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Schools Case Studies

NE Essex PCT - Report On Rowers In Schools

Date Added: Fri, 07 May 2010

Related tags: Funding Ideas, Health Benefit, Ideas, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 3 Girls, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4 Girls, Pct

This report provides an evaluation of the Rowers in Schools project a year after it began in nineteen secondary schools in North East Essex in February 2009. The project contributes to the engagement of schools in addressing obesity and physical activity levels, which is vital for improving the health and wellbeing of young people in the area.


The health benefits of physical activity in childhood and adolescence has been well documented, including promoting 'healthy growth and development of the musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory systems; maintenance of energy balance (in order to maintain a healthy weight); avoidance of risk factors such as hypertension and high cholesterol; and the opportunity for social interaction, achievement and mental well-being'.1

The promotion of physical activity is currently being used as a key tool in reducing obesity levels in both children and adults. The paper 'Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives' (2008) highlights the government's ambition 'to be the first major nation to reverse the rising tide of obesity and overweight in the population by ensuring that everyone is able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight'.2 In particular, the initial focus for this target will be on children: 'by 2020, we aim to reduce the proportion of overweight and obese children to 2000 levels'.2

Along with the physical benefits of exercise, there are links to improved mental health. As documented in a 2004 report by the Chief Medical Officer, 'current evidence indicates that physical activity interventions can have a generally positive impact on the mental health of young people'.1

A positive introduction to regular physical activity at a young age can influence attitudes in adulthood; 'there is also strong evidence to show that, by the time young people leave secondary school, their attitudes to sport and exercise and their level of perceived ability are highly predictive of whether or not they are physically active as adults'.1 It has also been suggested that physically active young people are more likely to display other healthy behaviours choices, for example avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and drug use, and demonstrate higher academic performance at school.3

NICE recommend that children and young people should 'undertake a range of activities at (a moderate to vigorous level) for at least 60 minutes over the course of a day'4 and schools provide unique opportunities to provide time, facilities and guidance for young people to participate in physical activity.4

Local Picture

A report for the 'Get Active' programme suggests that a population wide strategy supplemented by more targeted action is the most effective approach in halting the rise in childhood obesity in the North East Essex area. The rowers scheme is an example of this type of targeted approach.

The Project

In 2008 Tendring Technology College participated in a trial introducing rowing machines. PE staff at the college had noticed a trend in the decline in the health and fitness levels of the students over the last decade. The use of rowing machines in schools was decided as the optimum approach to get the students more active. The innovative use of the rowers was found to be particularly useful for students who are overweight or unfit because they are inclusive and allow students to measure their personal improvements in fitness levels.

The trial was successful and it was decided to roll the project out to other schools in the area. After consultation was undertaken with young people in the area, North East Essex PCT invested £70,000 to acquire 68 rowing machines.

The project was born from a close working relationship between schools and North East Essex PCT and a joint understanding of the health needs of young people in the locality. Strong partnership working already exists in the area of education and there is a strong desire to improve the health outcomes of our young people.


This report details the outcomes of the rowers in the last year, since February 2009. The following outcomes are based on twelve out of the nineteen schools who provided sufficient data on the impact of the rowers.

Overall, the rowers have been well utilised and students have enjoyed using them. At Stanway School the four machines have proved to be very popular; the extra-curricular club is oversubscribed and has a waiting list. Clacton County High School noted that all pupils enjoyed using the rowers, while Thurstable School noted that ideally they would like more rowers so that they could offer more sessions.

Just under half of the schools reported that students had increased their fitness levels by using the rowers. Colchester Royal Grammar School reported that 30% of students using the machines exercised more often and all students exercised with greater intensity. Philip Morant School had 98% of students increase their level of physical activity. 92% of the students using the rowers at Thurstable School stated they felt better and healthier for using them.

Two-thirds of participating schools noted an increase in students undertaking physical activity, both using the rowers and other forms of exercise. Thomas Lord Audley School had 220 students report an increase in participation. 50 students reported an increased level of physical activity at Sir Charles Lucas School. Around 100 students have shown increased levels of physical activity at the Clacton Coastal Academy.

Although weight loss was not the main focus for a number of schools, a third reported weight loss amongst their students. 40% of students at Philip Morant School students felt the rowers had helped them improve their body shape or lose weight. Thomas Lord Audley School had 85 students report weight loss. A total of 19 students at Sir Charles Lucas School reported weight loss.

20% of Philip Morant School students using the rowers are from alternative learning groups and are students who do not attend any other clubs. A number of Schools have found that the rowers are an ideal inclusionary activity. St Benedict's College commented that students with special educational needs have particularly benefited from using the rowers.

Colchester County High School for Girls reported a 4 fold increase in students using fitness equipment at lunchtime. Similarly, all the schools provide breakfast clubs, lunchtime sessions or after school clubs to make the rowers available and encourage use. A number of the schools run 'girls only' extra-curricular clubs to encourage female students to participate. Having targeted those students with low participation rates, Stanway School has seen a significant increase in the activity levels of those who attend after school clubs.

Some of the schools have been inspired to set up rowing competitions between students. A competition between the schools within the Colchester-Blackwater School Sport Partnership schools is also scheduled to take place in the summer term. This will provide a unique opportunity for students who have not competed for the school to achieve recognition and the self-confidence along with it.

The majority of the schools have integrated the use of the rowers with other lessons around healthy lifestyles. In a number of schools the rowers have been included as part of the national initiative 'Healthy Schools', which includes learning about healthy eating as well as physical activity. Gilberd School is participating in the 'Healthy Futures' campaign by inviting a specific group of students and their parents to a variety of activities and seminars, including using the rowers and healthy eating workshops.


The rowers have had a positive impact at the schools, by increasing both fitness and activity levels of the students. It is encouraging that the schools reported increased physical activity levels both by the use of the rowers and by students seeking other activities. Although weight loss was recorded by a few schools amongst the students, this was not the primary focus of the rowers; in the majority of schools, the rowers formed part of a wider 'healthy lifestyles' education. An additional benefit of the rowers was the fact they are inclusive, enabling students to use them no matter their gender or level of ability. The popularity of the rowers is really demonstrated by the demand for out-of-school clubs, many of which run to capacity.

The rowing machines are all still functioning well in all schools and will continue to be used by the schools. An update report will be written in March 2011 to compare the use of the rowers in a year's time.

Thanks to all the schools who submitted data on the use of the rowers.


Laura Cooper - NEE PCT - March 2010

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