Researchers asked more than 500 schools how they were spending the government’s £150m-a-year PE and Sport Premium.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said she was delighted the money was “having a positive effect”.
The Sport and Recreation Alliance said it was a “shot in the arm” after other PE funding cuts under the coalition.
The PE and Sport Premium was introduced a year ago. The money, worth more than £9,000 a year to a 250 pupil primary school, goes directly to headteachers.
Its introduction followed complaints the government had “turned its back on on school sport” and undermined the Olympic legacy following London 2012.
In 2010, £162m of ring-fenced funding for the national School Sport Partnerships (SSPs) was abolished, provoking an outcry. The network enabled well-equipped “hub” secondary schools to lend PE teachers to those that needed them, especially primary schools.
Ministers say the Premium, which will continue until 2020, is enough to pay for a PE teacher two days a week.
The government commissioned NatCen Social Research to find out how primary schools had spent the money.
Interviews carried out in primary schools between April and July this year found
Three-quarters had used the money on new equipment or to provide after-school sports clubs
A fifth said they had made after-school club sports completely free
84% said the money had helped them boost pupils’ engagement with PE during lessons
83% said more pupils were attending after-school sports clubs.
91% reported an improvement in the quality of PE teaching, with the remainder saying it had stayed the same
96% said pupils were fitter and healthier
93% saw better behaviour among pupils
63% said they had increased the number of competitive sport fixtures against other schools
The researchers found that the proportion of schools using specialist PE teachers rose from about a fifth (22%), to over half (54%).
The improvements were most marked in schools with a high proportion of free school meals.
Over half of schools with more than a quarter of pupils on free school meals said the money had helped them improve sporting facilities – compared with 39% of schools with the lowest levels of pupils receiving free meals.
Source: BBC News