The North Yorks school boosting exam results through active brain breaks

On International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (6 April), the Youth Sport Trust joins the Sport for Development Coalition and the aims of the Open Goal shared advocacy framework to shine a spotlight on how a North Yorkshire primary school is closing the gap in education and development by giving children access to high quality sport, physical activity and PE.

School background 

Based in Catterick, North Yorkshire, Michael Syddall Primary School has won a national award in recognition of its work to boost pupil learning outcomes through integrating activity breaks into the school day. Over half of Michael Syddall’s learners receive the Pupil Premium, 21% have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, and 20% of pupils are involved with social care or early help. 26% of year 6 pupils have external involvement. 

What Michael Syddall did: 

In 2018/2019, the school introduced stand up desks and active breaks for pupils every 20 to 30 minutes. In 2021, the school started involving pupils in the design of the curriculum, recently reviewing it to add dodgeball to Key Stage 2 and also listening to its female pupils’ voices to run events specifically for girls. It is putting health and fitness at the heart of learning by ensuring all lessons involve some form of activity to ensure its pupils are among the healthiest and happiest in the world. 

The school works closely with the Youth Sport Trust to form connections, receive support, inspiration and motivation to keep PE and sport at the heart of its curriculum and pupil’s learning. It has rolled out numerous programmes and awards developed by the charity including Girls Active, applied School Games values to the curriculum, and introduced the PE Life Skills Award. 100% of children are engaged in the PE Life Skills Award to help them in reflecting on the characteristics they are developing and how they are demonstrating them in school, as well as in life.  

How it has supported pupils: 

This, the school says, is creating positive experiences of physical activity in pupil’s formative years but is also boosting exam scores and children’s overall learning. In 2019, the school’s Key Stage 2 SATs maths score was 94% - the best it has seen -and in 2022, it achieved 79% in maths. Again above national with 25% of children working at greater depth. 


One pupil said: “I like being able to reflect on everything I have done. It shows me that school is about me as a person, not just me learning how to do stuff.” 

(Year 6 child) 

Another said: “I know I have to keep going to get the ball back, so I keep going in maths to get the answer!”  

(Year 3 child) 

Parent comment: “The school is fantastic and supports not only the child but the parents too. The extra-curricular activities for children at school and the wider community are amazing. It has a great community feel. All staff are friendly and approachable. The curriculum suits the children and promotes health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic and beyond.” 

Neil Saunders, deputy headteacher, said:  

“It can be hard for people to see the true benefits and value of embedding sport, PE and physical activity in children’s education as they often can’t see past sport being ‘going to a competition’ or ‘keeping the PE shed tidy’, but this is far from the limit of the potential impact physical activity and sport can have in children’s lives.  

“We’ve done so much at our school. I’ve been here for eight years and in that time through embedding physical activity across the school day, I’ve seen a huge impact on children’s attitudes to school and learning.  

“The impact of the active breaks during assessments has been extraordinary. Children are coping better than previously. They are completing more of the papers and are attaining better.  

“Two hours of PE a week is not enough, we recognised that there needed to be more movement in everything we did so now our children don’t work for more than 20/30 minutes before they get up and move around to reset concentration. It’s helped pupils to find their voice and feel connected to school life. Sport isn’t about winning every competition, it has its place but I think the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the wider benefits.”  

For more information on the Sport for Development Coalition Open Goal Framework, please visit

Published on 6 April 2023