PE and school sport should be a core part of the solution to wellbeing in our schools

by Alison Oliver, Youth Sport Trust's Chief Executive

The Youth Sport Trust passionately believes every state secondary school should use PE and school sport to counter the escalating physical and emotional health crisis amongst today’s schoolchildren.

We know PE and school sport holds the key to unlocking many of the physical and emotional wellbeing issues young people face.

What is more, we believe PE teachers, with the right support and training, are well placed to play a central role in both the early identification of physical and emotional wellbeing issues and the improvement of pupil wellbeing across the school. 

Emotional wellbeing is a serious issue to many schools given the enormous pressures facing young people today.

Our own extensive research at the Youth Sport Trust in this crucial area has now been supported by the recent publication of a major joint report from 2020 Health and Nuffield Health.

The report says many children find making the most of their education difficult because they are now “bombarded by social media, destabilised by family breakdown, stressed by academic targets and exposed to damaging messages of online pornography” in an increasingly fast-moving world.

All of this is leading to an increase in weight problems and poor diet amongst school children while it is also contributing to lower engagement in physical activity.

It is a major concern.

The time is right to review the role of PE and sport in schools and maximise its relevance in the modern world. The origins of the subject, back at the turn of the 19th century, lay in military drill and its contribution to physical fitness: today it should be seen as the driver for improving the emotional wellbeing of pupils. 

PE, school sport and physical activity is proven to enhance physical health, boosts mental wellbeing, builds resilience, lifts academic achievement and creates active habits for life. It also instils in young people the core values of creativity, aspirations, resilience and empathy which in turn contribute to wellbeing and achievement.

Put simply, it is our view that PE makes a unique contribution to pupils’ wellbeing and is the most powerful subject in terms of its impact on both physical and emotional health. We are already promoting new approaches to the delivery of PE and school sport through our network of Health & Wellbeing Schools and, like 2020 Health and Nuffield Health, we are advocating that PE teachers, with appropriate support and training can make a real difference to this agenda and young people’s achievement elsewhere in school life.