Keep'er Fit

Gary Wallace

How much physical activity do kids get in school?

The government recommends that children at both primary and post-primary school should get at least 120 minutes of physical activity per week.

This is only a guideline and not something which has to be carried out. With this in mind how many schools are actually carrying this out?

To help find the answer to this, Sport Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland and Healthy Ireland (through the Healthy Ireland fund) published the first all-island Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity (CSPPA 2018) study in September 2019.


Over 6,600 students from 115 schools across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland along with school principals and teachers were involved.

Key findings

• 13 per-cent of Northern Irish children met the physical activity guidelines (20 per-cent primary school pupils, 11 per-cent post-primary school pupils) of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day. Fewer girls met the guidelines, compared to boys (10 per-cent Vs 16 per-cent).

• Higher levels of self-reported happiness were associated with more days where at least 60 minutes MVPA was achieved.

• 65 per-cent of primary and 58 per-cent of post primary school pupils reported participation in school sport at least once a week.

• 65 per-cent of primary and 49 per-cent of post primary school pupils reported participation in community sport at least once a week.

• 19 per-cent of primary pupils reported receiving 30 minutes or less of physical education per week.

• 40 per-cent of post-primary school pupils reported meeting the physical education guidelines of at least 120 minutes/week.


• The average weekly minutes of physical education was 122 at post-primary school level.

• 36 per-cent of primary and 18 per-cent of post-primary school pupils reported actively commuting to school (either cycle or walk). Insufficient safe places to cross the road (primary school) and distance (post primary school) were the main reasons cited for not actively commuting to school.

• On average, primary and post primary school pupils spent 5.0 and 6.9 hours/day in sedentary leisure time respectively.

• 59 per-cent of primary and 40 per-cent of post primary school pupils met the sedentary screen time guideline of no more than 120 minutes/day.

• Also, at primary levels, children attending an urban school were more likely to receive 30 minutes or less physical education per week than those attending a rural school (22 per-cent Vs 14 per-cent).

As you can see for the figures above this report not only looked at physical activity in schools but in sports and general physical activity.

For now, I would like to focus on what our kids are doing in schools and what we can do to improve it.

Let’s look at two figures that 19 per-cent of primary pupils reported receiving 30 minutes or less of physical education per week and 40 per-cent of post-primary school pupils reported meeting the Physical Education guidelines of at least 120 minutes/week.

As we know the 120 minutes is just a guideline that schools have to follow its not mandatory. It would be easy to blame the school for not meeting this target but working in schools for years, I understand the pressures that the principal, teachers and staff are under to help educate our kids with less funding each year.

Unfortunately, in some schools the first thing to be dropped is time allocated to physical education. This is something we don’t have much control over but there are steps as parents, grandparents or any other family member can do.

Ask your child how active they are. Don’t assume that your child gets 15 minutes at break time, 30-45 minutes at lunch a day and 120 minutes of PE during the week. Sometimes they may only get 10 minutes of physical activity during breaks because they are eating, socialising or hopefully not, been held behind by a teacher. Even some PE lessons can’t always be a full hour of physical activity. Take into consideration changing time, picking teams, setting up equipment etc. and you may not have much time left.

Do they enjoy PE?
Sometimes you may think they are active but they may not like the PE lesson because it’s all games or it was dance this week.

Teachers have to follow the national curriculum and like other subjects your child may enjoy physically activity but just not the type they do in school.

Speak with the teacher
The same as you would with your child’s academic studies ask how they are getting on with their physical and social development within school.

If you feel that they may improve their attention span in class by being more active, then suggest it to the teacher.

Give them active homework
When the kids come in from school give them their active homework.
This could be cycling, going for a walk or doing a kid’s fitness workout from YouTube. Even better if you can join them.

Not only with this get them physical active but research suggests that it will help them concentrate and absorb more information when they have to complete their academic homework. Getting into a habit of getting our kids active in and out of school will have a huge influence on their overall development.

For those of you that are interested here is how our kids compared to those in the Republic of Ireland.
At post-primary school level, almost 20 per-cent more pupils in Northern Ireland (40 per-cent) met the guideline, compared to the Republic of Ireland (23 per-cent), where the physical education guidelines are the same (i.e. 120 minutes/week).

The post-primary school pupils here in the North received greater than 30 minutes more physical education per week than their counterparts in the Republic (89 Vs 122 minutes/week).

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