Children spend a large proportion of their waking hours in the school setting, and thus schools are considered a key setting for providing opportunities for physical activity. Physically active behaviours can be facilitated through school design, provision of facilities and equipment and curricular and extra-curricular opportunities.
- % of schools with active school policies (e.g., daily physical education (PE), daily physical activity, recess, “everyone plays” approach, bike racks at school, traffic calming on school property, outdoor time).
- % of schools where the majority (≥80%) of students are taught by a PE specialist.
- % of schools where the majority (≥80%) of students are offered the mandated amount of PE
- % of schools that offer physical activity opportunities (excluding PE) to the majority (>80%) of their students
- % of children who have access to PA opportunities at school in addition to PE
- % of schools with students who have regular access to facilities and equipment that support physical activity (e.g., gymnasium, outdoor playgrounds, sporting fields, multipurpose space for physical activity, equipment in good condition)
- The HAPPEN survey (2018-2020), children aged 8 to 11 years (n=1,329)
- SHRN School Environment Questionnaire (SEQ) 2019/20 (2020 report)
- SportWales,SchoolSportSurvey(2018), children aged 7-16 years (n=118,893)
- Sport Wales, School Sport Provision questionnaire (completed by PE teacher/coordinator from all state primary (n=869) and secondary schools (n=186) in Wales)
Deciding on a grade
The HAPPEN survey asked children aged 8-11 ‘Does your school have an afternoon break?’ Out of 134 primary schools, 45% (n=60) offered an afternoon break. No data was available for secondary schools. This dataset is not nationally representative, however no other school policy data were available.
The School Sport Survey (provision) asked ‘Over the course of the CURRENT academic year (2017-2018), how many teachers or teaching assistants have helped to deliver P.E. and sport activities in the school?’. Stratified by gender, 69% of primary schools and 92% of secondary schools had at least one male specialist PE teachers, and 69% of primary and 80% of secondary had at least one female specialist PE teacher.
The SHRN SEQ 2019-20 asked how many minutes per week were allocated to PE within the formal curriculum. Results show a concerningly low proportion of schools offering the mandated (120 minutes) amount of PE, and a decrease from 6% in year 7 to 1% in year 11 (school year: 8: 6%, 9: 4%, 10: <1%). Results from the School Sport Survey (provision) 2018 showed a mean of 99 minutes per week allocated to PE per week in primary schools and 95 minutes in secondary schools. Though this data source was not included in the grade as it does not align specifically with the benchmark, this is below the recommended 120 minutes. Further data shows that 55% of primary and 83% secondary PE teachers/coordinators agree that ‘more time should be devoted to PE at my school’. Whilst a promising finding from this provision survey shows that 82% of primary (years 3-6) and 96% of secondary (years 7-11) PE teachers/coordinators agree that ‘the quality of PE delivery at the school is generally high’, this is not reflected in results from the participation survey with pupils. Results show that 57% of females and 69% of males report to enjoy PE lessons ‘a lot’, with a higher majority of those in primary school reporting this (73% compared to 54% in secondary school).
The School Sport Survey (provision) 2018 survey asked ‘Which year groups have access to regular extracurricular sport/PE? (minimum of once per week throughout a season or term).’ On average, 84% of primary (years 3-6) and 94% of secondary schools (years 7-11) offered their year groups regular access to extra, overall average 89%. Using a different cut-point, the SHRN SEQ questionnaire showed 72% of secondary schools offer physically active opportunities to at least three class years 3-5 days per week. 57% primary and 66% of secondary schools in the School Sport Survey (provision) survey report that more time should be devoted to extracurricular sport.
The School Sport Survey (participation) completed by pupils reported ‘Any participation in extracurricular sport in the past year (All young people in Wales in school years 3 to 11 (n=118,893))’. Average results show 66% of children and young people report any participation, with this ranging from 74% in primary (years 3-6) to 60% in secondary school (years 7-11). There were minimal differences by gender (males: 68%, females: 65%). Differences in participation were observed by local authority differences, ranging from 58% to 79%.
Response categories to ‘student access to physical activity resources outside of lesson time (during lunch/after school)’ were refined to include a minimum requirement of indoor (gym/sports hall) and outdoor (playground/sports field/grass pitches) spaces that are conducive to/facilitate physically active behaviours. Indoor facilities were available to 75% (during lunch) and 80% (after school) and outside facilities to 77% (during lunch) and 53% (after school) of schools; overall average: 72%. 64% of primary and 58% of secondary staff strongly agreed/agreed slightly that their school has access to sufficient facilities to provide sport, though this question did not include a broader reference to physical activity.
The benchmarks specific to the School indicator capture a broad range of components of the school environment including policy, dedicated PE curriculum time, PE specialist staff, wider physically active opportunities, children’s access to PA opportunities, access to PA facilities and equipment. The School Working Group recognise these benchmarks to be of equal importance and assigned even weighting, assigning an overall average of 60% and a grade of B-.
The data sources used for the School indicator relied on self-report surveys completed either by PE coordinators, senior management, or pupils. Given the nature of the benchmarks, assessing these through objective measures would be challenging and self-report surveys provide a low-cost method in assessing population-level data relevant to schools. This therefore means that some of the data available does not necessarily reflect specific benchmark outcomes.
How to improve
The new Curriculum for Wales is due to be rolled out from 2022, with a renewed statutory focus on Health and Wellbeing as one of six Areas of Learning and Experience of the new curriculum. Whilst this step forward may enable schools to place direct focus on health and wellbeing behaviours including physical activity through the curriculum and wider school policy, there will not be mandated time requirements for PE provision. The new curriculum provides schools with autonomy to design and implement a curriculum that meets the needs of their pupils, and it is up to individual schools to decide on the importance and value placed on activities to facilitate physically active behaviours both within the curriculum and wider school environment. It is likely this will vary considerably between schools, local authorities, and regions. It is important for future research and surveillance to track school-level differences in whole-school physical activity/PE provision, and evaluation research could examine this variation and its association with children’s outcomes across education, health and wellbeing.
The School Research Working Group proposes recommendations for consideration:
- The Curriculum for Wales should include a minimum amount of time for physically active opportunities including PE, play and break times, and extra- curricular activities.
- Physically active opportunities should be prioritised and not withdrawn or replaced by other school commitments. This includes protecting play and break time for children.
- Schools should offer a range of physically active opportunities throughout the school day and should consult with pupils to explore types of activity requested and tailor activity provision to the needs and voices of pupils.