afPE's Position on Fitness Testing for School Aged Pupils

Fitness test results should be interpreted with caution as there are limitations in the validity, reliability and accuracy of such field-based fitness tests, particularly when used with children. Many factors for example, influence children’s performance and scores on fitness tests such as their maturation, genetic potential, skill at taking the test, motivation and the environment.

Likewise, the practice of applying fitness standards or ‘targets’ to children has limitations. It is not clear from where many of these have derived, whether they have any scientific basis and therefore whether they are likely to be accurate at all. This is the case with the recommended levels referred to in recent articles. Also, whilst they can provide a useful indicator and target for children to work towards if used appropriately, if misused, they could have negative consequences and be de-motivating for some.

Motor fitness and physical literacy (which include agility, coordination, jumping and throwing) should also not be confused with health-related fitness components such as cardiovascular endurance. Whilst the former are desirable and will help to contribute towards children’s enjoyment and participation in physical activity, they are not associated with health. Cardiovascular endurance and fitness however, is.

afPE Management Board Statement:

afPE strongly supports positive efforts to promote and enhance children’s physical activity but is cautious against the use of some fitness tests and the over use of fitness testing as a means of achieving this.

Evidence suggests that fitness testing can be counterproductive to these goals for some children and that some fitness testing commonly practised in schools is questionable. Currently we do not have recommended 'levels' of fitness for young people, and therefore we cannot suggest that children are not as fit as they should be. We do however have guidance from the Chief Medical Officers (July 2011) about recommended activity levels for young people, and we should be sharing these with pupils and helping them to identify ways of increasing the amount of activity they undertake.

If appropriately employed, the limitations of fitness testing and fitness test scores are understood, and fitness testing is incorporated as just one component of a broad, balanced and educational health programme, then it can potentially make a useful contribution to the physical education curriculum and play a positive role in supporting healthy active lifestyles and physical activity.