Fit to Study

Neuroscience evidence suggests that physical exercise can influence brain function and structure, both immediately and in the long-term. The 'Fit to Study' project is a randomised controlled trial to test the effects on academic performance (as well as fitness, wellbeing and cognitive function) of a teacher training intervention designed to optimise the content of PE for brain and cognitive function during secondary school (Year 8) Physical Education (PE) lessons.

A programme of activities for PE lessons has been developed by Oxford Brookes University (in collaboration with Oxfordshire Sport and Physical Activity) to try to optimise the benefit of PE for brain function. Staff from Oxford Brookes University will train PE teachers to deliver this programme. The project aims to rigorously test the impact of this intervention in 100 state-funded secondary schools.

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 Autumn 2019.