The contribution of the primary school setting and physical education lessons to children's physical activity levels

Howells, K. (2014) The contribution of the primary school setting and physical education lessons to children's physical activity levels. Ph.D. thesis, Canterbury Christ Church University.


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The thesis research explored children’s physical activity levels that occurred within the primary school setting. It examined the contribution that Physical Education lessons make to children’s overall measured physical activity levels within the school day. It investigated children’s perceived level of physical activity and compared this with children’s physical activity measured by accelerometers. For the purpose of the thesis research, physical activity was regarded as, “any bodily movement resulting in energy expenditure” (Sirad and Pate, 2001, p.440). The majority of previous physical activity research has focused on secondary aged children and adults, with little on physical activity levels achieved by primary aged children within school time, or on the comparison between infants (6 – 7 year olds) and juniors (9 – 10 year olds).

Data were collected within a case study setting in one school, over one school year. 20 children, 5 infant boys (mean age at start of data collection, 6 years 4 months), 5 infant girls (mean age at start of data collection, 6 years 6 months), 5 junior boys (mean age at start of data collection, 9 years 4 months) and 5 junior girls (mean age at start of data collection, 9 years 4 months) wore Actigraph accelerometers to record physical activity intensity levels throughout the school day from 9am until 3.10pm. A repeated measures 3 factor ANOVA was used to analyse the effects of factors including the following: type of day (days including a Physical Education lesson (PE days) and those that did not (Non PE days); year group (infants / juniors); parts of the day (curriculum time / morning break / lunchtime / afternoon break) and gender (male / female). P values of <0.05 were taken as the value for statistical significance ± one standard deviation. Statistical analysis was completed using SPSS 17.0. An interactive tool, (Qwizdom) was incorporated with a questionnaire that was adapted from Kowalski et al. (2004) in terms of language and vocabulary to suit the age of the children which assessed the children's perceived levels of physical activity. The perceived activity was compared with the accelerometer physical activity data.

The findings revealed that children were more physically active on school days that included Physical Education lessons. Boys were more physically active at a moderate to vigorous level than girls. Junior boys were able to accumulate 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity within the school day on a day that included Physical Education lessons and in doing so reached the Department of Health's (DH, 2005) and the World Health Organisation's (WHO, 2010) recommendations for children’s physical activity within the school day, even though these are for the full day not just the school day. Children’s perceived physical activity levels matched their accelerometer recordings, in particular for junior boys during break time and for girls during Physical Education lessons.

The results present the potential for broader claims to be made, relating to: the contribution primary schools make to children’s physical activity levels, the contribution Physical Education lessons make to children’s overall physical activity levels and the potential provision of opportunities for children to be physically active outside of Physical Education lessons during the school day.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure > GV0201 Physical education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1501 Primary Education
Divisions: pre Nov-2014 > Faculty of Education > Primary Education
Depositing User: Roz Bass
Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2015 16:24
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2018 22:38

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00