“30 minutes of physical activity” at school: a system against sedentary lifestyle to be questioned


The government is placing the start of the school year under the sign of Olympism and Paralympism . This year 2022-2023 would be “an opportunity to strengthen all the measures promoting the physical and sporting activities of students”, including the “30 minutes of daily physical activity” tested at the start of the 2020 school year and then generalized at the start of the 2022 school year.

The measure is intended to be emblematic of the “social legacy” project , backed by the hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (JOP) in Paris in 2024, consisting of making the event a springboard to respond to social issues. What can we expect from these “30 minutes of daily physical activity” which are intended to be developed in all elementary schools?

Our article is based on ongoing thesis work during which we met around forty actors involved in the deployment of the system: from school teachers responsible for implementing it to the Olympic and political decision-makers who initiated it, in passing through a majority of intermediary actors from decentralized national education services.

Fight against a sedentary lifestyle

The measure of “30 minutes of daily physical activity”, supported both by the organizing committee of the Olympic and Paralympic games and the Ministry of National Education and Sports, aims to get students affected by to an increasing sedentary lifestyle. The request is to have students perform a minimum of 30 minutes of daily physical activity on days when they do not have Physical Education and Sports (PE) classes.

The system is distinguished from school discipline which aims for concrete learning in terms of motor, methodological and social skills. However, the latter has always included student health in its goals. It is scheduled for 3 hours per week but a majority of teachers face too many difficulties, particularly in terms of training, to be able to teach it up to institutional expectations .

The “30 minutes of daily physical activity” can take the form of active breaks between “theoretical” lessons, learning sessions in movement, or even an incentive for physical activity during recess time. : a large margin of freedom is left to teachers regarding the methods of implementation.

The World Health Organization sets the threshold for moderate to sustained intensity physical activity, recommended for children aged 5 to 17, at 1 hour per day. The ambition presented through the choice of “30 minutes” for the school is to underline the shared responsibility between the school system and families in the face of the public problem and, in a logic of educational continuity, to encourage parents to ask the question of their children’s sedentary lifestyle and to work towards achieving the remaining half hour.

The legacy of Paris 2024 “at stake”

The device is considered by COJOP as one of the most emblematic of the games’ heritage . The objective of getting the French population active is a real challenge when a majority of research shows that the influence of hosting a major event on it turns out to be insignificant. However, the promotion of a system concerning all schools in a country as part of the hosting of a mega-event is unprecedented.

Several tools have been developed to support teachers in implementing “30 minutes of daily physical activity”. The Generation 2024 website lists a set of resource sheets ranging from educational sheets designed by academic working groups, to the “sport poses and attitudes” of the Games mascots, including the hiit of Mc Fly and Carlito . “The French 30APQ team” is made up of high-level sportsmen and women committed to traveling to classes to discuss the benefits of daily sporting practice for physical and mental well-being.

Finally, a kit of sports equipment (bibs, balls, etc.), designed in partnership with Decathlon, should be delivered to all schools before the end of the school year. A certain number of establishments, having declared themselves committed to the system during its experiment, already have it. This support, positively received by establishments which sometimes have difficulty obtaining sports equipment, already raises some logistical issues.

The fact that these tools use athletes or celebrities of the younger generation refers to communication strategies. Through this desire to demonstrate the power of social transformation of the Games, it is the question of the legitimacy of their reception which is at stake, knowing that the event is not without provoking citizen protests.

The stakes are all the greater for the territories at the heart of the Paris 2024 adventure. Thus, under the impetus given by the intermediary actors: rector, academic inspector and educational advisors, we can observe a particular enthusiasm for the system in the Créteil academy, which is one of our study areas. This takes, for example, the form of continuing training sessions for school teachers relating specifically to the system.

A “millefeuille” of school devices

If the educational actors met in our surveys recognize that the problems of a sedentary lifestyle must be taken into account, many question the proposed solution. The main criticism concerns the accumulation of institutional expectations. Indeed, the “30 minutes of daily physical activity” completes a “mille-feuille” of measures: “Knowing how to swim”, “ Aquatic ease” , “Knowing how to ride a bike”, “education for” – artistic education and cultural , sustainable development – ​​to name just a few.

“When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority,” says an educational advisor. The plural injunctions that teachers then face are not unrelated to the unhappiness at work that affects this profession. Furthermore, in recent years, the human and training resources to support the teaching of PE have been revised downwards, notably with the temporary disappearance of continuing training in PE due to the “maths-French” focus. expected under the mandate of Jean Michel Blanquer.

The National Union of Physical Education (SNEP) questions the creation of a new measure which takes precedence over the revaluation of school discipline. The deployment of the system is partly hampered by these paradoxes observed by departmental educational advisors in EPS. Responsible for disseminating the ministerial order in the schools of their department, some invest more or less time for its deployment depending on their convictions relating to “30 minutes of daily physical activity”.

The choice of device format can also be questioned in the light of scientific studies. Indeed, in a meta-analysis of 24 types of interventions in primary schools internationally, researchers show that on average this does not contribute to significantly increasing the level of physical activity of students. When effects are visible in terms of limiting sedentary lifestyle, these remain minimal. The recommendations are then oriented towards solidly designed interventions with rigorous monitoring over time.

Questioning the behavioral transformations implied by “30 minutes of daily physical activity” is necessary. This procedure was non-existent during the experimentation phase. A platform then listed the schools declaring to be involved in the system; the inconclusive results served as a basis for communicating about the impact of the system. The coming year will also be that of the deployment of procedures for evaluating the system which have been strictly lacking until today.

Author Bios: Fanny Raingeaud is a Sociology/STAPS doctoral student and Cécile Collinet is Professor of Sociology of Sport both at Gustave Eiffel University