Skip to content

Latest Active Lives figures show importance of physical literacy

Our chief executive blogs on today’s report that shows children and young people with a meaningful relationship with physical activity are almost twice as likely to be active as those with no positive feeling about it.

7th December 2023

by Tim Hollingsworth
Chief executive, Sport England

It won’t surprise anyone reading this that if we are to hit the government’s target of getting over one million more children active by 2030 (the target in their new Get Active strategy), then there is real work to be done. 

Today’s Active Lives Children and Young People Survey shows that currently, less than half of children (47.0%) achieve the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines when it comes to exercise, while nearly a third (30.2%) are doing fewer than 30 minutes of activity a day. 

Even starker is that our research shows there are significant inequalities depending on a child’s ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status and age.

Every child and young person has the right to be active and benefit from being active in a safe, positive and trusted environment.

And what is clear is that teachers, schools and early-years settings are absolutely crucial in helping make this happen.

Every child and young person has the right to be active and benefit from being active in a safe, positive and trusted environment.

Today’s figures show that activity during school hours has increased slightly compared to when we started this survey five years ago, but it’s still the case that children and young people are more likely to do 30+ minutes of activity a day outside of school hours (55%) than during them (43%).

For the future health of our nation, we owe it to our children and young people that they have a positive relationship with movement and experiences of sport and physical activity that are fun, inclusive and help them develop.

We know that children and young people are more likely to thrive when they are happy, healthy, and active – so we need to prioritise children’s health, wellbeing and activity because these are important foundations in children to learn and grow. 

The starting point for this is physical literacy.

We know and hear lots about the importance of numeracy and literacy for young people’s development, yet the term ‘physical literacy’ is all too often absent. 

So, what do we mean by physical literacy?

Earlier this year we published the first ever Physical Literacy Consensus Statement for England, which was the culmination of 18 months of work.

It was work that saw colleagues hear from world-renowned experts in the field at global conferences and work with around 60 researchers and stakeholders at home to land on a definition that offers a broad overview of physical literacy, why it matters and how it can be developed and supported.

I’d be doing it a disservice to try and explain it all here, but it ultimately outlines how our connection and commitment to getting physically active can be influenced by various factors such as our thoughts, feelings, engagement and experiences.

Therefore, how a child therefore moves, connects, thinks and feels when being physically active, plays a crucial role in shaping their physical literacy.

The numbers tell us that children with high physical literacy are almost twice as likely to be active (33% vs. 62%).

But physical literacy is personal.

Every child is unique and has their own strengths, needs, circumstances and past experiences that affect their relationship with movement and physical activity.

It makes sense then that, to get more children active, all school staff – from teachers to PE assistants and coaches - must realise it will take more than simply developing their physical movement skills or introducing them at an early age to rules-based, technical sports.

Together, we must consider how we can help every young person develop a positive relationship with movement and how their environment, culture, community or places and spaces they move in (schools included) influence this in both positive and negative ways.

Only a united effort behind physical literacy will help get those one million children active and help to build a healthier, happier and more resilient generation of children that love to move. 

A teacher’s guide to physical literacy

Below is a teacher’s guide to physical literacy and how schools can play their part in creating positive and varied experiences of movement to help develop their children’s physical literacy.

But as I’ve said, it’s going to take a united effort, so while this list is tailored to teachers, there’s no reason parents, carers, coaches and other physical activity providers can’t learn from this and take it into their own interactions with children and young people.

Six suggestions* to support children to develop their physical literacy:

*Includes contributions from:

  • Emma Mackenzie-Hogg, Development Manager at the Youth Sport Trust
  • Dr Liz Durden-Myers, CEO of PE Scholar
  • Sue Wilkinson MBE, CEO of the Association for Physical Education

Consider how you can help both students and staff to reflect on their own relationship with physical activity – for example, encourage students to write a story or poem about their experiences or explore the social side of physical activity in PSHE or British Citizenship lessons.

Do you ask your students what they enjoy and value about being physically active? Use youth voice mechanisms (such as student surveys, young leaders and school councils etc.) to shape your curriculum and extra-curricular provision so that it to responds to this insight, making sure you don’t just speak to your sporty students!

Is your physical education curriculum broad and balanced? Does it aim to enable and inspire students to be physically active throughout their life? Do you support students to develop holistically through their PE lessons, i.e. how they move, think, feel and connect?

Can you provide opportunities to be active before, during and after the school day? These don’t have to be run by specialists but can be simple as ‘wake and shake’ activities, movement breaks in lessons, active games in the playground, class challenges, and encouraging students to walk or cycle to school.

Consider your extra-curricular and enrichment opportunities – are there low or no-cost opportunities for students to engage in lots of different activities? Are these sessions designed to be inclusive and enjoyable?

Consider how to expose students to the different ways they can be active in their local community, such as through. Think of trips, festivals and partnerships with local clubs.

Sign up to our newsletter

You can find out exactly how we'll look after your personal data, but rest assured we’ll only use it to make sure you receive our newsletter, to understand how you interact with our newsletter, and to provide administrative information about our newsletter.