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The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"The more active children became, the better they did in class"
 real 28k

Friday, 26 January, 2001, 00:54 GMT
Active children 'do better in class'
girls playing football
Girls increasingly want to play football
By BBC west of England correspondent Jane O'Brien

Children who exercise regularly are getting better exam results, research has shown.

The findings come from a study in Exeter which was carried out because of national concerns that children are not active enough.

By the time they reach 15, almost half are overweight.


There is a definite link between those who are active three or four times a week and those youngsters who do better in the classroom

Fit to Succeed co-ordinator, Angela Balding
According to the World Health Organisation, 17% are obese.

It is not because they are eating more. It is because they are doing less.

In an attempt to encourage children to get fitter, the Schools Health Education Unit asked eight to 12-year-olds what sports they really enjoyed.

Pupils were then offered free sessions at clubs and leisure centres as part of the Fit to Succeed project.

The researchers then noticed that the children who were most active started to get better exam results.

Co-ordinator Angela Balding said it is the first time a formal link has been made.

"That's the bit that's not been looked at before in this significant way," she said.

"There is a definite link between those who are active three or four times a week and those youngsters who do better in the classroom.

"The research that's going into brain activity at the moment suggests the reason may be that in those kids who are active, more oxygen gets to the brain.

"The brain is then better equipped to take more in and be receptive to new things."


It may be that PE has to become a core subject and have the status and time allocation that the so-called academic subjects like English, maths and IT already have

St Michael's Church of England Middle School headmaster, Tim Walker
The most dramatic benefits were found among boys.

Of 11-year-olds who scored above average in national English tests, 79% were exercising three times a week.

Of those who scored below average, only 38% were exercising.

One of the schools taking part in the study was St Michael's Church of England Middle School in Exeter.

The headmaster Tim Walker said the results could lead to changes in the national curriculum.

"It may be that PE has to become a core subject and have the status and time allocation that the so-called academic subjects like English, maths and IT already have," he said.

"It's value to children's academic progress has been proved by the Fit to Succeed programme - now the study is being extended there will be the chance to provide even more data which will back what's already been found out."

But keeping children interested in sport as they grow older is a big problem.

Girls in particular tend to stop exercising once they reach secondary school.

But the researchers found they were more likely to take part if they were allowed to play traditional "boys" games, such as touch rugby, football and baseball.


The curse of the 21st Century if that many children prefer sitting at their computers, on the internet or watching television

Kevin Hack, Exeter City Council
"One of the key things that came out of the research that surprised me as a sports development officer was that there was a very strong interest in martial arts among girls and boys," said Exeter City Council's Kevin Hack.

"The curse of the 21st Century is that many children prefer sitting at their computers, on the internet or watching television.

"The challenge for us is to provide activities that appeal to them enough to get them away from their screens and get them to do something active."

At the moment PE is compulsory, but it is up to each school to allocate the time.

It could be taken more seriously by showing it has educational as well as health benefits.

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See also:

10 Nov 00 | Education
Gym slips 'put girls off sport'
22 Nov 99 | Education
School sport is 'uncool'
21 Aug 99 | Education
3Rs 'creating couch potatoes'
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