Active Schools: Why sit when movement improves academic performance?

Written by Maxime Leblanc on 29 January 2018 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Schools are central in the fight against child inactivity, writes Maxime Leblanc.

Active Schools can help pupils reach recommended physical activity levels | Photo credit: Seema Krishnakumar


Sedentary lifestyles have taken over. An astonishing 42 per cent of EU citizens are physically inactive. Even the younger generations are not exempt, with 19 per cent of adolescents are overweight or obese while just 16 per cent of 15 year-olds meet the WHO-recommended levels of daily  Physical Activity, which declines with age.

So-called “developed” countries have contracted the same phenomenon: kids have lost aerobic fitness and running capabilities compared to their counterparts four decades ago and the trend appears insurmountable.

The decline stems from a decline in physical literacy resonant in children’s mastery of basic movements and in a decrease of confidence that discourages them from joining games or activities Unfortunately, there is a high cost to doing nothing.


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Sedentary behaviour must be taken on at all levels. Concern is so strong that it has triggered general consent that cross-sector collaboration and multi-level governance are crucial to reversing the trend, and that schools have a catalytic role to play.

The formal recognition of physical literacy by the European Framework for Key Competencies would change education’s value of sedentary behaviour.

National governments need to ensure greater access physical activities for children, by establishing training modules for teachers and programmes to redesign school environments, allowing for regular activities.

Schools are the centrepiece in the fight against inactivity and they should not wait for top-down changes.

Despite strong evidence showing the benefits of movement on children’s cognition, Physical Activity has been reduced to a weekly P.E. class.

Why are kids tied to their chairs all day? Establishing an “Active School” is within the reach of all, regardless of budget.

"Active Schools help their pupils reach recommended Physical Activity levels, by valuing it and by establishing three hours of PE a week"

Active Schools help their pupils reach recommended Physical Activity levels, by valuing it and by establishing three hours of PE a week. Physical Activity is more accessible and inclusive than sport and should be integrated into the classroom.

A Physical Activity Strategy should outline how the school encourages pupils to stay active throughout the day, and be complemented by a ‘Healthy Lifestyle Passport’ that permits children to collect points.

Implementing active commutes can often be one of the simplest and easiest starting points.

What is most striking about the lack of initiative is the general understanding that becoming an Active School requires consequent financial means.

As illustrated above, reintroducing regular movement into children’s daily routines relies on knowledge, initiative and motivation. This article hopefully sketches the first.

About the author

Maxime Leblanc is head of European Affairs at the Sport and Citizenship Think tank

The Sport and Citizenship think tank embarked on a 36-month European project entitled ‘Physical Activity Serving Society (PASS)’. With the support of EUPEA, FESI, ISCA, ICSSPE, Spolint Institute, TAFISA and the European Commission; the PASS project investigated the present status quo of physical activity levels and practices across Europe.

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