A whole-school approach to fitness

Sometimes physical education and sport aren’t enough on their own to promote children’s health and wellbeing

Worried about rising childhood obesity and physical inactivity? Looking for ways to get children to be more physically active while they’re at school? More investment in PE and sport is usually the first solution and many schools across the UK are improving the quality and quantity of PE and sport provision they offer. Thanks to central funding initiatives like the government’s Sport Premium and Sport England Primary Spaces initiatives, many schools are investing in new facilities and equipment, external coaches and specialists, and teacher CPD. This is, of course, a positive step forward.

But, says play industry trade body the Association of Play Industries (API), in order to improve the health and wellbeing of all children and encourage active habits for life, we need to look beyond competitive school sport and PE as the only antidotes to today’s sedentary childhood lifestyles. The trade body has a membership which includes play equipment manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors, and, as such, it is one source of information for schools looking for advice on how to increase physical activity throughout the school day and make the most of outdoor spaces.

The rigid rules and rituals of school sport and PE, the API goes on to say, can alienate many children who may then label themselves – or be labeled by others – “non-sporty”. This then discourages participation and physical activity in later childhood and sets a pattern of inactivity into adulthood that is likely to remain a habit for life.

Many schools, though, keep a close eye on supporting healthy children and developing physical literacy and movement skills, and that goes far beyond the sports hall, PE lesson or playing field. These schools know that one way to encourage children to be active by default is to integrate physical activity into every aspect of school life, including break times, lunchtime and within as many parts of the national curriculum as possible. Schools that have physical activity embedded in their culture and values create early positive experiences for children which, with teaching staff and senior management as role models, simply become the norm.

API chair Michael Hoenigmann says: “We believe teacher training and CPD should incorporate mandatory training on physical literacy and the role of active learning and play in child development – for children of all ages. A whole-school approach to encouraging physical activity puts adults into a role model position, setting the example for children to adopt. Schools should also provide a vocabulary guide for families and teachers to encourage positive attitudes to being active to ensure that language used in schools around physical activity is not limited to ‘sport’ but encompasses all areas of life, so as not to alienate ‘non-sporty’ children.

“The API believes strongly that Ofsted should include evaluation of opportunities for children to be active within all aspects of the school day within its inspection regime, including but not limited to time dedicated to sport and PE.”

A key part of adopting a whole-school approach to physical activity is to ensure that every school uses its outdoor spaces to best effect. This might mean improving or repurposing an existing but unused outside area or building a flexible, multi-purpose space from scratch. A well-designed outdoor space can be used for wide-ranging activities, from creative literacy, maths, science and art curriculum learning to space for different types of active play at break times as well as for PE and sport. 

API T: 02476 847218 E: api@api-play.org W: www.api-play.org

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