Primary schools need extra funds to help keep children active, especially if their grounds are located a long way from community sporting facilities and parks.
Teachers also require more support to encourage physical activity amongst their pupils.
These are the views of Lincoln University sport and recreation management student Rebecca Peterson, who has carried out a study to determine whether school decile ratings affect children’s activity levels.
The research, which used a case study approach, involved contacting several Canterbury schools of a range of deciles and interviewing staff members about physical activity opportunities offered, as well as observing activities and studying relevant documentation.
She hopes her findings can be used to help counteract the rise in childhood obesity by increasing opportunities for primary school pupils to engage in sport and recreation activities.
Her research suggests that a school’s proximity to local facilities has more of an impact than socioeconomic status on children’s participation in sport.
“The location of a school in relation to where a city’s sports facilities are clustered has a larger effect on what the school can provide for pupils,” she says.
“The further away a school is from sports grounds and other facilities, the more difficult and costly it is to transport the children there.”
She says the Government should therefore consider the location of schools, regardless of decile rating, when allocating funds.
“Funding allocation is already complex so this may be difficult to undertake, but school location has a major effect on the recreation opportunities and facilities available to children.
“It is crucial to consider factors such as the distance of the school from appropriate sporting facilities, as well as appropriate transportation options.”
She suggests that the Government allocate a separate amount of funding specifically to provide transport for children participating in sporting activities.
“This would likely increase opportunities for all children to engage in sport and recreation.”
The study also suggests that teachers could benefit from more support to promote physical activity amongst their pupils.
“Children need encouragement from teachers when it comes to exercise,” says Rebecca. “Low support is associated with less chance of children being active.”
She points out that primary schools normally lack physical education departments, so it is left up to individual teachers to set aside exercise time.
“The schools I canvassed all promote a ‘brain break’, when pupils have free play or organised class games,” Rebecca says.
“But regardless of decile rating, teachers who are less passionate about sport are less likely to engage students in physical activity.”
She says they need to be correctly instructed about the different opportunities they can provide.
“Some schools have already employed outsiders from organisations such as Sport Canterbury to craft a physical activity session with pupils and help teachers to instruct physical activity in an enjoyable, effective way. All schools could benefit from this.”