Primary PE

The remarkable value of physical activity in schools

Based on the insightful findings from the recent analysis conducted by the social impact consultancy State of Life for the Youth Sport Trust, let's delve into the transformative power of physical activity (PA) in schools and its profound impact on increasing pupil engagement, both inside and outside the classroom.

The critical role of physical activity in schools has never been more apparent. Ground-breaking research, conducted by social impact consultancy State of Life and released by the Youth Sport Trust during Mental Health Awareness Week, has placed a monumental value on school sports and physical activity, showcasing its undeniable benefits for children's mental well-being.

The economic value of happiness and well-being

This pioneering analysis reveals that access to free physical activity in primary and secondary schools contributes between £4.5 billion and £9 billion each year to improved life satisfaction, happiness, and overall wellbeing among young people. It leverages the WELLBY (Wellbeing-Adjusted Life Years) measure, recommended by the Treasury, which helps contextualise the impact of increased life satisfaction and happiness, due to school-based physical activity programmes, like Physically Active Learning and PPA delivery.

Findings suggest a significant uplift in happiness and life satisfaction among pupils, who actively participate in up to 30 minutes of physical activity at school daily. Specifically, for younger children in years 3-6 (ages 7-10), there's a +0.084 effect on happiness, while for those in years 7-11 (ages 11-16), there's a +0.149 effect on life satisfaction. Remarkably, these increases translate to an economic value of approximately £1,100 per year for each primary-aged child and £1,900 per year for each secondary-aged child.

Beyond the numbers: A well of benefits

Physical activity's impact extends far beyond financial metrics; it is pivotal in fostering environments where children thrive. Sir Mo Farah, Youth Sport Trust National School Sport Champion, advocates for daily physical activity through PE and sports as essential for improving physical and mental health. Initiatives like Mo's Mission aim to ensure every child engages in 60 minutes of physical activity per day, highlighting the profound effects on happiness, health, and readiness to learn.

The Challenge of Inactivity

Despite these clear benefits, many schools face challenges in prioritising physical activity due to many pressing priorities and constraints. Alarmingly, there has been a notable decrease in PE hours taught in secondary schools since the 2012 London Olympics. This decline points to a concerning trend that necessitates urgent action to elevate the importance of physical activity within educational environments.

A Call to Action for Active and Well Schools

The Youth Sport Trust's report underscores the need for a comprehensive national plan that ensures every child has access to 60 minutes of active time per day. This plan should redefine the role of PE, offer free after-school activities, and introduce a new national wellbeing measurement to track and target interventions.

As we commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week, it's crucial to acknowledge the vital role of physical activity in supporting not only the mental health of our younger generations but also their engagement and success in academic and social spheres.

Embracing the Vision

To harness the vast social and economic benefits of physical activity, we must integrate it at the heart of the school day. By doing so, we can unlock the transformative effect of being active in the well-being and positive engagement of children and young people.

In conclusion, the recent Youth Sport Trust and State of Life findings illuminate the invaluable impact of school-based physical activity. It's a compelling call to educators, policymakers, and the community to advocate for and ensure that physical activity is prioritised in schools nationwide. Only through collective action can we guarantee that our children and youth can access the manifold benefits of being active, setting the stage for healthier, happier, and more engaged generations.

You can read the full State of Life report into “The social value of free physical activity in schools” for the Youth Sport Trust here.

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