Journal Article

Exploring activity levels in physical education lessons in the UK : a cross-sectional examination of activity types and fitness levels


Objectives. To establish pupil fitness levels, and the relationship to global norms and physical education (PE) enjoyment. To measure and describe physical activity (PA) levels during secondary school PE lessons, in the context of recommended levels, and how levels vary with activity and lesson type. Methods. A cross-sectional design; 10 697 pupils aged 12.5 (SD 0.30) years; pupils who completed a multistage fitness test and wore accelerometers to measure PA during PE lessons. Multilevel models estimated fitness and PE activity levels, accounting for school and class-level clustering. Results. Cardiorespiratory fitness was higher in boys than girls (ß=−0.48; 95% CI −0.56 to −0.39, p<0.001), within absolute terms 51% of boys and 54% of girls above the 50th percentile of global norms. On average, pupils spent 23.8% of PE lessons in moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA), and 7.1% in vigorous PA (VPA). Fitness-focused lessons recorded most VPA in co-educational (ß=1.09; 95% CI 0.43 to 1.74) and boys-only lessons (ß=0.32; 95% CI −0.21 to 0.85). In girls-only lessons, track athletics recorded most VPA (ß=0.13; 95% CI −0.50 to 0.75) and net/wall/racket games (ß=0.97; 95% CI 0.12 to 1.82) the most MVPA. For all lesson types, field athletics was least active (ß=−0.85; 95% CI −1.33 to −0.36). There was a relationship of enjoyment of PE to fitness (ß=1.03; 95% CI 0.83 to 1.23), and this relationship did not vary with sex (ß=−0.14 to 0.23; 95% CI −0.16 to 0.60). Conclusions. PE lessons were inactive compared with current guidelines. We propose that if we are to continue to develop a range of sporting skills in schools at the same time as increasing levels of fitness and PA, there is a need to introduce additional sessions of PE activity focused on increasing physical activity. Trial registration number NCT03286725.

Attached files


Beale, Nick
Eldridge, Emma
Delextrat, Anne
Esser, Patrick
Bushnell, Oliver
Curtis, Emily
Wassenaar, Thomas
Wheatley, Catherine
Johansen-Berg, Heidi
Dawes, Helen

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Sport, Health Sciences and Social Work


Year of publication: 2021
Date of RADAR deposit: 2024-02-16

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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