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To explore Active Education Settings in a Welsh context, Sport Wales established the ‘Active Education Beyond the School Day’ (AEBSD) programme. The Welsh Institute of Physical Activity Health and Sport (WIPAHS) were commissioned by Sport Wales to support the evaluation of the programme and draw insight from the data collected in order to provide recommendations for future implementation. This report covers the data collected from schools between January 2022 and August 2022.

“Children and young people should engage in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity for an average of at least 60 minutes per day across the week”


The benefits of physical activity are irrefutable (Chaput et al, 2020). 

The Chief Medical Officers (CMO; 2019) guidelines recommend that “children and young people should engage in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity for an average of at least 60 minutes per day, across the week,” including “a variety of types and intensities…to develop movement skills, muscular fitness, and bone strength.” However, globally, physical activity levels in young people remain consistently low, with an estimated 80% of young people being insufficiently active (Guthold et al., 2020). In Wales specifically, the School Health Research Network reported that only around 1 in 5 (17%) young people met the recommended physical activity guidelines. 

It is important to note that this data was pre-pandemic, and it remains unclear what impact the pandemic has had, and may continue to have, on these statistics. With a strong message from the 2019 CMO guidelines of “more is better”, identifying novel, sustainable ways which consider a systems level approach is required to support young people to be physically active.

The most recent School Sport Survey (2022) showed that:

  • Participation levels have decreased. 39% of pupils took part in organised sport outside of the curriculum three or more times a week (Future Generations Indicator 38) – a nine percentage-point decrease since 2018.
  • 36% of pupils report that they do ‘no frequent activity’ outside of the curriculum, participating less than once a week. This has increased eight percentage points since 2018.
  • There are variations in enjoyment levels of extracurricular sport. Pupils were least likely to enjoy participation in extracurricular sport ‘a lot’ compared with enjoyment levels in other settings. Girls, older pupils, and disabled pupils were less likely to enjoy extracurricular sport than boys, younger pupils and those less deprived areas (indicated by Free School Meal (FSM) eligibility).
  • There is often a lack of resources to provide opportunities beyond the school day - 58% of secondary school teachers and 38% of primary identified that staff capacity for extracurricular provision is an issue, disagreeing with the statement ‘There are enough staff available to teach extracurricular sport at my school’.
  • 35% of secondary school teachers and 48% of primary also disagreed that ‘There is sufficient financial support available for extracurricular sport at my school’.

These statistics highlight just some of the challenging circumstances around increasing participation and providing extracurricular opportunities that the AEBSD pilot could seek to address.

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) published global standards for Health-Promoting Schools. Schools are a key setting to influence behaviours of children, young people, and wider cohorts of the population. This is due to the extended time children and young people spend in schools and that schools are often a focal point of a community. The WHO (2022) policy brief on promoting physical activity through schools’ highlights six evidenced-based domains for increasing physical activity in schools, and two of those focus upon ‘active before- and after-school programmes’ and ‘inclusive approaches to physical activity’.

WHO defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. Physical activity refers to all movement including during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work.”

The Curriculum for Wales

The new curriculum in Wales presents an opportunity to create the optimal environment and experiences to support young people in developing the skills, confidence, motivation, knowledge and understanding to enjoy being physically active for life. One label applied to this approach is ‘Active Education Settings’.

Active Education Settings

Sport Wales defined ‘Active Education Settings’ as:

Proactive schools that provide access to sport and physical activity opportunities beyond the school day, through the utilisation of their facilities, when necessary, serve the needs of their community.

In 2021, the Welsh Labour Manifesto promised to realise the commitment of creating community focused schools. Sport Wales responded with the development of the ‘Active Education Settings’ which have a focus on physical activity, while community focused schools also focus on art, play and family engagement. Welsh Government allocated funding to Sport Wales to develop community-focused schools as they saw appropriate. As part of the first phase of this stream of work, Sport Wales undertook a literature review of the international evidence available on the impact of active education settings, including a focus on policy and practice (see Marshall & Rees, 2021 for full review). The review found that the opening of school settings for physical activity opportunities outside of the curriculum time or traditional school day could have a positive impact on making sporting opportunities available more inclusively. Box 1 summarises the consensus from the review regarding what is required to create an active education setting. However, understanding how such approaches can be applied sustainably and aligned to specific local needs remains under-researched.

Sport Wales states that creating active education settings, which are accessible to all, will help young people in Wales to thrive. Active education settings refer to promoting high-quality sport and physical activity inside and outside of the school curriculum. Further, Sport Wales has advocated for the opening of school sport facilities beyond the traditional school day, and this process evaluation seeks to determine the feasibility and acceptability of such an approach. This pilot project focused on the opening of school sites, beyond the school day, including evenings, weekends, and school holidays.

‘Active Education Beyond the School Day’ Programme

In October 2021, all schools in Wales were invited, in collaboration with their Local Authority Sport/Leisure and Education Leads, to submit an Expression of Interest. In submitting their Expression of Interest, the school and supporting local authority agreed to the following statement:

Schools and the supporting local authority will work with Sport Wales to support the learning from the pilot. This will include baseline, monitoring, and evaluation information. 

The school inclusion criteria set by Sport Wales were as follows:

  • Schools within underserved communities
  • Secondary, primary and special education schools
  • Mix of urban and rural settings
  • English and welsh medium schools
  • Schools that evidence they will utilise sport/physical activity offers

Schools were required to outline a proposal of how their schools would operate as an active education setting to facilitate sport and physical activity sessions for pupils, families, and the wider community. Schools were required to consider their environment to make the proposal most suitable to the target audience and meet local needs. This meant no proposals were the same, and the sporting offer was individualised. Schools were required to make the sporting offer accessible to the “community”, however, the term was self-defined.

As a result, “community” could be defined as either the “school community” or the “wider community”.

Within these labels, school community could refer to pupils only, or pupils and parents, and wider community could refer to pupils from neighbouring schools, as well as members of the public either individually or through local community clubs/groups.

The shortlisting panel who reviewed the applications and selected which schools were eligible to participate in the pilot involved: 

  • Sport Wales Members of staff from varying teams including the: Education Lead, Foundations and Participation Lead, Policy Lead, Local Authority Officer, Investment Team representative and a member of the Senior Leadership Team
  • Welsh Government Community Focused Schools Team

Each pilot school was responsible for implementing the sporting offer outlined in their proposal. The sporting offer was to be a part of the school’s usual practice and therefore covered under standard education processes and policies for children, young people, and adults to take part. Where permission was required, schools were to seek and store the permission in accordance with their usual practices. Who attended the organised sessions was at the directive of the school; not Sport Wales or WIPAHS.

The graphic is a schematic illustration of the key findings regarding the international evidence of what is needed to create an active education setting.   The key enablers include; community, school, and key stakeholder collaboration, utilising insight and being needs led, ambitious leadership, consistent and sustainable funding.   If these enablers are present, the key outcomes can include; Improved relationships between the school and community, Improved educational outcomes, A quality, sustainable sporting offer for every community, Quality, accessible facilities, Long-term improved health and wellbeing, Long-term increase in engagement with sports and physical activity.   This will need to be underpinned by continuous monitoring and evaluation, learning and development.