Is PE in Primary Schools enough? Does it improve fitness levels for children?

family couch to 5k

I have just spent the last 3 weeks delivering a “be fit 4 work” campaign in Primary schools in Plymouth. The campaign is part of the widening horizons project that is ran by the Millfield’s Inspired Charity in Plymouth. Widening Horizons is about showing year 5 children places of work and different jobs that are available around the city. Places of work often include the National Marine Aquarium, Princess Yachts and EE. My job was to talk about roles from footballers to cleaners, discussing with the children what levels of fitness they would need to have for particular roles. After a 30-minute classroom presentation I had the opportunity to beast the children with military inspired PT. Proving we don’t need fancy gym equipment to be fit, get fit and improve fitness levels.

What did I learn?

Well, lots of children no longer want to be footballers, policemen and firemen anymore. They want to be gamers, v-loggers and you-tubers. But what does this matter? I was 34 when I finally found out what I wanted to do!

I learnt that lots of children still do extra exercise outside of school PE at home. Some may run, dance, lift weights, play football and even boxing. I believe most people think that all children no longer exercise at home and all they do now is play on the Xbox. Out of the 9 schools I have just visited I can confidently say that 70% of children do exercise activities outside school.

I got to realise that PE is not actively encouraged as much as it should be. If a class is lucky enough to have a teacher who is mad keen for sport, then great. If not, then children will miss out. This is evident when teachers pull children away from the sessions I’m delivering at school to do extra reading or maths. This clearly demonstrates that exercise at school is a tick box exercise for some and not taken seriously. While I was stood in the reception of a school, a parent came to collect a child for the dentist. The parent asked: “Shall I bring him back? he’ll be finished by 2:20”. Teacher replies: “Well we have PE this afternoon, so you may as well leave it”. As you can imagine, this infuriated me!

I had conversations with the odd child during rest phases of our workouts and I asked what things they do in PE. I was advised on various things from running to netball and dancing to football. I have to ask, are these sports worthwhile doing at primary age? Does a child being able to know the rules of netball help in a child’s development? The rules of the game may teach teamwork, but it will not increase fitness levels. To increase fitness levels, you have to push the anaerobic boundaries and thresholds which means raising the heart rate and getting out of breath and netball at this level will probably not do it.

Do we need to increase a child’s fitness levels or are the rules of netball enough?

It’s in the media weekly and research proves children are getting weaker and obesity is on the rise. As a baby we learn to crawl and then as a toddler we learn to walk and then run. Unless we continue to push, we will never go further. But do we need to? We do if we want to support the 30% that do no activities outside school. If as a race we continue to create things to make us move less such as Deliveroo and Xbox’.

I think we need to do more to improve the fitness levels of children and I think it needs to be actively encouraged by all teachers. The sad thing is, unless Ofsted start to get involved with this, it will not change or improve. We encourage all children to give 100% in the classroom using the minds and we should do the same with their hearts and lungs in PE.


  1. Fab read. It’s infuriating to hear parents/teachers not taking their children’s physical well-being seriously 🙁 and worrying to think that this attitude may rub off on the child. I see a lot of this at secondary and this makes it harder to change their feelings towards PE later on in life… Good article!

  2. Good read Dave. I was always one to partake in extra sport at school for various teams because I enjoyed it. Those that didn’t enjoy it, felt like it was a chore. Of course we’re all different. However, if our PE lessons actually taught us more about nutrition, fuelling your body right, the health benefits and impact that steady/intense, consistent exercise has to each and every one of us……wouldn’t that be something?!?! Surely that along with actual cardio and strength routines in place across all age ranges, educate our children more and set themselves up for a happier and healthier future?

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