Importance of PA
Most staff members (53/58) and all head teachers within this study valued PA for children as ‘highly’ or ‘extremely highly’ in the questionnaire, although they provided contrasting reasons. Key supporting quotes from the follow up interviews are provided in Supplementary Table 2. The most common supporting reason for valuing PA in the questionnaire was to promote the day to day physical and mental wellbeing of pupils, as highlighted by a member of the senior leadership team “physical development is a prime area and is age critical in the development of young children”. Many staff also commented on the benefits of PA inside of school to stimulate the pupils to assist and reinforce learning, improve behaviour and to aid refocusing. One teacher felt that “children sitting still for long periods of time has a negative effect on learning and being active for a minimum of 60 minutes is something we value”.
Five staff members, including Key Stage 1 teachers (n = 2), a Key Stage 2 teacher, PE teacher and a teaching assistant, valued PA as ‘low’ or ‘moderate’. A major theme for the lower value placed on PA was ‘time’. A Key Stage 2 teacher who valued PA as ‘low’ stated that “there are lots of other things that come above PA”. These individuals also expressed concerns that PA could reduce quality of learning “It’s good for the children to be up and moving, completing practical tasks. However, it is also important they have a full understanding of what they’re being taught which might consist of simply listening” whilst a teaching assistant perceived PA as ‘moderate’ due to “lack of space and safety” and many classes include children with behavioral needs who “can become either overexcited or distressed with such activity”.
All Governors within this study (n = 20) valued PA for children both in and outside of school as high or extremely high. The main reasons given for this included perceived benefits to mental and physical health and behaviour. PA was also considered to be a positive determinant of future health, important for personal and social development, critical to aid focus and learning, and offer relief from sitting at a desk. Governors were generally in support of utilising classroom movement opportunities with one Governor stating that “any corrective intervention that will help this nation reduce a tendency toward obesity and long term physical and mental health conditions needs to be integral to education at the earliest opportunity”. Academic results and Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) inspections featured most commonly as the Governors’ lowest priorities.
The pupils’ perceptions are provided in Supplementary Tables 1, in pseudonymised form (“P” = participant). Most pupils felt that being physically active in the classroom was important as “it could improve our brains…if we understand the work better” (P5, Group 4, Key Stage 2) and “sitting down all lesson is really not good for your health” (P4, Group 4, Key Stage 2). However, some pupils did express that they would prefer to be sat down for the entirety of the lesson as breaks could interrupt learning. For example, one pupil said “I get distracted when I have to get up and move” (P3, Group 2, Key Stage 1) and another preferred sitting down as “it’s calmer” (P7, Group 2, Key Stage 1). In contrast, most pupils mentioned feeling stiff, sad, bored and tired when sat down for long periods. A pupil stated that they “learn less sat down” (P1, Group 5, Key Stage 2). Some pupils felt extremely frustrated when describing how they felt when sat down all lesson with one pupil stating they feel “limited” (P5, Group 2, Key Stage 1), whilst another drew a picture of a cage and stated they “feel locked away when sat down all the time” (P1, Group 2, Key Stage 1).
Current PA practices
Most staff members reported incorporating some form of activity in their lessons ‘once a week’ (n = 15) or ‘1–2 times a week’ (n = 14). Forty-five staff members stated that they would like to incorporate more PA into their classroom or school. Despite the value placed on PA by most staff members, eight stated that they ‘never’ incorporate PA, three of these were Key Stage 2 teachers.
The majority of staff were aware of, and had used, PA initiatives in their own lessons (n = 50) compared to those who had not (n = 8). The most popular initiatives used included Wake and Shake, Go Noodle, Fitter Futures, Joe Wicks®, BBC Super Movers, Active Math’s, Take 10 and the Golden Mile®. Many staff members who incorporate movement breaks utilise ‘videos with music/activities they can follow”. Of those staff members who used PA initiatives, most individuals found them ‘extremely useful’ (n = 23) or ‘moderately useful’ (n = 19).
In line with the staff responses, most pupils identified “videos in the classroom” as the main form of movement they have tried in their lessons, in particular “Go Noodle”, “Be active” and “Just Dance”. Other pupils have tried “star jumps”, “jogging in one space”, “yoga/stretches”, “copying the teacher’s movements” and “wake and shake”. Pupils cautioned that movement interventions “need variety” and should be “something where everyone is involved and moving the whole time” (P4, Group 5, Key Stage 2). For example, one pupil mentioned that “it can get quite repetitive on an easy video after a while” (P7, Group 5, Key Stage 2) with another stressing that “it is hard to find videos both girls and boys like…some people don’t like dancing and people feel self-conscious” (P5, Group 4, Key Stage 2). Types and format of PA appeared important, with one pupil highlighting that “sometimes after, people go a bit crazy and start jumping around and not listening, people settle down slowly if the video is too energetic” (P2, Group 3, Key Stage 2), on the other hand, another pupil described the opposite effect as “yoga made me sleepy” (P7, Group 4, Key Stage 2).
Most Governors were not aware of PA initiatives and did not know of any currently being used in their school, which likely reflects that the Governor role is rarely involved in the day-to-day operational side of the school.
Experience of incorporating PA into the classroom
Pupil enjoyment of classroom movement breaks was reported by all staff members in this study. A Key Stage 1 teacher noted that “children are generally very excited when doing PA, they are motivated and engaged” they particularly enjoy a “a break from the norm” the “spontaneity” and “child led elements”“They enjoy the chance to dance, stretch and move away from sitting in chairs”.
Most staff within this study agreed that classroom movement breaks have a moderately positive (n = 24) or extremely positive (n = 20) impact on pupils because of its perceived benefits for pupil’s attention and readiness to learn. Relevant comments included: “after the PA their concentration improves and they’re in a better place ready to learn” (Key Stage 1 teacher), “the child I look after can listen and concentrate better for the next 10/20 minutes” (teaching assistant), “pupils are generally more productive which leads to an improved attitude to learning and less poor behaviour”. A head teacher highlighted that “As a general rule, if implemented and managed properly, this kind of intervention definitely leads to a sustained period of concentration and good behaviour”.
In contrast, two staff members reported experiencing an overall negative experience of incorporating PA into the classroom. A Key Stage 2 teacher cautioned that movement breaks “can wind them up too much if it’s been energetic…it can make them too hyper and can be difficult to bring them back down for learning”. A teaching assistant who stated the incorporation of PA had an ‘extremely negative’ effect on their pupils further supported this as “it takes too much time for the children to settle back down to focus. Once settled, their concentration and attention is much the same as before. SEN[special educational needs]and behavioral needs children need extra time after to calm, some need up to 30 mins before they can return to task”. A consensus among teachers was that following movement breaks “it can take a while to settle back down to a concentrated work level” however, once settled it generally shows positive affects in terms of pupil’s concentration, focus and behaviour.
Most pupils felt that they learnt better after a movement break as they could “concentrate on work” (P3, Group 3, Key Stage 2), “think a bit clearer” (P4, Group 3, Key Stage 2) and felt “more awake” (P3, Group 2, Key Stage 1). One pupil drew a picture of a brain with a smiley face in it. One pupil said they felt “powerful” (P2, Group 3, Key Stage 2) when they danced, with another reporting feeling more “motivated” and “energetic” (P2, Group 3, Key Stage 2) afterwards. Most pupils also agreed that their learning was worsened when sat down for the whole lesson, “I lose interest in what the teacher is saying” (P2, Group 5, Key Stage 2), and “mind goes blank” (P5, Group 5, Key Stage 2). All pupils agreed that theirs, or their classmates, behaviour deteriorated when they were sat down for too long, relevant comments included “people start flicking pens”, “get distracted” (P3, Group 4, Key Stage 2), “drift off into your own world instead of listening” (P2, Group 4, Key Stage 2), “I wiggle a lot” (P4, Group 4, Key Stage 2). Alternatively, some negative aspects of movement breaks were highlighted as “people settle down slowly if the video is too energetic” (P3, Group 5, Key Stage 2), and “sometimes after Just Dance people are crazy and start dancing around and not listening” (P2, Group 4, Key Stage 2). One pupil stressed that movement breaks are an investment for teachers as “it would take a bit of time afterwards but it helps you concentrate and think a bit clearer so it saves time afterwards” (P4, Group 3, Key Stage 2).
Barriers to implementation
Staff members (n = 22) most commonly found it ‘moderately easy’ to integrate movements into the classroom with thirteen staff members finding it ‘neither easy nor difficult’ and eleven finding it ‘moderately difficult’. However only four staff members found it ‘extremely easy’ to implement movement into the classroom.
The three most prevalent barriers that staff members reported were time constraints, curriculum demands and perceptions regarding the ease of transitioning back to work following any movement break. Of these reasons, the foremost barrier was time, and this was directly related to curriculum pressures. A Key Stage 2 teacher, who found the incorporation of PA as ‘moderately difficult’, stated that the “Ever increasing demands of the curriculum meaning time is precious. Having taught for 7 years, I’ve seen a dramatic shift towards filling every spare minute with some additional learning”. One Key Stage 1 teacher shared their frustration “time, it’s always time, there’s never enough time”. This was supported by a head teacher as “in an already crowded curriculum there are so many expectations on what a school should be now”. Conversely, one head teacher disagreed “the most effective strategies really don’t take much time. This is not a massive barrier”.
More staff described themselves as moderately confident (n = 25) than moderately unconfident (n = 7) about implementing movement breaks in the classroom. They felt their school could do more to support this, by allocating more time for movement, utilising workshops to promote activity with core subjects, and offer awards. A head teacher reflected that staff might perceive incorporating movement breaks as an unnecessary risk, “because results at primary school matter, people will naturally take the safest option and sometimes that’s the head teachers fault”.
Most governors shared teacher concerns and felt unsure whether movement breaks would disrupt the class or enhance their learning, but would be supportive of movement breaks if favourable evidence were presented “you’ve got a finite amount of teaching time so you have to justify that…. if you can show that actually standing up and moving periodically improves concentration and therefore helps your learning I can get behind that argument”. Data regarding the effect on pupil behaviour, engagement and learning was highly valued, but Governors differed in their views regarding the nature of this supportive evidence. One Governor felt that “a report from the class teacher should be enough, detailing how the intervention impacted on the class and how it improved engagement and concentration in class”. In contrast, one Governor stated that “we’d probably want to see that it has worked somewhere else first as it would be quite disruptive to implement something that didn’t work out”.
Recommendations for the sustainable adoption of movement breaks
There was a consensus between all stakeholders that future delivery of classroom movement breaks should occur using a variety of online resources. For example, a head teacher stated that their school classrooms “had utilised Just Dance via YouTube which seemed to have longevity”. A Key Stage 1 teacher agreed “there’s so many online things that you can whip out, it seems more interesting for the pupils to watch a video”, and added that “having these programmes is useful, they’re free, easily accessible as everybody has interactive whiteboards in their classrooms”. Readily available resources were identified as being important for more reluctant staff to engage with movement breaks. A Key Stage 2 teacher commented “before I discovered Go Noodle there were some teachers not sure of what to do and having the confidence to do it”, on the other hand, she did stress that “it is only useful if you have a good interactive whiteboard and screen that works as I know some classrooms don’t have that”.
All staff members agreed that future interventions should include the pupils in decision making process. For example, a Key Stage 2 teacher stated that “it is good to give them a choice and ownership so they’re more interested but it’s still within the teacher’s control”. When asked what they would like to see in future classroom movement breaks the pupils were positive about using videos and music chosen by them but valued the control of the teacher. Relevant comments included “music is best” (P3, Group 2, Key Stage 1), “we can have fun copying videos” (P5, Group 2, Key Stage 1), “I would rather the teacher tell me what to do because it works better” (P7, Group 3, Key Stage 2) and “we could take it in turns choosing the videos” (P6, Group 4, Key Stage 2).
When asked which periods of the day would be best to incorporate PA, the majority view was that there should be no set time for PA as “it depends on the pupils, the activity and the teacher to be most effective” and should be used “with the teacher’s judgment of how they integrate based on how the class is performing, behaviour or well-being”. A PE teacher advised “there’s not one size fits all…if you want maximum impact you have to put it into the hands of the class teacher to choose their timing”. A head teacher agreed with this view and stated that “letting the teacher pick the time point of the activity within their lesson would be perfectly realistic. I think as an experienced teacher you can read your class physicality…and see clearly when they may need a movement break”. There was no consensus regarding when pupils thought movement breaks would be best, for example . (P3, Group 1, Key Stage 1), “I feel a bit tired after lunch so copying videos would make me feel better” (P7, Group 2, Key Stage 1). Most pupils agreed that it depends on the day, topic and how long they have been writing/listening for, and agreed that any activity should be performed at the teacher’s discretion when he/she notices them becoming tired.
Most staff who have utilised classroom movement breaks felt that “in terms of breaking up lessons, 5 minutes is a realistic amount”. A Key Stage 1 teacher stressed that “5 minutes is just the perfect amount of time as it doesn’t eat too much into your lesson time and you don’t have to leave the classroom to do it…something you can do quickly in the classroom”. This aligned with the feedback from pupils, who identified that 2–7 min of movement is appropriate, with 5 min as the optimum length per lesson. One pupil said “my legs get tired when I stand up for too long…if its minutes I will do it” (P6, Group1, Key Stage 1). One pupil disagreed and felt that slightly more than 5 min may be beneficial as “sometimes we do 5 minutes or 2 minutes and it just doesn’t feel very long so I think maybe like 7 minutes would be better” (P7, Group 3, Key Stage 2).
The majority of Governors stated that they, and their fellow governors, would be moderately to extremely likely to support the implementation of such movement break ideas highlighted by staff and pupils in this study. Despite this two Governors disagreed by stating they would be moderately unlikely to support a classroom-based movement intervention as they felt that, although PA had a place in the school day, they were sceptical about its benefits in the classroom / curriculum.