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By Dr Esme Tuttiett, Research and Data Analyst at ukactive

Opening Schools Facilities (OSF) is a Department for Education (DfE) school funding programme to meet the goals of the Government’s School Sport and Activity Action Plan (SSAAP). The aim is to help schools to open their existing sport facilities, including school swimming pools, for a broader range of young people and to support the wider community by partnering with sport, fitness and leisure organisations, who can help deliver activities in these settings.

Our main role at ukactive within this programme is to collect data that represents information and concepts that are not necessarily represented by the numbers. Qualitative data lets us look deeper into the experiences of those involved in the programme – whether it be the children and young people, staff, or the activity providers – so we can understand the wider impact of the programme. Our work predominantly focuses on the voice of the user – children and young people – and capturing their thoughts and views is essential.

To support this, we’ve been holding focus groups for the second year of the programme with children and young people who have been taking part as we wanted to look at some of the more holistic outcomes, such as social interaction, curriculum engagement, improved wellbeing (of pupils and staff), qualities and experiences.

We have also been interviewing adults who have played a role in the OSF programme, such as teachers, support staff and external coaches who have been coming into the schools to deliver the activities. Parents have also been contacted to greater understand the wider impacts of their children being more physically activity, such as their behaviour, mood and wellbeing.

Since the start of this year’s programme, 23 focus groups have been held with 124 young people, across both primary and secondary school ages groups. A total of 35 adults connected to the OSF programme have also shared their thoughts.

It’s been a privilege to witness first-hand the impact that opening up school facilities has had for the children and young people, as well as their families and local community users. Not only that, but the activities I have seen on offer have been diverse, such as parkour, tag archery and roller-skating. I have even been lucky enough to give some of these great fun activities a go!

These varied activities have been a great way to engage young people who are less drawn to more traditional team and competitive sports. One teacher summarised this perfectly by telling me that, “Children are joining in who would not have typically joined in before.” It has also been and brilliant to see how many girls, children with special educational needs and disabilities, those on free school meals, and those from ethnically diverse communities have been engaging in the activities. This is vital for ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities to take part in physical activities and access is available, regardless of their backgrounds. Learning about how the confidence of these participants has grown and developed across these sessions has also been lovely to observe and hear. One primary school pupil told me, “I didn’t think I could do it to begin with, now I am shocked, surprised by how good I am.”

Increasing physical activity levels, particularly of children, is so important and can help build healthy lifelong habits. And it’s clear that keeping children active has had many more benefits for those young people on this programme, with participants discussing the benefit it had on their mental health:

“I feel calm, my mind feels clear” – a primary school pupil at a martial arts class

“It’s a space I know – I feel safe” – a primary school pupil at basketball club

“It has given me discipline and to be motivated. I can apply a routine and apply it to other things and education” – a secondary school pupil who uses a gym at the school.

Another key benefit mentioned by school staff and parents include improved attendance and behaviour from children on the programme, so that they can then go on to attend after-school clubs – again, showing the endless benefits of children and young people accessing and enjoying physical activity.

Being a part of the qualitative element of this programme has been eye-opening and it will be interesting to see the role our sector’s facilities can play in supporting this programme and helping children to build lifelong physical activity habits both within school and beyond.

This programme is just one of the ways ukactive is supporting children and young people across the nation and next year’s programme will build on this data so we can support these children and address any barriers they may have in keeping active and healthy.

I look forward to getting to see some more fantastic physical activity sessions in action and speaking to even more people to understand as much as possible about OSF.

To find out more about the impact of the Opening School Facilities programme, click here.