24/02/16 – The role of physical education and activity in a fit and healthy childhood

Speakers: Andrew Cook, Ofsted; Eustace de Souza, National Lead on Children, Young People and Families at Public Health England; Prof. Nick Draper, University of Derby

24th February 2016 – meeting notes

All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood

The role of physical education and activity in a fit and healthy childhood

Chair: Nic Dakin MP

The Chair welcomed the group and introduced the speakers.

Andrew Cook

When we go into schools we look at the breadth of the curriculum, including physical education. When taught well physical education enthuses and inspires people to have a life-long love of physical exercise. That is how Ofsted sees physical education.

For physical education, inspectors look at the leaders and managers of a school, considering scheduled lessons and extra curricula activities, and how children extend their knowledge and understanding of a range of activities (including sport). Ofsted thinks that physical education is a very important part of the curriculum. It also has a big role in seeing how well leaders are using the Greater Sport premium. How are schools creating a mindset of encouraging children to take part in sport (in and out of school) and how they learn to keep themselves healthy?

To be an outstanding school, children need to be able to explain how to keep themselves healthy and make informed choices about healthy eating. The inspectors’ job is to see how well schools use physical education to instil in pupils how they can maintain healthy lives (from a very young age).  Our handbooks make it clear this must be searched out and seen to be happening. There are clear indications on what inspectors should expect.

By the age of 11, sports should be introduced through games, dance, athletics and competitive sport.

By key stage 3 and 4 we want to see schools teaching physical education really well and to see that pupils are engaging in physical activity which is a life-long benefit, taking them on from school to be enthusiastic about sport and keeping health. This can often be seen in the form of extracurricula clubs and how they support their young people in sports activities outside the school. We want to see teachers and staff playing a vital role in instilling positive attitudes towards physical education and healthy lifestyles and engaging with sports outside the school in order to promote life-long activity beyond school.

Eustace de Souza

We know that physical activity is crucial for adults and children. For children especially it helps build a series of other aspects: development of social interaction, managing risk in a structured way, developing motor skills and problem solving. It should be challenging and pleasurable for the children.

It also contributes to calorie burn, and so a healthy weight. However it can only play a small role in tackling obesity and excess weight.

The lack of physical activity is estimated to contribute to 9% of all premature deaths (almost equating to premature death rates linked to tobacco).

The CMO has recommended two different levels of activity:

At least 3 hours per day for under 5s and 60 minutes a day for older children. At least 3 of those sessions should be of a vigorous nature. However, we know (from PHE surveys) the numbers fulfilling this is pitifully low. Of 2-4 year olds, less than 10% are meeting that target. Additionally the numbers have fallen steadily from 2008 to 2013, in certain ethnic minority groups in particular.

We generally have an increasingly sedentary society and children play that out, very clearly.

What are we doing about it? Last October PHE published the report Every Body Active Every Day. Actions need to be taken at local, individual and national levels.

We stressed clearly that we should take a life-course approach to this. We would look at mum and dad’s health before, during and after pregnancy; setting the markers from a very early age.

As children get older schools play an increasing role in this area. To support schools, we published the report What Works in Schools: a guide for head teachers, looking at the evidence base and some inspirational case studies. Schools should take a holistic approach not just what is on the curriculum, seeing what families need and what the local community needs.

PHE has the Change for Life programmes, sports programmes and clubs in primary schools across the country. We run social media campaigns. Last summer (working with Disney) we had the Shake Up campaign which added extra minutes of activity for children and families as a result of that campaign. We are also working to improve the health and physical literacy of early year’s staff, there is an opportunity to improve the advice they give. We are also working with DCLG and the LGA on how to improve the environment on providing safe places to play. Many parents are risk averse and there are very few safe places for children to play with in urban areas. Sometimes getting to the places to play can be a real challenge.

To finish there are 3 key points:

We need to take a holistic approach across a life course. We need to stress the building blocks for children to take this in in a way that is fun and enjoyable.

We have to recognise the role that settings can play, local communities and local authorities have a role to play in this.

We cannot afford to wait on these issues given the scale of the problem that we have. Taking small steps now is going to be very important. There are things that we can be getting on with now.

Prof. Nick Draper

I am glad that this group has physical education front and centre of that agenda. The previous speakers had some positive messages; I will now introduce some of the challenges for primary and secondary schools.

In the run up and post the Olympics state schools were criticised for not producing Olympic champions; that symbolised the loss of purpose of physical education. Is physical education in schools about exams, talent ID or trophies? We have not heard from the policy people what the focus is for physical education.

Looking at the curriculum, it has not really changed since 1942, in terms of its focus, when you look at secondary schools you see that they have not addressed the purpose of physical education. The content of physical education has not changed in 100 years. If you speak to parents and children, you see that the basic problems have not changed.

What are we doing year 7, 8 and 9 to lose children and young girl’s interest in physical education by secondary school? In secondary schools the issue is a loss of purpose; in primary schools the teachers do not have the confidence or knowledge to teach physical education.

We should learn from other countries, there are great projects in Norway and the Netherlands to look at. In a project in Amsterdam there are specialist teachers teaching physical education in primary schools and there are dedicated gyms for physical education. The children are tested for motor development (instead of fitness, the emphasis in the UK) with the results fed back to the physical education teachers who create individualised programmes.

Comments and discussion

There is too great an emphasis on the environment; children are not put at the centre of the programmes. To see if a programme is working, children need to be tested and measured. That is how when we know if programmes work.

Andrew Cook: Our inspectors go into a setting and assess the outcomes, can the child do something or do it better now? We also look at the progress throughout the school and have our inspectors talk to children to find out about their experience and knowledge.

Prof. Nick Draper: Self reporting in children is often wrong. Success helps to create life-long habits, as soon as a child moves, you can see if they have motor development. Measuring elements like this has a purpose.

Eustace de Souza: BMI is measured and then fed back to the parents; sometimes this is in the form of letters signposting parents to support services.

Adding fitness testing could be logistically difficult, we also need to think about what we are measuring, there is a risk that we would be describing physical activity in very narrow terms.

We need to work out how to bring joy into activity, in order to create life-long commitments. If you move well, you can then layer on sportiness later on, if that is what the child wants. We do need to look and see what is the purpose of PE?  The pupil premium progress is measured in points, each term and each year. Are we over complicating it by how we are talking about it? Would it be sensible to introduce a ‘pupil progress measurement scheme’?

Prof. Nick Draper: We can learn from primary schools, the joy of movement can be seen in how children play and devise games etc. That joy of movement is lost in secondary school.

Andrew Cook: Physical education being taught well makes children enjoy physical education. It comes back to the quality of teaching. Ofsted does not tell schools how to measure, they need to be clear about how they measure and what it shows; an improvement in skills/engagement of the young people? We leave measuring to schools and get them to tell us what they have discovered.

Prof. Nick Draper: Scotland and Wales have reorganised their curriculum with physical education now in the health and wellbeing category, with a good sense of purpose. Wales recently launched the Dragon Challenge, a data gathering exercise, where the data will be used in the first year of secondary school to create individual programmes.

Why does Ofsted not inspect playtime?

A current planning consultation considers building on “ignored” land, but some of these are areas where children would play. Has PHE got involved in issues around planning consent?

Early years faces challenges; it is difficult to access good training, practice is fragmented in the UK, there are lots of tools developed in local areas and a need to unify them across the early years setting that would support Ofsted. It is about holistic, behaviour change, developing role models and working with practitioners who have a low level of activity.

Udney Park Playing Fields has been sold by Imperial College to a property hedge fund. Is there sufficient policy to prevent speculative acquisition of playing fields (with a view to later profit)? This is a challenge in my community which I see across other communities in London.

Andrew Cook: Early Years is a complex age to teach, there are going to be challenges, and there is a challenge about the quality of training. Good professional development will lead to good teaching.  Ofsted inspectors do go out at playtime, in cases where schools bring in extra activities; we check who is attending and see how it works.

Eustace de Souza: PHE have published papers advising on access to play in built environments and rural areas. We have made a submission to the current consultation. We advise Local Authorities through the LGA, on providing spaces for children to play safely.

The early years; with the extension of free childcare, is a gold opportunity, but it needs the right setting (the right physical environment) and the right staff. There is an issue about making improvements in the workforce: e.g. childminders.

Phil Royal: The lack of PE and the way in which it plays a part in the percentage of premature deaths in the UK is serious; we need this hammered home properly. This group will launch a new working group to look into these issues, shortly.

Prof. Nick Draper: The general experience of physical education is that generations leave school with a fear of PE, where they need a love of physical education; they are leaving school then having to rediscover the benefits of physical activity and movement. There is an issue that we need to address. If we are clear about the purpose of physical activity we can put in place facilities and staff. There is currently a difference between England and Wales.

Year 10 girls have low physical activity levels, if the curriculum has not changed, are we providing them enough options? Are we giving people enough opportunity, it’s about opening people’s eyes to a wide range of activities. Much of the time of physical education lessons is taken up by standing around and waiting (getting changed etc) are we providing enough time for people to get enough from their physical education lesson?

There is a concern about sports drinks and their influence; companies continually wanting to sponsor research, when looking at evidence are we looking at research which has been sponsored by sports drinks companies?

I’d like to share information about the practice of working with 15 primary schools in Islington. We decided we wanted to measure the effect of physical education, a question the schools had not asked themselves previously. We began by auditing and observing 150+ hours of activity, including the concept of “active learning time” which looked at how much opportunity there was for the children to move. A third of the lesson was active time, a third was queuing time and a third was teacher talking time. That was the same across the schools. Like content, delivery is very similar to what it was years ago. We have been able to help the schools to measure what is done in the active learning time; the schools are sharing best practice (supporting the schools that are not so good). We need to hear the child’s voice, to this end we had 2,000 questionnaires and focus groups discussions.

Prof. Nick Draper: Sports drinks companies have incredible lobbying power, it is clever and prevalent marketing, we must be aware of this.

Agreed, there are lots of examples of good practice to be shared. There are examples of really good practice; we need to find ways of sharing that in England

Eustace de Souza: The point on the drinks issue is shocking. PHE in the SACN report did highlight this and recommended a sugary drinks tax.

We are working with the Youth Sports Trust to see what motivates girls to abandon physical activity. The majority of young people want to be physically active and want a broader range of activities on offer.

Andrew Cook: We would hope that schools are teaching children to make healthy life choices in the case of sugary drinks.

Ofsted looks at the quality of a lesson; was it engaging, was it enjoyed? Schools learn best practice and share it is inevitably what schools need to do. I would challenge the idea that the curriculum has not changed in 100 years, there have been changes to a certain extent, and it is about how schools apply this. I totally agree with the point about children’s voice needing to be heard, that is what you do, as an inspector, when you sit next to a child and listen to their experience of a physical education lesson.

The Chair brought the meeting to an end at this point.