Active learning in practice - supporting progress and attainment in primary schools

by Ali Sturla, Development Manager for Whole School Achievement, Youth Sport Trust

In October, the challenge we’re focusing on and helping schools to tackle is ‘Supporting progress and attainment across the whole school’. This blog will outline practical examples of how schools are using PE, physical activity and school sport to help with the whole school achievement, concentration of young people and cross-curricular success.

The benefits of active learning in the classroom are widely acknowledged in a variety of areas of the curriculum. Not only does it allow core curriculum subjects such as maths and literacy to be taught in a fun and engaging way, but increases physical activity in children when meeting recommended standards is challenging. Global and UK-specific research confirms the positive association between participation in physical activity and academic performance in young people. 

In practice - The Grange School, Oxfordshire

A large community primary school in Banbury with just over 300 pupils has a number of targeted intervention programmes which they are currently using in maths and English. PE Co-ordinator Colin Lane has developed a plan to support all teachers in their curriculum planning to ensure there is a varied and comprehensive offer. This goes beyond the PE curriculum and ensures physical activity is very much ‘front and centre’ in the life of this school.

Now the school has a strong infrastructure within PE, teaching staff are diversifying the role of physical activity to implement active learning in other areas of the curriculum. These interventions include delivery of Active Maths and Literacy through physical activity, using YST resources to support wider achievement across the school.

Examples of successful techniques have included targeting disengaged Year 3 and 4 pupils in becoming ‘sports writers’. This can either be through local festivals and competitions that the school attends or major national sporting events. The most recent ‘sports writers’ task, linked to the Women's Cricket World Cup has seen huge success with pupils engaging in the literacy elements and being inspired to be more physically active.

The school also has active maths interventions for targeted groups. Activities vary depending on the needs of each cohort, with resources available for all aspects of the Maths Curriculum.

For more information on how YST can support your Active Learning through e-learning, resources and face to face training please click here.

Active Learning research study - Malton Primary School

SLE and PE Specialist Richard Allman of Malton Primary School has been undertaking a small scale study to demonstrate the link between physical activity and academic outcomes in Key Stage 2.

How does a physically active approach to the use and application of calculation skills in KS2 numeracy lessons impact upon pupil outcomes?

Research question
Research rationale

The purpose of the research was to improve outcomes in maths for KS2 pupils. In addition, it was important for the children to have the opportunity to be physically active during school lesson times through active learning.


Those targeted by the intervention were Year 4 and 5 pupils of mixed academic ability who participated in a ten week programme of active maths lessons.


The study found many low prior attainment groups (LPAG), SEND and pupil premium children participating in physically active numeracy interventions demonstrated academic improvements over the course of the study. Children in these groups commented that active lessons were more fun and that they enjoyed being able to learn outdoors. 

The post-intervention staff interview was entirely positive regarding the impact on the intervention on pupil behaviour and engagement. This contradicted pre-intervention perceptions, and in addition teachers also indicated increased confidence in delivering active lessons despite many having been been sceptical before delivery.


This small scale study supports findings in global research that point towards physically active lessons benefitting academic performance in some children. The intention is to develop this work further in order to understand how to maximise the impact of active learning for all pupils.

Reported academic improvements in some children will provide evidence to support school leaders with broader school development and provide relevant, local rationale to support a wider implementation of active numeracy on a more frequent basis.

Articulating potential barriers that class teachers have in this setting may face when teaching active lessons will raise awareness so that staff can now be strategically supported in overcoming these challenges.


For more information on how YST can support your Active Learning through e-learning, resources and face to face training please click here.

Maths of the Day provides online lesson plans and resources to help deliver active maths across the whole curriculum, find out more.

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