Report shows decline in students’ physical and emotional wellness following COVID-19 lockdowns

In April 2021, the Schools Active Movement (SAM) launched a survey to those working in schools in England. Headteachers and PE teachers were asked questions about their students’ mental and physical health following the latest government lockdown restrictions, in order to gain insight into the effects the third consecutive lockdown has had on students across the country.

In total, 2,647 schools took part in the survey, with 30 Active Partnership county areas represented by the respondents. All nine regions were represented by at least three Active Partnership areas.

What were the results?

Teachers were asked about their pupils’ physical and emotional wellbeing. They were asked to provide their opinion based on their conversations and time spent around the students.

The survey asked them to consider their students’ physical fitness, fundamental movement skills, weight and physical activity levels in order to ascertain their physical wellbeing. To determine their social wellbeing, teachers were asked questions surrounding pupils’ resilience, social interactions, and overall wellbeing. They were asked whether they felt the students had remained the same, or gotten better or worse in these areas.

The sobering results indicated that their students are reporting and displaying concerning signs of physical and emotional issues following the third lockdown. The report shows that 84% of students are less physically fit than before, with 15% staying the same and 2% having gotten more active over the lockdowns.

Similarly, the report shows that 60% of students have worse general wellbeing than before the lockdowns, with just 5% reporting having improved wellbeing.

What are the reasons for this?

This report follows the 2020 survey which asked children about their experiences in the first lockdowns. In this study, 52% of the children asked said they were doing less physical activity than usual.

There are various reasons this could be, with the most likely being that the government issued restrictions which closed playgrounds and leisure centres along with schools. For many children, extra-curricular activities or sports clubs are a primary source of activity. Once the restrictions prevented this, activity levels fell for both children and young people, and adults across the country.

What’s next?

It is important that we continue to return to a more normal, active way of life as restrictions ease. Children and young people should be getting at least 60 minutes of exercise a day; something that will be easier as more establishments are allowed to open in line with government restrictions.

Active Partnerships will continue to work closely with Sport England as places begin to reopen, and will provide various opportunities and incentives to remain active. This includes providing regular insight on activity levels, including the Children’s Active Lives Survey, which showed that whilst overall activity levels were down, many more children were biking and walking than previous years – something we can build on as we move forward.

Schools may also make use of training, guidance and funding opportunities to provide more ways of getting students active. Meanwhile, parents can use our Active Kids section to find new and innovative ways to keep young people active when not at school.