Over the term, we’ll be releasing more materials outlining ways in which governors can help schools intervene and improve physical activity levels for all pupils. There are, however, baseline areas of knowledge and action that they can begin to look at and get to grips with. It’s a good idea to do this before going too far down the road with solutions that might not actually be suitable for your school’s circumstances.
Speak to your SLT and P.E. staff
Ask what is currently being done for pupils at the school and how sport and P.E. funding is being spent. You can then compare this to the national curriculum. Inspect the facilities and equipment and ask the P.E. staff what they would like to change or improve in their lessons, as well as more broadly in the school. Find out the specific challenges your school is facing, as well as the opportunities it has, but make sure that everyone understands that more time and effort spent on invigorating students physically will pay off in the classroom.
Put it permanently on the agenda
Whether as an aspect of wellbeing or an item in its own right, long-term change won’t happen without physical activity in the school becoming a permanent fixture in conversation at board, staff and parental levels. Regularly challenge about what is being offered and planned as well as how it has been received. Request advice and suggestions as to ways to improve or further integrate physical activity into the daily routine of pupils. As ever, be aware of workloads and other pressures and ensure sport and exercise in the school is not just piled on top of everything else expected of school staff.
Ask for help
Reach out for advice and expertise on enabling young people to become more active, be it contacting local sports clubs or organisations like Sport Wales and Sport England/Active Partnerships. Many of them provide workshops for governors and staff on best practice in this regard. With the support of the SLT, your P.E. staff could be tasked with developing relationships with local sports organisations, coaches, instructors, gyms, and activity centres, in an effort to broaden the opportunities offered to students. In reciprocal fashion, investigate how open the school is to the local exercise and sports communities – the rental of school facilities can be a valuable revenue stream as well as allowing for relationships to be built. As an example, in exchange for free use of a school hall several nights a week a yoga instructor will run classes for school students and staff for free.
Ask the pupils
A student is far more likely to commit to an activity they are either interested in or have chosen to do, and pupil buy-in is important. Within reason, arrange a survey of student opinions on different aspects of physical activity in the school, including what other offerings they might like to participate in. In all likelihood, some won’t be possible, but the results can lead to a diversified, targeted range of activities that cater to many more tastes and needs.
Ask the staff
Staff wellbeing is crucial to a healthy school and by including them in how the school approaches physical activity, their needs, ideas, and interests can be taken into consideration and contribute greatly to the success of any changes. If staff are encouraged to model positive behaviour and, by offering CPD and upskilling opportunities, enabled to help deliver extra-curricular activities that they themselves enjoy, pupils are more likely to normalise being active and see the benefits.
Ask the parents
Parental involvement and buy-in is crucial to maximise a pupil’s physically active lifestyle and for it to exist beyond the school gates. Take the time to understand the challenges and pressures parents face in enabling their child to play and engage with some form of physical activity on a regular basis. Parents might be able to raise funds or volunteer in order to boost provision at school, as well as organise to improve the quality of or access to local amenities. Be it engaging with active travel or creating regular ‘Playing Out‘ sessions on local roads, including parents in the conversation can have a big impact.
This is key to long-term change. Ensure all your students are being consistently educated and reminded about the importance of their wellbeing and how physical activity is a crucial component of this. It shouldn’t be solely during PSHE or P.E. lessons, but across the curriculum and school channels. Make sure students are aware of opportunities to exercise or play sport both in the school as well as within the wider community, and publicise local or national events to promote being active – be it joining in a local fun run or using the Tour de France to engage students with cycling. Ensure parents are included in these messaging efforts, so they understand what and why the school is doing in this regard, as well as their role in supporting their children.
Each change or improvement the school then makes will build on the knowledge and success of this groundwork – from using increased parental engagement with their children exercising, to encouraging active travel to and from school, or sending staff on coaching courses as part of their CPD, while also delivering a desired extra-curricular activity for the students.
Our thanks to Yorkshire Sport and Active Sussex, Sport Wales, Sport England and the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre (CHERC) of the University of Exeter for their assistance with this article.