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Returning to health and fitness

January 31, 2022, 14:02 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Holy Family Catholic Primary School, Birmingham, is taking advantage of government funding to get pupils’ health and wellbeing back on track
Returning to health and fitness

When pupils from Holy Family Catholic Primary School returned to school last March after the second Covid lockdown, teachers noticed they seemed disengaged and preoccupied.

Their academic learning had clearly taken a backward step, but their physical activity had also suffered and was low. 

Drew Hill, the school’s PE coordinator, said that school shutdown had been difficult for many children. There were few play areas or parks in Small Heath, the socially deprived urbanised area of Birmingham where the children lived, and the lack of PE lessons had adversely affected their health and fitness levels.

The school had provided PE activities via Twitter once a week during lockdown, and families had been encouraged to go outdoors, but it’s not clear how many children participated. 

By the time they came back to school, teachers recalled it was evident that “some children hadn’t run around for months.”

Over the past six years Holy Cross has been one of the UK schools in receipt of the Government’s PE and Sport Premium. In the first year, it received £8,000 and an additional £5 for each pupil in Years 1-6.

Since then, the terms of allocation have been reviewed by the Department for Education and schools with 17 or more pupils now receive £16,000 plus £10 per pupil, while those with 16 or fewer pupils receive £1,000 for each pupil.

The funding is distributed via local authorities and must be used to “make additional and sustainable improvements to the provision of PE, physical activity and sports for the benefit of all primary-aged pupil to encourage the development of health, active life-styles.”

Secondary school support

Schools are required to publish the amount of premium received; a full breakdown of spending; what impact it has had on pupil sport participation and how the school plans to sustain improvement in the future.

Schools may be asked to take part in a sampling review to check they are complying with the terms of the allocation.

Mr Hill said: “The money at Holy Family is largely used on CPD for the staff, as well as some equipment. We work closely with one of the city’s secondary schools, Bishop Challoner Sports College, which delivers sessions for our teachers.

“They train our teachers in how to plan and deliver effective and engaging PE lessons, and generally feel more confident about doing so, and to use physical activity across the curriculum. 

“This is a small school in a very deprived area, and when they leave us every day many children go home and have nowhere to play. There is one park locally, and it isn’t necessarily a place you’d want children to play in.”

The school has also purchased equipment in the form of boccia, badminton and mini golf sets to appeal to those who don’t want to play more traditional playground games at breaktimes, like football. 

“We also have a play leaders’ scheme, starting in Year 4, where pupils are trained to encourage sport and games, and is an opportunity to give some children the chance to be leaders in their year. Again, the children are trained by our colleagues at Bishop Challoner to host and deliver games and activities to children of all ages in the school.

“We use the play leaders’ scheme to boost engagement in playing during break and lunchtimes, and we believe this has increased the levels of activity the children are exposed to.

“Since the pandemic, it’s been really important to promote PE and physical activity and it’s now one of the main subjects being taught in the school.”

Every day is PE day

Holy Family has also signed up for the Youth Sport Trust’s Active Recovery Curriculum, which focuses on “restoring socialisation and readiness for learning with a reduced curriculum and increased PE focus”.

In addition to encouraging playground games, PE has been incorporated into every school day to maximise opportunities for physical activity and movement.

Staff at Holy Family have devised a timetable to allow one class at a time to use the playground to run the “daily mile”.

Pupils in Key Stage 1 use a paid-subscription service called Jump Start Jonny, even morning, while pupils in Key Stage 2 have 15-minute “after-break” sessions which involve playing fast-paced games to get their heart rates up.

There have also been non-curriculum events such as sessions delivered by Warwickshire cricket club and weekly visits from a theatre company teaching alternative skills such as wilderness activities and tug of war.

Beyond the classroom

During the spring and summer months the school prioritised outdoor teaching and learning, including subjects such as maths, and has extended it extracurricular provision to include more than 10 clubs every week based around games and activity.

The school estimates that 70% of pupils attend at least one of these sessions, with many children participating in two or three.

In recent months, teachers have reported a noticeable reduction in children’s weight and improvement in their fitness levels and stamina. They have also become more attuned to the need to stay fit and health as well as being outdoors in the fresh air.

The range of sporting opportunities on offer by Holy Family has translated into enthusiasm and increased motivation for many pupils.

“All the children are buzzing, all the children want to be getting involved,” Mr Hill added. When pupils were surveyed following visits from external cricket and tennis providers, most of them cited these sports as their favourites. 

There has also been increased interest in competition. Mr Hill said that during recreational play at breaktimes “you can see the competitiveness shining through” and “winning means a lot to them”.

The increased peer-to-peer social interaction resulting from increased sports activities and the effects of lockdown led one teacher to note that “you could really see how much they value that and how much we all took it for granted and how much they had missed it”.

Many pupils have now increased in confidence after reporting feeling ‘shy’ and ‘nervous’ when they first returned. They also recognised the value of friendships and spending time with peers and were “excited” to be outside and playing with friends.

Smart ways to spend your sports premium

  • Invite in the experts. Look out for local sports clubs, dance troupes, theatre groups and other organisations offering something “different” to engage and encourage pupils.
  • Encourage staff to undergo training, or to take on responsibility for an after-school club. Ask pupils what sort of activities they would like to attend and ensure any new clubs are promoted and advertised to parents.
  • Seek the help of neighbouring schools which have expertise in sport and PE to help train your own staff, and possibly to share equipment, pitches and other resources.
  • Take another look at your weekly timetable. Is there scope to include a 15-20- minutes pulse-raising activity. Sometimes breaking down physical activity into smaller chunks can be more engaging for pupils than a longer PE lesson. It will also give them a breather from the classroom, so they return to lessons refreshed and focused.