just children) benefit from breaking up their day with physical activity which allows them fresh air and a change of stimulus before refocusing on mental/academic tasks; for many children with excess energy this is actually a prerequisite for academic learning, and for others it provides a boost of adrenalin which prevents them from hibernating through lessons. Physical activity, play and team sport also allow an arena for social interaction, establishment of identity, place and sometimes pecking order, which can keep this necessary component of human behaviour out of the classroom where it can be a distraction.”    

John Attwater, principal, King’s Ely


I think physical activity can be directly related to success within a classroom environment. We pride ourselves on promoting strong physical conditioning and mental wellbeing through exercise and outdoor education programmes, which also aid the overall focus and development of each pupil considerably. Numerous studies show that a mixture of healthy eating and exercise are the key to staying fit. Not only does being in shape inherently afford you more energy and focus, but it also improves your mood and relieves anxiety. Pupils that exercise regularly and eat healthily will undoubtedly see their classroom progress increase, and this is something we highly encourage to great effect.” 

Sally-Ann Harding, head, Rydal Penrhos senior school


The school’s enrichment programme and PE department drive sport forward and increase opportunities for all of our students to engage in physical activity. Our competitive pupils are eager to perform well on the sports field and in the classroom. The students who are on course to achieve top grades at GCSE and A-level are often those who lead our sports teams or are key members of our enrichment clubs. As a school we place a large emphasis on health and wellbeing. The release of endorphins produced when playing sport helps pupils have a balanced schooling – compensating for those stress hormones released during exams.” 

Nicola Griffiths, acting head, Ipswich High School

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