The Moki Active Schools Project assessed physical activity levels in over 350 KS2 primary school children from 13 different UK schools over 8 weeks in the summer term of 2019.
For a pupil to be included in the project, they needed to have recorded physical activity data for at least one week. The results show in-school physical activity (i.e., starting when school starts and stopping when it ends). To give you an idea of the size of the dataset collected, the assessment included almost 5000 pupil school days and over 55 million steps.
Same day – very different levels of physical activity
The variability in average daily physical activity between pupils was enormous – from a low of fewer than 2000 steps a day to a high of almost 12,000 steps a day. This means that the most active pupils do 6 times more physical activity during the school day than the least active pupils. The average was ~5600 steps a day. So, in-school physical activity is highly variable between children and we can’t just assume that all children get access to the same amount of physical activity just because they are in school for the same length of time.
It is worth noting that based on the recently updated Government guidelines for daily moderate to vigourous physical activity (MVPA) almost 2/3 of these children are not meeting them. Recommendations are 60 minutes per day with half of that taking place in school.
Inequalities in Schools – Girls are less active than Boys
The ASP found that girls do approximately 20% less activity than boys. There were small differences across the whole day but this finding is mostly explained by differences in physical activity during lunch and break times.
The ASP does not tell us why there is this difference – perhaps girls are choosing to do something that is less active during lunch/break times or, alternatively, girls feel less comfortable engaging in active play than boys because they feel pushed out or excluded (e.g., by the boys).
The 'Inactive' Curriculum
It comes as no surprise that the largest contributors to daily physical activity at school are breaks and lunch. What is interesting to note is the relative inactivity at all other times.
This underscores the importance of looking at physical activity as something that can be integrated across the curriculum rather than just inserted as discrete activities like PE and breaks etc. The overall impact of this 'Active Curriculum' approach is evident in the last graph in this article .
It's also unsurprising but worth noting that whilst Lunch and break times are the most consistently active times of the day for girls and boys, this is when the gap really opens up in terms of the level of physical activity between the groups.
Big differences across the school week
On average, Mondays are the least active day and Fridays are the most active day. In fact, physical activity tended to increase each day over the course of a typical week. It is hard to know whether this is because the early part of the week focusses (mainly) on academic endeavour or because teachers deliberately give more access to physical activity (e.g., PE, active breaks) later in the week, but the fact that an average Friday has about 50% more activity than an average Monday is a fascinating insight.
One of the most striking findings from the ASP is the difference between the 13 schools that took part. The most active school did more than double the average activity of the least active school – and there was a lot of variability between the other schools. Thus, even though the curriculum might be the same, local differences are having a major impact on physical activity in KS2 pupils. This could be explained by many things – such as school resources (e.g., playing fields) as well as teacher attitudes to and understanding of physical activity.
The Active Curriculum
The overall school approach to physical activity established by the leadership team explains the high level of physical activity in the most active school above. The incorporation of two Active Breaks and a longer lunch break contribute enormously to higher daily physical activity in their pupils – but the most active school also managed to make other school time more active through the implementation of active learning throughout the day and across the curriculum.