Originally published Oct. 13, 2020 by The Star

By Stephanie Bateman

Encouraging physical activity can play a vital role in helping children and young people to catch-up on missed schoolwork and support their mental health throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, new research from Sheffield Hallam University has revealed.

The study, commissioned by Sport England, Activity Alliance, Association for Physical Education and the Youth Sport Trust, found that 92 per cent of staff believe young people being physically active helps with schoolwork and 91 per cent of pupils feel that it improves their mental and physical health.

The research evaluates student and teacher attitudes and has been carried out by Sheffield Hallam as part of Sport England’s Secondary Teacher Training Programme (STT).

Research shows that exercise is not only great for physical health, it boosts mental health, supports good behaviour, and academic achievement too

Tim Vernon, senior research fellow and STT Evaluation Project Lead at Sheffield Hallam, said: "We’re really excited to be sharing learning from Sport England’s STT programme. Our research shows the benefits of being physically active and suggests that both teachers and students perceive being active as important for many aspects of their school life, including helping with schoolwork and improving happiness and confidence. The depth of data, provided by 75,000 respondents in over 500 schools, is providing great insight into the attitudes and behaviours of staff and students towards PE, physical activity and school sport."

The Secondary Teacher Training Programme provides funding and access to professional development opportunities for all PE teachers, to support the design and deliver of PE, school sport and physical activity that best suits pupils’ needs. It also helps teachers promote the importance of PE physical activity within schools.

Activity levels of many children and young people have reduced significantly from pre-lockdown – with a third of children saying that the absence of school has had a major impact on their ability to be active.

With schools now re-opened, the STT programme can help with simple measures, such as helping schools offer more choice in how to be active and how to build in activity across the school day.

This is important because active students are happier (70 per cent vs 50 per cent) and feel more confident (76 per cent vs 38 per cent) to take part in sport compared to inactive students.

The data also shows that schools with an active travel plan in place were able to get more children active before reaching the school gates.

Tim Hollingsworth, CEO, Sport England said: “When schools were closed, we know that children found it harder to get active and did less activity than normal.

"Now that they are back open, we have a fantastic opportunity to help them reengage with both sport and exercise – and this new research tells us it’s not only great for their physical health, it boosts their mental health, supports good behaviour, and academic achievement too.

“Teachers are under pressure right now and we hope we can relieve some of that by delivering with our partners free support for schools in how to engage students with physical activity.

"It is based on our knowledge of what it takes to build physical literacy - that they are more likely to take part if activity is enjoyable, if there’s choice, and they are involved in the design of opportunities.

"It will also help staff to take a whole school approach to healthy lifestyles, creating opportunities before, after and throughout the school day.”

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