Status: Physical literacy is an established initiative in England. It was founded and developed by Dr. Margaret Whitehead, visiting professor at the University of Bedfordshire and president of the International Physical Literacy Association. In the school context, developing physical literacy is the foundation of PE and school sport.

Definition: “Physical Literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding that provides children with the movement foundation for lifelong participation in physical activity. Enabling them to be physically literate supports their development as competent, confident, and healthy movers.”[31] In the school context, developing physical literacy is the foundation of PE and school sport. Physical literacy is not perceived as a program, rather it is a desired and intentional outcome of any structured PE and school sport provision which is achieved more readily if learners encounter a range of age- and stage-appropriate opportunities.[32] 

Leadership: The Primary School Physical Literacy Framework was developed by the Youth Sport Trust (YST) in partnership with Sport England (SE), County Sport Partnership Network (CSPn), Association of Physical Education (afPE), sports coach UK (scUK), and national governing bodies of sport (NGBs).

Funding: The government of England funds Sport England (with taxpayer and national lottery funding) through the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. Sport England supports physical-literacy-based initiatives. Corporate sponsorships supplement government-funded initiatives.

Sector and Venue: Physical literacy is taught and developed through physical education, organized sport, and active play; provided in school settings; and practiced/delivered in a holistic manner (includes affective, cognitive, and physical components).   

Sample Programs: 

TOP Sportsability is a program of the Youth Sport Trust, in partnership with the NGBs. Its mission is “to provide physical activity and sport options for young people with high support needs; to create a vehicle for the inclusion of disabled and non-disabled young people together; and to provide a basic introduction to a wide range of sports and activities in support of the School Games programme.”[33] 

Change4Life Sports Clubs leverage the momentum of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to engage less active youth in primary and secondary schools in physical activity and school sport.[34] 

Fit for Girls, an initiative of Active Girls, is a collaborative effort between the Youth Sport Trust and sportscotland. The program trains educators and promotes physical activity for girls. It is funded by the Scottish Government and is available to secondary schools. Fit for Girls’ main goal is to create sustainable change in schools and to provide girls with the foundation to be active for life.[35] 

Lead Your Generation: An Inclusive Future is a leadership program that emphasizes inclusion. To carry out the legacy of 2012, Lead Your Generation matched young people with opportunities to volunteer at major sporting events. The program integrates people with and without disabilities and takes place in eight cities across the UK.[36] 

Key Resources: 

Primary School Physical Literacy Framework: Designed to support those working in primary schools, the framework helps educators structure their physical education and school sport programs to ensure the programs develop physical literacy in all participants.[37]  

Messaging: The International Physical Literacy Association is an active advocate of, and voice for, physical literacy in the UK and globally. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Care and Public Health recognized the importance of physical literacy in the context of public health and health costs. The group’s co-chair explained their motivation for the work, saying, “[Our] adults and our children are increasingly choosing to live sedentary lives, we are facing a tsunami of premature deaths in England. And, with the news that our children are now being diagnosed with long-term conditions as a consequence of unhealthy lifestyle choices, there is an urgent need to improve people’s physical literacy.”[38] 

Inclusion: TOP Sportsability is a physical-literacy-inspired, inclusive activities program developed by the Youth Sport Trust (YST) in partnership with the National Governing Bodies of Sport. The program was designed to meet the individual needs of boys and girls with physical and intellectual disabilities. The program can be used by schools to help engage young people with disabilities in physical education and school sport, and to support their first steps into school games activities.[39] 

Assessment: Findings from a TOP-funded study found that children enjoyed physical education, sports, exercising, and having fun, and that they described physical education as energy-giving. Parents responded that they perceived physical education to play an educational role, while their role as parents was to enable practice and extension. Respondents cited the need to use the expertise of coaches to support physical education teachers. Parents were adamant about the importance of competition and that their children must experience it in order to learn about life; children said they enjoyed winning, but that losing did not matter. Personal achievement, whether self or peer referenced, appeared to be motivating and important. Further, the importance of play time and the opportunities it provides for physical activity, practicing skills, and engaging in games was raised throughout the parents’ focus-group session.[40] 

Sports Teams/NSOs: There are approximately 12 national governing bodies that include physical literacy or some reference to physical literacy in their training courses.[41] 

Success Stories: 

  • Bupa Start to Move provides PE teachers of 4- to 7-year-olds with the techniques needed to teach fundamental movement skills to create competent, confident movers.[42] 
  • The government of the United Kingdom started a program called Sure Start and funded centers in most of the boroughs where lower-income children receive opportunities to engage in physical-literacy-based activities. Whitehead said Sure Start is “providing the welcoming setting which is the best answer. It is really a whole lifestyle support mechanism.”[43]
  • As part of Change4Life, Braunstone Community Primary School, a school in a low-income area with an above-average number of students with learning disabilities, began offering after-school programs. Change4Life gave the school’s program leader the necessary resources and support to start the club. The students involved have since demonstrated improved confidence and desire to continue to be engaged with sports.[44]