Fitness in Schools
Since child activity out of school has decreased over the years (due in part to more sedentary activities like TV, internet, being taken by car to school etc.) it would be nice for parents if at least school activity remained high. Typically this is not so. This means children's fitness is on a serious decline.
Physical activity has been shown by COUNTLESS studies to improve emotional and social behaviours and children who are more active do better at school. So if schools and governments want better academic results they should be INCREASING physical education, not decreasing it.
Physical Education (PE) participation in schools in the UK is at an all time low. In most cases, schools no longer have to provide a fixed number of hours per week to pupils and some schools don't. Naturally, schools must focus on what they are judged on and they are not judged on this.
Also it is estimated only 20% of time is spent doing significant exercise during PE lessons. The British Association of Sports and Exercise Medicine has highlighted the issue and put forward various recommendations but the UK Government has said it is up to schools whether they adopt it or not. In practice the UK Government, despite the rhetoric, has no interest in keeping children fit. Thousands of school playing fields have been sold off for housing development by the UK Government in the last 15 years.
Inter school games and competition funding has been slashed by the UK government and as a result there are less and less opportunities for children to get fit.
When parents send their children to school the school should be accountable for ensuring children get their recommended daily exercise allocations and the quality and intensity of that should be at a high level. Exercise cannot be left to parents during the week in school term time since most work and don't see their kids till early evening. This accountability is just not there.
This situation is similar in the United States where physical education time is being seriously cut in general. Physical Education instructors have been laid off at an alarming rate in many areas and the minimum requirement of 2 hours a week school exercise is not being checked up on. As a result kids are getting heavier and more and more unfit. Some schools do their best by making out of hours provision but unless it is prioritised within school time things are unlikely to change anytime soon. Cuts to budgets for economy reasons is having a real impact on schools and their ability to cope.
In a recent school challenge in Ireland, 8000 children from over 200 schools took part in increased exercise to see which school could get the biggest fitness improvement in a 6 week period. Children were given higher intensity training for 20minutes at the start of their PE lessons and did some extra training in the half term break. Some major increases in fitness were seen as a result (the winning school showed a 60% fitness improvement).
What can I do as a parent?
Get active yourself. Fit parents tend to have fitter kids.
Choose a school, if feasible, that has a sound reputation in sport. Do not just choose on academic grounds. Ultimately this is just one of many factors that must be considered obviously.
Get involved. Try and see if you can help the school in any way, maybe out of hours.
Encourage children to participate in FUN exercise out of school. Then they'll be more likely to get involved in school.
Prioritise your kids : try and get them involved in school sports and activities.
The bottom line is you CANNOT rely on schools to get or keep your kids fit. Schools are inundated with relentless changes to systems and processes and are constantly having budgets reviewed and cut. Unfortunately, the buck stops with YOU.
These notes explain the importance of fitness for school children and give the results of a six week school fitness programme in Ireland involving over 8,000 schools in the summer of 2013.