Closing the Attainment Gap Strategies: Physical Activity

Researchers at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge found that children who do more physical activity are likely to have stronger self-control, which could influence your closing the attainment gap strategies!

The study analysed data from over 4,000 children in England and found that young people who did more physical activity were also more likely to have stronger “self-regulation”.  Self regulation is one’s ability to control one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts. Essentially, physically active pupils were able to keep themselves in check from an earlier age. 

Some of the research data came from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is currently following the lives of 19,000 young people born between 2000 and 2002 in the UK. The research highlights a pattern where physical activity indirectly impacts the progress pupils make at school. Increased physical activity is said to boost one’s ability to self-regulate, especially among less-advantaged children. The physical activities which promoted self-control ranged from swimming, football, basketball and more. 

The authors of the study theorised that because less-advantaged children have fewer opportunities to play organised recreational sports they experience stronger benefits when they do. 

Closing the Attainment Gap Strategies

The study was based on long-term analysis of the connections between physical activity, self-regulation and academic achievement, making it the first of its kind. Researchers focused on data from ages seven, 11 and 14. Three different and important stages of childhood and adolescence.

Study leader and research student at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Fotini Vasilopoulos said: “Research examining the links between physical activity and attainment has produced mixed findings, but there is a positive, indirect relationship because of the impact on mental processes like self-control. This may be particularly important for children from families who find it harder to access sports clubs or other forms of physical activity outside school.”

Dr Michelle Ellefson, Reader in Cognitive Science at the Faculty of Education and a co-author, said: “In the context of COVID in particular, there may be a real temptation to encourage schools to maximise classroom time to stop children falling behind. This study is saying ‘think again’, because playtime and PE lessons benefit the mind in ways that children really need in order to do their best.”

The findings show that activities which influence emotional control which are often games that involve working with others and accountability are particularly important during early childhood, while activities that impact behavioural control may be more important as pupils mature. Researchers believe that building relationships with sports clubs to create targeted programmes for less-advantaged pupils.

Dr Ellefson added: “Even giving children less-structured opportunities to run around outside could be of real developmental importance

“We really need to ensure that physical activity does not become an area schools feel they can legitimately sacrifice to drive up academic attainment. It has a crucial part to play.”

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