Barriers to an active lifestyle: How can we help our pupils?

Recently I held a meeting with the P.E co-ordinators from all Schools within our MAC, I liaise with all of them constantly but we meet as a group on 3 occasions each academic year.

Recently a significant portion of these meetings afforded attention to the impact of COVID/lockdown and how we intend to respond to the challenges we now face.

This graphic serves as a reminder to what all of our children went without during lockdown…

Because of all of these factors we made a decision to ensure once back at School that priority one for Physical Education was to ensure that the subject became a vehicle for social interaction, physical activity and joy!

We restructured lessons slightly, favouring whole part whole. Essentially each lesson would start and finish with the children playing ‘fun first’ games. These were activities that involved a very high level of activity but had a silly/fun edge to them. The children become grew to love its simplicity and how quick we could transition from game to game. You’ll find some of the games we used here:

Since our return we have held countless active family workshops, invited as many local clubs into School as possible for taster sessions and make good strides resurrecting links between our Schools and community clubs/teams.

A decent percentage of the children in our Schools are back ‘out there’ and seeking physical adventure. By that I suppose I mean they are moving their body in the way that they love outside of School time, be it competitive sport, dance or gymnastics, family bike rides, climbing walls, skateboarding or anything else that gets them “Off site and off the sofa”.

“Off site and off the sofa” is fast becoming my favourite short hand phrase by which I mean – are the children accessing places and experiences that aren’t sedentary and don’t occur at School or home. I have no problem with School or home by the way, I’m just hoping to inspire our children to broaden their experiences and accrue precious cultural capital.

As I type I’m making links to the children that I teach that I know are frequently “off site and off the sofa” and for my subject they are often amongst the most engaged, competent and enthusiastic members of each class. Perhaps as you read you’re doing the same?


That’s my eldest, Miles (sorry pushy dad moment). I could have put a pic up of anyone of the 100’s of children I teach who are likeminded, but he’s mine so I’m allowed to stick that pic up. There are loads of other kids like Miles. The ones who are already a bit like us, the ones who ‘get it’, by that I mean the thought of their favourite type of exercise excites them, it plays a positive role in their life for a beautiful myriad of reasons.

And then there are the children within our Schools who don’t feel the same way.

Who don’t really have any sort of relationship with physical activity outside of P.E in School.

Maybe they haven’t had chance to ‘get it’.

It is those children who live more sedentary lifestyles that I will afford attention to in the remainder of the blog. To try and help or inspire these children within my Schools to get physically active we first need to consider potential barriers to physical exercise:

£ – It seems like everything is getting more expensive by the week at the moment doesn’t it. All of my Schools reside in Stoke-on-Trent, an area not known for its affluence. The price of joining an organised session/club/team/lesson is a major barrier to many of our families.

Geographical factors – At the moment we are lucky to have a wide range of activities available to children locally. However in our locality it is the more traditional activities that are catered for, if a child from our MAC was interested in taking up Handball – location becomes a barrier. The closest Handball club and/or team is over an hours drive away.

Lack of inspiration/role models – This is a considerable barrier for some of children. Many of the children that attend our Schools will not see anyone at home siblings or adult family members being physically active. Being careful what I say, I worry about what the ‘norm’ is for some of our pupils. What happens in their life that excites them that doesn’t involve gaming or some form of internet based escapism? How often do they personally have a new experience? Are they encouraged to improve at anything? What do they aspire to be? How does their family help them to dream big?

Recently I spoke to lots of our classes trying to find out who their role models are – I hadn’t heard of any of the celebrities they mentioned apart from the two lads who are in F2 (Football freestylers). Many of the children I spoke couldn’t tell me one famous athlete/gymnast! It is hard to inspire our pupils to aspire to be like Dina Asher-Smith if they don’t know who she is or why she’s cool!

Cool Factor – Do our children perceive P.E/Sport/Physical activity to be ‘cool’ these days? Obviously this will differ from class to class. Depending on the culture within each peer group within each class. I thank my lucky stars that in my eldest boys class there are 5/5 who are obsessed with football. It is what’s cool to them. I never had to force it on him, he came home asking to play. In the 8 Schools I work across that is rare. One Y5 class told me his friend was easily the coolest because ‘he could crank 90’s on Fortnite’. I don’t know what that is.

Experiences of physical activity – The more negative experiences a child has linked to exercise, the bigger the barrier.

Equipment – If a child has nothing to use or play with at home, how can they get involved?

Lack of determination – I could have wrote motivation, resilience, interest, enthusiasm instead of determination on reflection. Perhaps I mean just a general will to be active and have fun whilst moving, including when things get challenging.

Body Consciousness – This barrier is on the rise, a recent confidential pupil voice feedback box had several children stating that they feel self-conscious during lessons.A general feeling amongst our Schools is that our children are getting older in attitude, younger. A big part of this is the aforementioned but also the sense that our pupils are making their minds up on what is interesting, cool, ‘worth having at’ earlier.

Capability/Competence – This might be the child’s perception of their own competence or that they can’t do in comparison to other children at the same age. But also it could be the capability/perception of the capability of the family members within the home.


When put all together, so close together it looks a little disheartening doesn’t it. But you can’t hit a target that you can’t see and ignoring issues don’t help us to counter attack.

So in anticipation of some of Schools having similar barriers I thought I’d share what we plan to do or are doing to try to knock down these barriers.

£ – There are a few large coaching companies in our local area. 2 of which have already agreed to create a discount code that all of our families can use when booking places. A local swimming baths has agreed to give a 50% discount during the first week of the summer holidays and a local football club has offered a free first session to new players for their Saturday Soccer school. Reaching out to these clubs was time conducive, but very worthwhile. Ultimately it is in the interests of local ‘activity providers’ to offer incentives, one cheap/free session could lead to many more (fingers crossed). So basically, be cheeky!

Geographical factors – Really tricky to overcome/counter this, especially if no one in the family drives. We’re in the process of contacting as many organisations as possible to come into our School to do taster sessions, but the dilemma is we can only invite people in our locality. Therefore if the barrier to you joining a cheerleading squad is your city doesn’t have one, our School will be hard pushed to bring it into your School!

Lack of inspiration/role models –

Part 1) Role models close to the child – We frequently run active family workshops. These are afternoons where first I speak to the adults who attend about local issues, things that are going on in the locality and what we’re doing in School. Then the children join us and we play games all together (adults must come into School in ‘activewear’), all through the ‘practical’ I keep saying “Now you know the rules you can play this at home together!” These have shown to have a legacy or activity outside of School. In fact this year one parent asked if we’d be doing another one with new games to freshen it up.

We also have a P.E Wall of Fame where we celebrate progress, effort and achievements in the realm of physical activity. This looks brilliant in our Schools but also serves a higher purpose. The wall of fame enables us to provide the children in our Schools to have multiple positive role models from staff and fellow pupils. It helps us to subliminally convince our pupils that being physically active is both fun, impressive and most importantly completely normal!

Part 2) Role models in the elite – Every class in every School I work in now has a class role model. Over the course of the academic year the children will learn about them and have themed lessons where they can aspire to similar to them. This heightens their awareness of fantastic people and their amazing achievements!

This term all of our Schools have run the lap of hope linked to the Commonwealth games, they have to run and raise sponsorship money. We decided on the day that they do it all of the children were allowed to dress up an ‘active hero’. Simple but effective, we’ve had mini-Serena’s, mini-Ronaldo’s, a mini Lewis, mini-Max Whitlocks and a mini Oti!

Cool Factor – The wall of fame has now begun to counter this issue, as a staff we are now making a considered effort to jump on any news that children have and to make such a fuss. Considering Y6 now feels more like Y9/10 in terms of attitude, we are going to target children much earlier. We have found that some children in UKS2 are harder to persuade to approach all activities with 100% enthusiasm. So we will continue all of our interventions and plans for KS2 but we are also targeting KS1 heavily too – hopefully we can get them hooked onto as many forms of exercise at an early age whilst they are still very excitable, impressionable and malleable!

In the Summer term we hosted a KS1 football tournament after which all of the children got to take home activity packs, this contained things to practice a home and details of local clubs. All teams got a trophy too, the feedback was brilliant and quite a few of the children joined teams off the back of the tournament. Success!

Last week we ran a KS1 Dance festival where over an afternoon children from 8 Schools produced a dance at Port Vale F.C, they left with flyers for dance classes and a video of the finished product!

The children who attended both of those events very definitely thought it was ‘cool’!

Capability & Experiences of physical activity – In my opinion this is where I feel a carefully considered curriculum is very important. If P.E lessons aren’t progressive, fun, challenging, differentiated and engaging. Your school could be doing more harm in the fight to get all kids physically active.

I believe it is a wise move for every School to have progressive schemes of work for every activity taught. Whether that be created or bought in is your Schools choice. But it will enable all Staff to have a spine from which to work from, helping to ensure P.E is all of the aforementioned. If interested, here are ours below:

Lack of determination & Equipment – Our schools have just invested in ‘effort bags’. These are small bags containing a few bean bags, cones, skipping rope, a tennis ball, a coit and some ideas on the games to play with the equipment. The idea is to reward children who show determination in P.E lessons with an ‘effort’ bag. The child gets there picture taken and put up on the wall of fame! Through this we aim to counter the barriers of ‘lack of determination’ and ‘lack of equipment’.   

Body consciousness – We’re considering looking at extra-curricular clubs to see if we can restructure them slightly? But in truth we’re not sure if that will help the issue. Simply having more ‘girls only’ clubs might not appeal to the sub-group we aim to reach. Therefore as the year draws to a close our Staff will meet with as many of our pupils as possible to find out what might help them feel more at ease with P.E in School.

I’ve just realised how long this blog is, and I haven’t really scratched the surface!

My intention when writing it was to share our plans to overcome the barriers mentioned, it if helps other Schools to do the same in anyway then it has been worth it.

All feedback is very welcome as always.

Not long until the summer break, keep pushing! – Craig