Recently the School environment has become identified more importantly as the arena where habits can be changed and opportunities exploited. Schools can represent a primary socialising influence that has enormous impact on the course of people’s lives and on society. This rings true with all the current information regarding early physical activity interventions and the impact they have on later life. There has also been a link made with the participation in sport and physical activity and the improvement of academic performance and outcomes and interestingly research has shown that adding time to “academic” or “curricular” subjects, e.g. maths or science by taking time from physical education programmes do not enhance grades in these subjects and may be detrimental to health. Indeed the physical environment of the school has been shown to be highly conducive for children to become further engaged with physical activity which they are less likely to do outside the school influence. The Designed to Move report (2012) indicates that the school environment is accessible, and provides undoubted opportunity for regular, structured play, physical education, physical activity and sports. Additionally as a spin off from the physical activity influences, school based interventions can also affect positively social and environmental problems by developing responsible citizens.
Physical activity within school has also been shown to develop other ‘softer’ elements of pupils, such as their confidence, social skills, peer interaction and all round personal development. The importance of friendship and peer groups as influential factors on the participation in physical activity are also important and as such it is possible to infer that school based friendship and peer groups may hold even more weight in the argument for addressing the prevailing issues. Often schools use the idea of physical activity interventions not only for academic and personal development, but also to help certain ‘at risk’ groups or individuals, which can act as a buffer for risky behaviours. Many commentators have shown that certain findings support calls for more physical activity during the school day but that many schools have cut physical education programs in response to shrinking budgets.
Traditionally school based interventions have been linked to Physical Education lessons or been part of extra-curricular activity, i.e. before or after school. Additionally, the removal of funding for School Sport Partnerships and the threat of reduced time afforded for PE within curriculum time has mean consequently a reduced opportunity for effective physical activity interventions in a school based setting. What is required is a more cross curricula strategy which instils the values of physical activity and movement across all areas of the school which aids in the development of a culture of social action and responsibility.
The school environment can also allow pupils to undertake physical activity as a perceived break from their academic classes. The pupils often view PE through a lens of fun, which may allow them a break from the perceived more boring elements of their curriculum. However, if the quality of the activity allows, learning is arguably still taking place, but without the explicit knowledge of the participants. Furthermore, one can look to the added importance of the social element within the activities promoted through team work, cooperation, leadership and interaction. One can however offer a cautionary note regarding the use of PE as a vehicle to utilise educational benefits. Too often short duration of physical education activities and programmes do not allow the progress in learning and other personal and social developments that are claimed. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is taken which by definition fails to achieve any of the educational and physical based outcomes that are claimed. Researching and employing interventions in a school environment has so much potential for positive outcomes, but it just needs to be at the right place and the right time in order to exploit and utilise the various areas a school can benefit from.
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