YouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor

85% say childhood obesity ‘serious problem’; Britons split on compulsory physical tests in schools

An overwhelming majority of the British public feel childhood obesity is a serious problem facing Britain today, but opinion is divided over whether schools should introduce mandatory ‘physical literacy’ tests to assess children on their physical competence just as they are currently tested for numeracy and literacy, our poll has found.

  • A substantial majority (85%) of people think childhood obesity is a big problem facing Britain today
  • Compared to just one in ten (10%) Brits who think it is not a problem
  • Yet, while around a third (34%) of people would support schools introducing ‘physical literacy’ tests to asses children on their physical competence in the same way as they are tested on numeracy and literacy
  • Three in ten (30%) are opposed to the idea of physical literacy tests in schools
  • However, more men than women would support the introduction of physical literacy tests in schools, with nearly two fifths (39%) in favour as opposed to 28% of women

Success for future generations

The results come amid sports medicine specialists’ recent calls for mandatory physical literacy tests in schools as a means of combatting obesity and related health problems in children.

Dr Andy Franklyn-Miller has argued that under the current school curriculum, PE is given less importance than other subjects, adversely affecting the physical competence of the young. He told the BBC that introducing mandatory tests for key skills, including cardiovascular exercises and co-ordination elements, will keep children active and help them with potential health problems.

Writing that he wants to ‘achieve future success now by building in a PE curriculum that is competitive,’ Dr Franklyn-Miller also explains that testing children would ‘identify those who need support from physicians trained in sport’ and help ‘give future generations the benefit of experience that our Olympians give in achievement, aspiration and success’.

Compulsory PE tests?

Certain plans are already being put in place to help test children on certain physical skills, alongside existing measures in schools which make PE a compulsory part of the curriculum.

Charity the Youth Sport Trust, funded by medical company BUPA, is offering a programme called ‘Start to Move’ which aims to focus on ‘physical literacy’ rather than traditional ‘sports’, and train teachers in specialist PE skills. It wants to introduce the programme to all schools in England over the next 3 years.

However, BUPA’s chief executive, Baroness Sue Campbell, does not agree with the proposed compulsory testing element of ‘physical literacy’, and feels that the ‘rigorous testing’ described could have ‘a negative impact on some children’. Others, such as Christine Blower from the National Union of Teachers, agreed, telling the BBC that such testing might even discourage children from taking part in sports and PE altogether.    

But Dr Franklyn-Miller is clear that unless tests become compulsory within a clear structure, little will change. At a conference on the subject, he suggested that ‘we should start influencing [children’s] physical literacy, their health and their wellbeing, when we've got them in front of us [at school].’ 

See the survey details and full results here

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