5 ways a better PE and sport provision can improve wellbeing

July 2, 2018
Will Swaithes

Will Swaithes

Head of Physical Education and Achievement at the Youth Sport Trust

We all know that the accountability pressures facing schools are huge.

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This blog is part of Ambition:Feed's pupil wellbeing challenge. Find more tips and discussion on the Ambition:Feed homepage.

The relentless focus on student outcomes can drive senior leaders in schools to make certain curriculum decisions to support and deepen academic progress.

But, at a time when students’ physical and mental wellbeing is in decline, exam stress and the pressures facing young people are at an all-time high, it feels important to ensure that the curriculum offer is balanced and has enough necessary focus on holistic development.  

Youth Sport Trust

A focus on character, self-esteem and ‘wellness’ is needed now more than ever. So here are my five tips for improving pupil wellbeing:

1. Start with your staff

To successfully focus on student health and wellbeing, everyone needs to role model best practice. In my experience, students are sceptical about drives to improve their physical, emotional and social wellbeing, especially if the desired attitudes and behaviours aren’t being lived out by staff.

With mounting pressures, it is hard to find time for staff to relax, unwind, look after themselves and each other. It’s also hard for staff to remember that continual reinforcement of healthy habits is the key to happier individuals, a more connected staff body and improved productivity.

You can embed these healthy habits by addressing your email culture, encouraging walking meetings, providing healthy eating options and creating a timetable of staff health and fitness activities. These can all be introduced in staff briefings as they are an ideal time to reinforce the idea that staff should look after themselves.

2. Transform Physical Education

While we have some exceptional examples of modern physical education pedagogy and practice, there is huge variation in provision across the country. Our new strategy, ‘believing in every child’s future’, sets out our ambition to transform PE’s place in the curriculum by putting it at the centre of wellbeing and achievement in education.

When we talk about high quality or world-leading PE, what do we mean? We mean the statutory time on the formal curriculum that every child is entitled to and believe its principle purpose is to inspire, challenge and develop every young person as happy, healthy and successful. As a subject it has so much potential to change lives and this must be capitalised on.

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3. Encourage play

Renowned researchers like Sir Ken Robinson, Doctor William Bird and Professor Guy Claxton have helped evidence the value of both structured and unstructured play and physical activity on how young people feel but also how they subsequently learn and perform.

Look for creative ways to build time back into your school day for exploration and fun, as well as making great use of your outside environment.

4. Diversify your offer

Student attitudes and motivations towards sport and physical activity continue to evolve. The Youth Sports Trust student voice surveys from over 26,000 thousand young people suggest opportunities for fun and friendship need to be at the heart of your offer to engage most.

The School Games has released some very helpful competition principles and we encourage you to think differently to provide opportunities for different groups of children rather than more for the same few who are also competing outside of school.

Ask yourself: when did you last ask your least active young people what they would like as a part of their enrichment offer?

5. Use physical activity as an intervention

Doctor John Ratey has provided very compelling evidence to demonstrate that student achievement in maths is improved if lessons follow physical activity such as running.

Meanwhile, we have all felt the physical and psychological benefits that come from exercise so experiment with strategic use of it as an intervention for targeted groups.

Exercise certainly boosts that ‘happiness hormone’ of endorphins better than chocolate. Research shows people concentrate and learn better immediately after physical activity so give it a try with those hard to reach groups!  


Do you have any opinions on  how to use physical activity to promote wellbeing? Get involved in the discussion over at Ambition:Feed - tweet us using #ambitionfeed or join our Facebook group. 

The Youth Sport Trust are a national charity passionate about creating a brighter future for all children and young people through the power of sport. To find out more about their great work and to find more resources for your school, visit their website

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