Schools are recognised internationally as a location which can influence behaviours of children and the wider community and have the potential to be a focus of the community. The concept of using the school site for more beneficial and meaningful physical activity linked to the needs of a community aligns to the ethos of the new school curriculum in Wales. In 2022, the WHO highlighted active education settings as an evidence-based mechanism for promoting physical activity. Ahead of this, however, Wales initiated this pilot project of transforming schools into active education settings through the AEBSD programme in 2021. The focus of this pilot was opening of school sites, beyond the school day, including evenings, weekends, and school holidays, with a specific focus on schools who are situated in deprived areas or who have a challenging demographic.
Many of the successful practices and challenges highlighted in a review of international evidence (Box 1), were common to those identified in this pilot project. It is important to achieve senior leadership buy-in, for the programme to be ambitious and to drive forward its implementation. To be sustainable, the programme should be informed by what the end users want to participate in and should connect with the wider community. Schools highlighted the challenge of continuing the programme from a cost perspective, particularly those who invested their funding in people and not infrastructure and equipment. Sourcing ways of continuing to deliver these programmes will be paramount to the sustained success. The findings are discussed in line with the research questions designed by Sport Wales to evaluate this pilot project and in the context of Sport Wales’ Vision for Sport in Wales. The research questions were:
- What enables a school to become an active education setting?
- What is the impact of a school becoming an active education setting?
- The impact it has on the vision for sport and sport Wales strategy
- The impact it has on physical activity levels
- The impact it has on education priorities including attendance
- What can ensure the active education approach becomes sustainable and embedded into school development plans?