Generation Inactive

Who are ukactive?

This week ukactive released a report regarding its findings from a recent piece of research and its recommendations.

However let us start with who ukactive are. They refer to themselves as a ‘not-for-profit body comprised of members and partners from across the UK active lifestyle sector’. Originally formed in 1991 as Fitness Industry Associaton, they changed their name to ukactive, as it better reflected what they were trying to do and achieve. Now chaired by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, which oversaw the formation of a new wing of their body called ukactive Kids. So what is their mission statement?

‘Our focus is a long-standing and uncompromising vision to get more people, more active, more often.

We are committed to improving the health of the nation through promoting active lifestyles.

We will achieve this by facilitating big impact partnerships, championing innovation, providing high quality services to our members, campaigning, providing research and sharing insights. This is our promise to our members, stakeholders and the nation.

We exist to serve any organisation with a role to play in, or benefit to be gained from getting more people, more active, more often. We will provide a supportive, professional and innovative platform for our partners to succeed in achieving their goals.’

Ukactive’s  has 3500 partners ‘working together’. Organisations from both the private and public sector including Sport England, PHA, David Lloyd, Fitness First and Techno-gym. I could see this occasionally leading to a possible conflict of interest.

It has it’s own research institute, that can either produce pieces of research for their partners, or help them to tailor and present research they have. Or in its own words ‘bridge the evidence gap between traditional laboratory based ‘exercise is medicine’ research and real world interventions

The report it published was called Generation Inactive – an analysis of the UK’s childhood inactivity epidemic and tangible solutions to get children moving. (You can read the full report by clicking on the previous link).

Reports key findings?

  • 10% of primary schools surveyed utilised indirect measurement of children’s cardiorespiratory fitness levels. This relates to pre-planned monitoring of cardiorespiratory fitness levels usiing established and validated measures such as the multi stage fitness test or the six minute run.
  • 1% of schools formally measure children’s physical literacy of motor proficiency.
  • 91% of primary schools surveyed recorded or tracked the amount of time children spend in PE lessons
  • 54% of respondent reported that they monitor children’s motor skills – i.e. recording internally or through an external provider children’s throwing ability, catching ability, balance etc
  • 89% of primary schools surveyed were aware of the numbers of children who are attending after school or extracurricular activity clubs.
  • 43% stated that they recorded or tracked the amount of time children spend actually being physically active in PE lessons. This is the time children spend being physically active in PE excluding time spent changing into PE kit or carrying out other inactive tasks.

These findings were obtained by sending a questionnaire to 200 primary schools and collating the data received by the 70 schools who responded in time and correspond to the 2013-2014 academic year. These findings are not surprising considering the responsibility and workload that my primary colleagues have with regards to teaching, and the lack of specialist trained primary PE teachers we have in place. Of all the key findings the one that does concern me slightly is only 1% of schools formally measure and track children’s motor proficiency. Not that they don’t measure it, but through assumption, many schools do not know enough about it and it’s importance in building confident and competent movers.

Reports Recommendations

In brief this is what the report recommends:

  • A slim child does not automatically mean a fit and healthy child. Government should extend the National Child measurement programme to measure fitness in addition to the current measurement of BMI.
  • The primary ‘PE & Sport Premium’ should be rebranded as the primary ‘Physical Activity and PE Premium’
  • Government should ensure that the competency to deliver an effective physical education curriculum is built in to teacher training alongside Maths, English and Science.
  • The forthcoming Childcare Bill, which guarantees 30 hours free childcare a week for children aged 3-4, includes a statutory requirement for a dedicated allocation of time for play, physical activity and cultivating physical literacy skills by trained and supported professionals
  • Headteachers should adopt a whole day approach to physical activity, ingraining it into the entire school day, not just see it as PE’s responsibility
  • Headteachers are urged to take special measures to provide support to children that are disengaged and in need of extra support, guidance and motivation

Personal Analysis

I feel there are a number of positive recommendations within the report. Firstly the statutory requirement for dedicated allocation of time for play and purposeful physical activity I think is important. However it is crazy that we have reached a point we need the government to mandate physical play in our children, and perhaps this really is the root of a lot of our problems? Perhaps we should be considering why children participate in less physical play and look to solve this. Secondly the message that physical activity is not solely PE’s responsibility, but the whole of the schools is one I applaud, but it needs to go further and bring in parents to share this responsibility. School provision is never enough. PE isn’t responsible for making children fitter, that isn’t its purpose, but I will concede that we have probably moved too far away from the physical elements of the subject in recent years. Thirdly that the government should ensure teachers have the competency to deliver an effective physical education curriculum at primary is massively important. However as mentioned previously, with the current workload primary school teachers face, I don’t think this is feasible. For real change to occur there has to be a Primary specialist PE teacher in every primary school in the country.

I do have concerns about the first two recommendations. The argument for fitness testing in primary school is contentious. The report argues that measuring children’s fitness allows us to better understand children’s health and even compare internationally. They also acknowledge that it won’t solve the problems or even increase physical activity in children. So my question is then why do it? Dylan Wiliam at the Festival of Education stated “We start off making important things measurable, and we end up making measurable things important.” I need to read the two pieces of research they reference in making this case, and would like some clarity on the tests and protocols they wish to use. Secondly the recommendation for changing the name of the PE and Sport Premium. They suggest it doesn’t promote physical activity and I can see that, especially with the emphasis on sport and other ways children can move. Primary schools in my area have started to outsource PE to coaches but there is still too much variability in provision. This is what needs to be addressed. My cynical feeling is that there is £150 million of government money and by bringing in fitness testing to school and promoting other forms of physical activity than sport they are allowing their private partners a better chance at accessing that pot of money.

Finally I wish to highlight afPE’s response to the Generation Inactive report. That it welcomes a report that raises awareness of physical inactivity within the UK as it believes that it is vital that all young people learn how to lead healthy active lifestyles. However it does NOT support formal fitness testing in primary schools. It considers this a retrograde step in terms of promoting healthy, active lifestyles. This response comes on the recommendations of Cale and Harris who produced this piece of research with regards to fitness testing in PE. This is a sentiment that I and many other PE teachers will agree with.


By @ImSporticus

Lecturer in PE, Sport and Physical Activity. Helping others to flourish through movement.

3 replies on “Generation Inactive”

A quickie from me:

Childhood physical health & fitness is clearly a complex (I write this with reference to complexity theory) issue but part of that complexity is the tendency for schools to have human children sat in chairs doing clerical work for multiple hours every day. Have we forgotten that we are animals? Have we forgotten that we are free? Have we forgotten that sitting children down, often in rows and in silence for hours a day is a totally unnatural state? Go and watch your child play in any open and choice-based environment for ten minutes. Watch them carefully (without getting arrested as a suspicion person) and see them climb, run, jump, chase, socialise and act like the animal that they are. Can we not realise that this “discipline” that we instil in these wild, human children to sit still, do their written work and, largely, to prepare for a lifetime of servitude of big corporations both as worker drones and consumers is being achieved through our education system? The growing inactivity is a perfect reflection of our society not an anomalous nuance within it and no report, response nor blog is going to change that motif. We could talk about it all we want but unless we reconnect with our genuinely natural states in more ways, this issue will persist and likely worsen.

Change can happen.

Educational Activist


[…] A recent report from ukactive highlighted a lot of these issues and once again raised them at a national level. However the media focused on one or two of its many solutions. Firstly the introduction of fitness testing in primary schools and secondly that of increasing activity within lessons through standing in class or physical punctuation Kung Fu Style, neither of which I feel is going to help promote an active and healthy lifestyle, but is about burning calories. However child inactivity is a bigger threat to health than child obesity so I can understand why measurement of fitness is once again being promoted. Perhaps we need to turn to technology to help? The Youth Sport Trust publication The Class of 2035: promoting a brighter and more active future for the youth of tomorrow suggests we need to be both worried and optimistic about the role technology has in our children’s life and how with a better understanding of it we can use it to promote a generation that is fit for purpose. The YST are probably right that PE does need to embrace Technology and take control of educating our pupils in using wearable tech for their own health and wellbeing. The worry I have is that tech is seen as the saviour of PE or that it is used as a external motivator to get children moving, when perhaps we should be looking to develop more intrinsic forms of motivation. It doesn’t help shift my natural bias against using tech in PE when you read that a quarter of kids think that playing computer games is exercise or that Active computer games may actually be a better source of physical activity for kids than playing outside. We also need to be aware of the dark side of technology in our promotion of physical activity, that if we invite it into our lives, it may not be us that are making the choices. […]


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