Adding physical activity to all subjects can help children engage – headteacher

Weaving physical activity into all subjects can make children keen to go to lessons and feel more engaged with learning, a school principal who is running the TCS London Marathon has said.

Tyrone West, 35, started his career as a PE teacher and has been head of Milton Keynes Primary Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) for the past year.

“My passion is supporting the most vulnerable children in society whether that be special education needs or whether that be high level behaviours and things haven’t worked out for them in a mainstream setting.

“We are not a naughty school. We are a short-term placement in order to support a child’s needs and the aim is for them to return to the mainstream setting. Obviously, in some cases they have to move on to a more suitable setting.”

Mr West said he finds physical activity helps a child to concentrate, adding: “Nationally, there is a bit of a crisis in terms of behaviour following Covid, there’s a crisis in terms of attendance following Covid and, ultimately, we see that day in, day out at the alterative provision, at the pupil referral unit.

“One thing that our children do really enjoy is their PE lessons. We already know that when a child has a PE day actually they come into school because they want that PE lesson.

“So, again, that provides me with greater evidence that weaving physical activity into all subjects is the way to go for us in order to continue to engage children.”

The PRU supports a lot of children who are autistic or have ADHD and Mr West said “giving them the opportunity to move also helps them to regulate their emotions”.

London Marathon 2024
Tyrone West will be running his second TCS London Marathon as part of Team TCS Teachers (Handout/PA)

“Children don’t have to sit at a desk all day. That’s not worked for them in a mainstream setting.

“We have a lot of outdoor learning, a lot of exploring and problem solving.”

Mr West, who has a background in specialist educational needs, said a PRU is not a “forever school”.

“I always see behaviour as communication. The child’s trying to communicate.

“The children who are with us at the PRU, it’s because there’s an unmet need.

“Part of my role is working and building partnerships with all the schools in Milton Keynes and there are over 90 primary schools so it’s a tough role.

“Part of that is helping them to identify the needs of that child so they can put support in themselves and, ultimately, to try and reduce the need for a child to come to a PRU.

“We are there for the real high-level behaviours. What you see across the country is PRUs are being used because, unfortunately, there is not enough Send (special educational needs and disabilities) specialist placements across the country.”

Mr West said the job is “incredibly rewarding” but added: “I won’t lie, it’s a very, very challenging job. Every day is difficult.

“Teaching is rewarding in itself but working with children who are experiencing difficulties in education and in their lives is incredibly rewarding.”

He said running helps him to cope with what can be a stressful job.

“Everyone thinks I’m bonkers but I can be out running the streets at 4.30am in order to fit exercise into my day.

“Being a principal is incredibly demanding. You can’t always guarantee that you’re going to have the opportunity in the evening.  By going in the morning I’m starting my day well and fitting in what I enjoy doing.

“I find running very therapeutic. It allows me to switch off at moments but also allows me to have deeper thinking with work initiatives and things like that.”

Mr West is running the TCS London Marathon on April 21 for his second year of being part of the Team TCS Teachers initiative which gives places to teachers so they can use activity to inspire the next generation.

“I’m incredibly grateful because physical education and physical activity plays a huge part in my life, in terms of keeping me grounded and well in terms of being a principal. It can be a stressful position.

“It supports with my wellbeing and actually can do exactly the same for children as well.

“When I walk past children they want to race me.

“So I give them a quick race and then they are back into the class and trying their best with their work.”

He added: “Physical activity resonates with pupils. It allows them to express themselves in a completely different way. Not everyone is academic.

“The prime purpose of education focuses on the academic, focuses on results and attainment.

“What we do so well is focus on children’s personal development and supporting their behaviour and their attitudes.

“Once we have got the foundations there with that, we are in a good position to really work on the learning side of things.”

When he became principal a year ago, he rewrote the school vision to create an active learning culture: “I’m very passionate about supporting children and using physical activity.

“Physical education, I try to weave that through every subject.”

Team TCS Teachers runners involve their students through the TCS Mini London Marathon either in central London on April 20 or at their own schools before May 10.

Students at the PRU, which has 40 places for primary pupils in Years 1-6, will complete 2.6 miles on April 19.

“I’m very keen to promote running, however, there are times where you just talk more about physical activity, it’s about children being active,” said Mr West.

“That’s going to be the curtain raiser for having a weekly mile in school and we are going to timetable it where each class can have time, whether to run, walk or jog.

“We’re going to build on this.”

– Schools can still sign up for the TCS Mini London Marathon in schools by visiting: