PE lessons not active enough, study concludes
The research study, published today in European Physical Education Review, used accelerometer devices to measure Year 9 girls’ health enhancing physical activity within PE lessons. It concluded that health enhancing physical activity accounted for only one-fifth of the time spent in PE.
Speaking about the findings, Physical Activity & Health researcher Matthew Hobbs said: “We know that schools, and in particular Physical Education, has an essential role to play in helping promote physical activity to children and for providing regular opportunities to improve their physical, mental and social wellbeing.
“Results from our study highlight that health enhancing physical activity accounted for only 20.8% of the time in PE lessons, far below Ofsted’s recommended minimum of 50%. This statistic demonstrates that PE may not currently be fulfilling its potential contribution to promoting physical activity, nor does it optimally enhance exercise capacity or health. At current levels, an additional 17.5 minutes of health enhancing physical activity per 60 minute PE lesson is needed to meet the minimum Ofsted guideline.”
In agreement with Ofsted, the researchers suggest best practice may be to keep pupils physically active throughout the whole PE lesson. However, in contrast to the Ofsted recommendation of engaging in vigorous physical activity for sustained periods of time teachers should balance the amount of moderate intensity or health enhancing physical activity by:
- Reducing time spent in less active management contexts
- Increasing health enhancing physical activity across all PE lessons by embedding physical activity and health related learning outcomes within lesson plans and schemes of work.
Jim McKenna, Professor of Physical Activity and Health at Leeds Beckett University, added: “Too few school pupils, especially adolescent females, are experiencing the benefits of sufficient daily physical activity. This has wider implications on classroom behaviour, school performance and on health care costs. Existing research suggests that developing positive physical activity skills and habits early in life, especially the management of exercise intensity, may be a key skill that supports better long term health, mental well-being and happiness. More immediately, activity undertaken throughout the school day - as well as in PE lessons - can result in profound cognitive and social benefits. Teachers notice this when they talk about improved concentration, enhanced working memory and better group working.”
The themes of the lessons that were assessed included ‘Outwitting Opponents’ (delivered through field hockey and netball) and ‘Accurate Replication’ (delivered through gymnastics). The researchers used the System for Observing the Teaching of Games in Physical Education to identify lesson content.
Within the lesson themes, warm-up was the most active lesson context. Pre- and post-lesson management were the least active components. Contrary to the researcher’s expectations, small-sided or modified games did not increase levels of physical activity as expected, compared to full-sided games.
Senior Lecturer Andy Daly-Smith said: “This study highlights that the National Curriculum for Physical Education may not be providing sufficient regular health enhancing physical activity for female adolescents. Given that PE is usually timetabled only once or twice a week, girls are missing out on a critical opportunity to develop the confidence to be active either now or in the future. We believe that there is sufficient evidence about the educational and the health benefits of physical activity to prioritise it in the National Curriculum for Physical Education. Our study concludes that a PE curriculum that requires more health enhancing physical activity is possible, but needs to be experienced by greater proportions of young female adolescents.”