How Outdoor Play Improves Pupil Attainment

As we continually struggle to find new and better ways to improve pupils’ attainment, the one area of school that is frequently neglected is the playground. However, a recent report by Public Health England, “The link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainment” may make you think again as it shows how outdoor play equipment can have surprising benefits for your pupils’ attainment.

Break time problem-solving

According to the report, “pupils who use problem-solving skills to overcome obstacles do better academically.” One way to increase the time devoted to problem-solving skills is to encourage pupils to do it through play. This can be easily achieved by installing an outdoor trim trail in your playground.

Trim trails are fun obstacle courses which require children to problem solve as they negotiate their way around. Using the easily interchangeable trim trail equipment we supply at ESP Play, you can change the course whenever you like, giving the pupils the constant challenge of solving new problems.

Of course, using a trim trail is not restricted just to break times, it can also be used in a more structured way during lessons.

Healthy hearts mean healthy marks

Another significant finding in the report was that “Children and young people who are aerobically fit have higher academic scores.” Aerobic fitness is an issue with today’s young people: the increase in child obesity is as much to do with lack of exercise as it is to do with poor diet and many children don’t get the opportunities to play outdoors or participate in sport at home.

One way to overcome this and encourage aerobic exercise is to install playground markings. There’s a huge range of playground markings available today, many of which are designed to help with aerobic fitness. These include football, netball, tennis and basketball markings as well as fast feet, hurdles, and zig-zag steppers – to name a few. All these can be used during break times and PE lessons to improve aerobic fitness and obtain the resulting academic benefits.

Reduced disruption, better progress 

As every teacher knows, poor behaviour disrupts learning and slows the progress of the whole class. This is why behaviour is such a big focus for Ofsted. The Public Health England report explains that “Physical activity has been linked to improved classroom behaviour across the whole school. Notable among the benefits are improved pro-social behaviour and peer relationships, with resulting reductions in disruptive classroom behaviour.”

If the reduction in disruptive behaviour is due to physical activity that improves social relationships, then it makes sense to give pupils more opportunities to do this during their free time. Most outdoor playground equipment is designed to help pupils play together in an active way, whether this is done through climbing equipment, sports equipment or roleplay equipment. Installing these in your play area could have positive benefits on behaviour and progress.

Hugely improved GCSE results

Significantly improving your pupils’ GCSE results increases their potential to succeed in life and is a great boost for school morale. For most schools this is a big ask but, according to research discussed in the Public Health England report, “pupils engaging in self-development activities (including sport, physical activity) achieved 10-20% higher GCSEs.”

10-20% is a whopping increase that could make big differences to the life chances of significant numbers of pupils – especially those who lack the opportunity to participate in sport and physical activities.

The wide range of school playground equipment available enables you to cater for the diverse interests of your pupils. We have multi-sports playground markings or individual markings for cricket, tennis, futsal, football, netball, basketball and rounders. We even have an outdoor gym: a unique, body-weight only, fitness facility designed specifically for secondary aged children.

And for children who aren’t sports minded there is plenty of fun based outdoor play equipment designed to increase physical activity, such as climbing walls and even a Team Adventure Zone

Does school playground equipment increase physical activity?

Whilst research mentioned in the Public Health England report proves the link between increased physical activity and improved attainment, no doubt you’ll be questioning whether investment in outdoor play equipment will actually lead to improved activity levels.

The good news is that it does. Independent research by Liverpool John Moores and Roehampton Universities has shown that 70% pupils in schools with outdoor playground equipment spent more time being moderately and vigorously active.


As teachers, we’ve long understood the physical benefits of outdoor play and to some extent its importance to pupils’ well-being. However, the research mentioned in the Public Health England report now confirms that giving children the opportunities to take part in physical activity in the playground, during free time and as part of lessons, can have a positive impact on their attainment. Our role, here at ESP Play, is to provide you with the best outdoor resources to meet their needs.

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