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One hour PE test could help identify children with movement skill deficit, say academics


Academics meet MPs in Westminster

Children with so-called movement skills deficit could benefit from a new ‘fun’ test that aims to make it easier for teachers to identify them.

It is estimated that 5% of primary school children have some form of movement skills deficit. Researchers have gone so far as to dub the condition a ‘hidden physical disability’ which they say inhibits children from engaging fully in education.

Dr Lucy Eddy, a Research Fellow at the University of Bradford, travelled with colleagues from the University of Leeds to Westminster this week to showcase the findings with MPs.

Dr Lucy Eddy meets an MP

Above: Dr Lucy Eddy talks to Labour MP Steve McCabe

She said: “We know that movement skill difficulties have a number of secondary impacts in terms of education and learning, physical health and also social and emotional wellbeing. Children who have movement skills deficit can sometimes be seen as ‘onlookers’ in the playground.

“Fundamental movement skills, such as running, throwing, catching and jumping, are key to childhood development. The National PE curriculum expects children to have mastered these skills by the age of seven, but does not incorporate a formal assessment of these skills.

“We know the current method of identifying these children is not working effectively, meaning that children with difficulties are falling through the cracks. Currently this involves a parent or carer making an appointment with their GP, who then refers the child to physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

"We have devised a fun one-hour screening tool of fundamental movement skills that any Primary school can use to help identify at-risk children. Once identified, schools can then take measures to support these children. Fundamentally, this is about opportunity, and what we know is children with poor movement skills are more prone to health conditions such as obesity.”

Children playing in a playground

A recent study by Born in Bradford involving 970 children, revealed opportunities for children to acquire and develop essential movement skills (through participation in physical activity) decreased throughout the pandemic, particularly for those in socio-economically deprived areas. Dr Eddy’s work is part of a package of interventions developed with Dr Nick Preston, University of Leeds, to better assess and support children with movement skill difficulties.

Dr Eddy said seven local schools have used her motor skills test (FUNMOVES), which was the subject of her PhD. She added she would like to see school inspection body Ofsted incorporate identification of and support for movement skill difficulties into their assessment framework.

The Westminster visit, with University of Leeds colleagues Dr Preston and Dr Liam Hill, was part of Evidence Week organised by charity Sense About Science. As part of the visit, the researchers created a brief outlining a number of policy recommendations for MPs, including use of the full package of assessment and support tools for wider use in educational settings.

Academics talk to MPs in Westminster

Above: MP Helen Morgan (Lib Dems), Dr Lucy Eddy, and Dr Liam Hill

The policy brief states: “Movement skills are critically important for school success. Handwriting is a vehicle for learning, and fundamental movement skills are essential within the Early Years curriculum. Unfortunately, children’s movement skills are not currently assessed, meaning many children are not having their educational needs supported.

“However, these deficits can be treated, thus reducing long-term costs to education and health services. Empowering schools to identify and treat children with physical disability could improve educational outcomes and reduce the burden on our public services.”

The academics are calling for a national online resource so schools can download the package of evidence-based assessment and treatment tools, access training and obtain guidance. They also urge that the health and education sectors, which often operate in very separate silos, work together to improve motor skills in children.

Learn more about FUNMOVES by selecting this link.