Method behind Active Lives Surveys

The way data is collected for both the adult and the children and young people surveys differs

We collect data for two surveys, with our Active Lives Adult Survey focusing on people aged 16 and above, while Active Lives Children and Young People looks at the activity levels of children aged 5-16.

Both surveys represent a new way of measuring the number of people taking part in sport and physical activity.

Collection of data for our Active Lives Adult Survey began in November 2015 – replacing the Active People Survey – and runs for an initial period of five years, while the first Children and Young People equivalent details activity levels during the September 2017 to July 2018 academic year and was published in December 2018.

Here we detail the methods of data collection for each survey and provide key documents for your reference.

Active Lives Adult Survey

Active Lives Adult Survey is a 'push-to-web' survey

The Active Lives Adult Survey is sent out to a randomly selected sample of households across England.

If you have received a request to answer the Active Lives Adult Survey, you'll have received a letter like this.

Your responses are really valuable as they help to provide an in-depth picture of how many people take part in sport and physical activity by demographic group, location and activity type.

As a thank you, we’ll give you a £5 gift voucher which can be redeemed from a range of retailers including department stores, fashion stores and restaurants.

To answer the survey, just go to and type in one of the passwords on your invitation letter.

If you have any further questions about the survey, or how to complete it, please email

The survey sample

The overall sample size will be around 198,250 people each year. Our minimum annual sample size for each English local authority (excluding the City of London and Isles of Scilly) will be 500, though some key areas will involve surveying a bigger number of people.

The survey sample will be randomly selected from the Royal Mail’s Postal Address File (generally regarded as the “Gold Standard” for population surveys), which is a list of addresses in the UK that is maintained by the Royal Mail and has a very high coverage of private residential addresses.

Data has been weighted to Office for National Statistics population measures for geography and key demographics.

Survey development

We've also undertaken extensive testing of different data collection methods, much of it at the forefront of government statistics.

This has included testing face to face, mobile phone, online, and mobile apps. Evidence from all our testing gives us confidence that the new survey design provides an accurate picture of sports participation.

Active Lives Adult roadmap

The core questionnaire was implemented in November 2015 and gives us information on sport and physical activity participation (KPI 1), inactivity (KPI 2) and spectating (KPI 9).

With the addition of survey questions in May 2016, we are now able to develop our understanding around the following areas:

  • Volunteering
  • Readiness (opportunity and capability), habit formation and resilience
  • Motivation
  • Wellbeing.

Releasing results

The findings, for the year to mid-November 2017, were published in March 2018 and focus on activity levels. Results covering the period mid-May 2017 to mid-May 2018 were released in October 2018.

The November 2015/16 and November 2016/17 datasets will be available soon.

Active Lives Children and Young People Survey


The children’s survey is a school-based survey measuring participation in sport and physical activity among children in school Years 1-11 (roughly children aged 5-16) across England.

Following a successful pilot study in June and July 2017, we launched the Active Lives Children and Young People survey in September 2017.

How are responses gathered?

Schools, that have been randomly selected, arrange for up to three mixed ability classes in up to three randomly chosen year groups to complete an online survey.

The survey has a different design for Years 1-2, Years 3-6 and Years 7-11 to ensure it's suitable for each age group.

In addition to this, parents of children sampled in Years 1-2 are asked to complete a questionnaire to provide more detail about their child’s physical activity behaviours and one teacher per school is also asked to complete a questionnaire on facilities, teacher training, active travel, types of physical activity on offer and the impact of PE and School Sport Premium funding to provide context to children's responses.

Key details of the differences between surveys are below:

Target group

Main differences

Years 1-2


These year groups have a simpler survey which focuses mostly on their attitudes towards sport and physical activity.

Years 3-6


This survey asks pupils about the sport and activities that they have done as well as their attitudes. Years 3-4 are not asked questions about volunteering and spectating.

Years 7-11


This is the same as the Years 3-6 survey, but asks additional questions on some topics for more information.
Parents (of 5-7-year-olds) The parent survey is very similar to that for Years 3-6 and asks parents about the activities that their child or children have undertaken. Parents are not asked about their child or children’s attitudes to sport and exercise.
Teachers Sport facilities available, impact of pupil premium and other school-level information, e.g. time spent by pupils in PE (physical education) lessons.


How are schools randomly sampled?

A sample of schools is drawn each year from Edubase, a register of educational establishments maintained by the Department for Education. The sample includes both state-funded and independent schools.

This includes academies, free schools, and boarding schools. Infant, junior, primary, middle, secondary and all-through schools are all included and results in 96% coverage of all Year 1-11 pupils in England.

The sample for Year 1 was split across the three terms, with 30% in the autumn term, 40% in the spring term and 30% in the summer term.

Schools are selected randomly within each local authority. Up to three year groups are randomly chosen per school and within these year groups a single mixed-ability class is randomly selected. Therefore, each school will carry out the survey with up to three classes.

In the first year of the survey, we had more than 2,000 schools take part, receiving responses from more than 130,000 Year 1-11 pupils and more than 5,000 parents. More than 1,600 teachers also took part.

Releasing results

The results from the Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, which are classed as official statistics, are released on a yearly basis.

The first results were published on 6 December 2018, with subsequent releases likely to fall at a similar time.

However, there will be a second set of data being released in March 2019. This will cover attitudes of children and young people, but won’t include any updates to data already released.

Further reading