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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Will the Olympics inspire children to do better at school?’

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 10 August 2012

Karen Schucan Bird
The success of Team GB is inspiring everyone – both young and old. The passion for sport has become infectious. As I cycled to work this morning, Londoners were participating in sport everywhere I looked. We hope that children and young people will be equally inspired. Indeed, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, Lord Moynihan, used the success of Team GB to highlight the need for a step change in sports policy. More funding and better facilities are needed, he argued, to ensure that ‘inspiration is translated into participation’. Whilst young people’s participation may lead to future Olympians and a range of health benefits, are there any measurable benefits in terms of education and learning? A team of researchers at the IOE undertook a project to find out.
Funded by the Department of Culture Media and Sport, a systematic review was carried out to explore the impacts of young people’s participation in sport on their educational achievement. The findings from four robust studies were combined and translated into hypothetical changes in test scores.
This is what we found:

  • There is some evidence that participation in organised sport improves young people’s numerical skills. Organised sport refers to sporting activities guided by a teacher or other facilitator. This means that by playing organised sport, young people could increase their numeracy scores, on average, by 8 per cent above that of their peers who did not play sport.
  • There is some evidence that participation in extracurricular activities linked to organised sport for underachieving students improves their numerical skills and transferable skills (specifically independent study skills). Extracurricular activities linked to organised sport refer to educational activities that take place within a sporting context. The participation of underachieving pupils in such activities could increase numerical skills by 29 per cent and transferable skills between 12 and 16 per cent above students who did not take part.

Whilst these findings are interesting, they need to be treated with caution. The review can only tell us something about a narrow set of sports, certain aspects of educational achievement and particular subgroups of young people. Yet, the findings are promising. We hope the Olympics will inspire a generation. It may even leave a legacy for education.
For the full report, see Newman, M et al (2010) Understanding the Impact of Engagement in Culture and Sport: A Systematic Review of the Learning Impacts for Young People. London: Department for Culture Media and Sport.

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