Fit to Study

The project will start with a developmental phase, involving Oxfordshire Sports Partnership, to work with schools on a training package for PE teachers. The training package would incorporate the ‘Empowering Coaching’ programme, to help maximise student motivation. The developmental phase will be followed by a larger scale randomised controlled trial.

The aim of the package will be to ensure that pupils receive a minimum of three 40 minute sessions per week of physical exercise involving elements thought to improve cognitive outcomes. The intervention will introduce different sporting skills at different stages; this will help to keep pupils engaged, whilst also potentially increasing the neuroscientific benefit of the intervention. 

Why are we funding it?

This project has been funded as part of joint initiative with the Wellcome Trust to explore how insights from neuroscience can be used to improve education. You can read more about this here.

A recent systematic analysis of studies examining the effect of exercise on academic achievement revealed findings were almost exactly split between no effect and positive effectswith a distinct lack of negative effects. It has been suggested the variation in outcomes may arise from differences in research methodologies and outcome measures. This study would therefore usefully add to the evidence base by combining a robust methodology with an attainment related outcome.

In addition to educational evidence neuroscience research has shown several beneficial effects of aerobic exercise on brain function, both in the short and long term. This project could also have a particularly good impact on disadvantaged pupils with several studies linking low income with low fitness and low levels of physical activity.

How are we evaluating it?

The intervention will be independently evaluated by NatCen and tested through a randomised controlled trial with 60 schools. Half of the schools will receive the intervention and all Year 8 teachers in these schools will be trained in the approach. This is an efficacy trial, with the intervention being tested under ideal conditions and with a high level of developer involvement.

Outcome measures of literacy and numeracy will be collected at the end of Year 8; in addition the Oxford team will collect a number of secondary outcome measures, including cognitive measures of attention and memory and an assessment of physical fitness. The Oxford team will also deliver a pre/post-brain MRI scan on a subgroup of 100 pupils as relatively little is known about brain changes in children in response to exercise interventions. 

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in early 2018.