Findings on teachers' views regarding sport in school

Elliot Simmonds

Elliot Simmonds is the Panel Manager at VoicED, an online research community. He has presented at a Russell Group university on the value of a Humanities degree in the business world, as well as acting as a mentor for business students at the University of Manchester in recent years. Elliot also brings experience of other education systems, having attended the University of Massachusetts. In 2014 he judged the Education category of the UK Blog Awards.

Elliot also offers marketing consulting services through Rippleout Marketing, and is happy to speak to schools and other educational establishments.

Education professionals can visit the VoicED member site, whilst research buyers within the education sector will find the client portal interesting.

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How do teachers in different subjects view PE? Elliot Simmonds of VoicEd has, along with his peers, been conducting research into this very subject.

In light of the fact that this summer has seen a World Cup, Wimbledon, test cricket and a Home Nations Commonwealth games, my colleagues and I have recently completed some research with teachers to understand their opinions around just how important sport is in the classroom. That report will be published soon, but I wanted to give Innovate My School readers a bit of a preview, and to talk around some of the issues we feel it brings up.

In short, not a single teacher of the 110 whom we interviewed thought that school sports aren’t important for a healthy lifestyle – with 108 of them (98.2%) stating that it was important, and almost three quarters saying it was very important for promoting a healthy lifestyle.

In addition, almost three quarters of teachers felt that school sports were also important for pupils’ academic achievement. One teacher went as far as to describe sport as ‘vital’ for pupil attainment and progress, as well as for teaching life skills, with another noting that those who do not excel academically often do well in sports. More than 80% of teachers also agreed that including sporting themes in academic lessons could help students engage with other subject matter.

In short, the reaction to sport as part of our survey was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers seem, generally, to be pro-sport. These findings are also supported by other research, including for instance a 2013 report by the Smith Institute (base: 898 primary and secondary teachers), which found that 95% of teachers felt physical activity improved education attainment.

It will be interesting, with further analysis, to understand if this has any correlation at a more segmented level – i.e. primary school vs. secondary, or (perhaps controversially) state vs. independent. Let us not forget that at the London 2012 Olympics, more than a third of Britain’s medals (36%) were won by athletes who were educated at independent schools!

A Wider Point of View

Of course, research into schools and school sport cannot be seen in isolation, and there are a number of issues around it – including the rising level of childhood obesity (more than a quarter of Welsh children now start school overweight, with a tenth obese) and the debate around school playing fields and ring-fenced funding for PE.

However, one important factor which comes from reading around the topic of school sport, and which we will pick up here, is the clear difference in the opinions and participation of girls and boys, and how this affects later life. Sport England’s Active People Survey (Active People 8) highlights that, in the year up to April 2014, only around 30.3% of the female population took part in sport once a week, compared to 40.9% of men. Now, let’s be fair, neither figure is particularly high – but 16-25 year old women have also registered no growth in participation for several years, and they are one of very few groups who fall in to this category. The figure drops even more, to 23%, for women in lower socioeconomic groups; groups more likely overall to have attended state school.

The above figures are, largely, for women of every age group in the UK – but school is a key area in which the Government can actively encourage sport as children are a ‘captive audience’ and, from the findings noted above, teachers seem generally to suggest that there are benefits to school sport for both health and academia.

We’ll release further analysis of our own figures in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out for that – but in the meantime, I’m really keen to hear if what we’ve found above correlates with teachers’ views.

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What are your views of sport in school? Let us know in the comments.

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