Physical exercise during academic lessons can help boost test scores, study suggests

'Active classes help children learn more effectively,' researchers say

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 16 October 2019 07:04
Reception pupils will have individual assessments with teachers under the new system
Reception pupils will have individual assessments with teachers under the new system

Students who take part in physical exercises - like star jumps or running on the spot - during academic lessons do better in tests than classmates who choose sedentary learning, research has shown.

Incorporating physical activity has a significant effect on pupils’ educational outcomes during the lesson and a smaller effect on overall educational outcomes, according to a University College London (UCL)-led study says.

Activities can include using movement to signify whether a fact is true or false in a lesson, or jumping on the spot a certain number of times to answer a maths question, the report finds.

The analysis of 42 studies around the world, which looked at data from 12,663 students aged between three and 14, found that pupils’ overall levels of physical activity were also increased.

It comes at a time when concerns about childhood obesity are in the spotlight.

Lead author Dr Emma Norris, from the UCL centre for behaviour change, said: “Physical activity is good for children’s health, and the biggest contributor of sedentary time in children’s lives is the seven or eight hours a day they spend in classrooms.

“Our study shows that physically active lessons are a useful addition to the curriculum. They can create a memorable learning experience, helping children to learn more effectively.”

In one of the studies analysed, primary school children in the Netherlands who took part in physically active lessons three times a week over two years made significantly better progress in spelling and mathematics than their peers – which equated to four months of extra learning gains.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There has long been an established body of research about the benefits of exercise on academic learning and many schools already incorporate such exercises into their lessons when they think they will benefit pupils.

“While we welcome any new evidence on this, it is important that school leaders are able to decide what works for them and their students.”

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Last year, delegates at the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) debated a motion calling for “physically active learning” to be made an integral part of teaching.

School leaders were told that children should do exercise in maths and English lessons to help them retain facts and boost their academic results.

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