New research finds physical activity in schools worth between £4.5bn and £9bn in wellbeing benefits.

Free to access school sport and physical activity is most valuable to those who are least likely to access it outside of the school environment, including children who are disabled or receiving free school meals.

New analysis released during Mental Health Awareness Week by children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust, for the first time places an economic value on the critical importance of free-to-access school sport and physical activity for a child’s mental wellbeing.

The analysis, conducted by social impact consultancy State of Life, shows the provision of access to free physical activity in both primary and secondary schools is worth at least £4.5bn each year in improved life satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing amongst young people and is likely to be double this.

The calculation is based on the Treasury-recommended measure of wellbeing - the WELLBY, which states that a plus 1 point movement in life satisfaction per annum is worth £13,000 in economic value.

By analysing the Sport England Active Lives Children and Young People data set, which measures levels of physical activity alongside positive attitudes, wellbeing, individual and community development and engagement in sport and physical activity, State of Life concluded that being physically active for half an hour a day in school has a +0.084 effect on happiness for year 3-6 children (age 7 – 10) and a +0.149 effect on life satisfaction for year 7-11  (age 11-16) young people. Demographic, socioeconomic factors and physical activity levels outside of school have been controlled for in the analysis of the uplift in satisfaction.

According to the WELLBY value, these uplifts in happiness and life satisfaction are worth on average £1,100 per year for a primary aged child and £1,900 per year for a secondary aged child.


Youth Sport Trust National School Sport Champion Sir Mo Farah said:

"As this new report shows, getting kids active through PE and school sport is vital to improve their physical and mental health.

Not only does being active help children grow up happy, healthy and ready to learn, but it can help schools tackle challenges around attendance, engagement and behaviour.

As the Youth Sport Trust’s National School Sport Champion, I launched Mo’s Mission to ensure all children and young people get 60 minutes a day of PE, sport and play.

This reports shows the huge impact physical activity can have, so I want everyone to join me and think about how we can inspire all children and young people to get active, get well and have fun.’’


Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust said;

“We know physically active children have better wellbeing and in turn are happier, healthier and do better in the classroom. This new report by the Youth Sport Trust and State of Life puts an economic value on just how significant the impact of being physically active at school is, and reminds us why protecting universal access to PE, school sport and a culture of movement in active and well schools is important to children’s education and development.

“Many young people face barriers to being active outside of school, including family responsibilities, cost, safety and access to facilities. Therefore, ensuring all young people are active within school is absolutely essential, particularly for those young people who can benefit the most.

“Sadly too many schools struggle to prioritise physical activity within the school day due to competing priorities and the pressures they face. As a result, 40,320 fewer hours of PE were taught in secondary schools in 2022/23 compared to 2011/2012 when London hosted the Olympics.  We believe this is a matter of national concern and something that must be reversed.

“This Mental Health Awareness Week, at a time when mental health problems among the younger generations are rapidly increasing, we want to highlight the huge benefits of physical activity in supporting wellbeing and learning, and in turn highlight the social and economic value of active and well schools.

“Not only can being active help those struggling with mental wellbeing, but it can also help get upstream of some of the challenges manifesting in schools, including those linked to absence, attainment and behaviour such as anxiety, a lack of belonging and self-regulation.

“We need to put physical activity – including PE and sport – at the heart of the school day to unlock the transformative effect being active can have on wellbeing and positive engagement.

“The Youth Sport Trust has worked with leading voices from education, sport, physical activity and health and wellbeing to set out how we can increase children and young people’s physical activity to improve their wellbeing.

“We reiterate our call for all political parties to embrace this vision and take action through the introduction of a new national plan guaranteeing every child access to 60 active minutes a day which includes a reimagining role for PE, free to access after school activity for every child, and the introduction of a new national wellbeing measurement for children to track progress and target interventions.”

You can read the full State of Life report into ‘The social value of free physical activity in schools’ for the Youth Sport Trust here.

Published on 13 May 2024