Hope. Inspiration. Legacy. Game-changing. All words much in use over the last few days but particularly since Sunday evening when the Lionesses – the England women’s football team – won the Euro 2022 tournament by beating Germany in front of a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium. The BBC estimates that more than 17 million people tuned in at some point during the game – not including all those (like me) watching in communal spaces such as pubs. The Queen led the congratulations: “You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations.” But legacies don’t just take care of themselves; even golden legacies can be squandered. Progress has been made around girls’ participation in sport but there remains much to be done, particularly for teenage girls. The Lionesses’ triumph at Euro 2022 has created momentum. Now we need to push on.
The ex-footballer Ian Wright said after the Lionesses’ semi-final victory: “If girls are not allowed to play football in their PE, just like the boys can, what are we doing?” Figures published this month by England Football, part of the Football Association (FA), showed that while primary schools tend to offer broad access to girls’ football, participation drops off once girls reach secondary school.
Around 72 per cent of primary schools offered equal football coaching to boys and girls last year, but the figure fell to just 44 per cent in secondary schools. Meanwhile, just over a third of secondary schools offered girls equal access to football coaching through extracurricular clubs outside school hours.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, Karen Bardsley, former Manchester City and England goalkeeper, said:
“Going forward we need to make sure football is accessible to all girls and boys in primary schools. Now there is no excuse because we have seen the fruits of the labour that has already happened.”
The figure of 44% cited above is uncannily close to ‘the lost 43%’ – the name given by the Women in Sport charity to the 43% of teenage girls who, according to the charity’s report published in March, used to consider themselves as sporty but no longer did so.
The report found that more than half of all teenage girls did not regard themselves as sporty and – of real concern – that only 25% of those surveyed (boys and girls) said that school encouraged and supported them to be active. That is an astonishing finding. Schools have a crucial role to play in encouraging participation and in providing frequent, high-quality opportunities for young people – girls and boys – to take part in physical activity, including a wide range of individual, team-based and competitive sports and games.
And as Eileen Marchant MBE, former chair of the Association for Physical Education, has said, it can’t just be left to schools. The infrastructure and the support and encouragement need to be there too:
… but we’ve got to be clear that if they want to continue outside of school, that the facilities and clubs are there that schools can feed into. That is really important, that we start at grassroots, that the inspiration starts at school… but then it’s important there are exit routes when they leave school so they can continue. That pathway needs to go right to the top level. Those women last night weren’t just suddenly great at football – they’ve come through the system; many of them may well have started in school…Eileen Marchant MBE, quoted on the Association for Physical Education website
Life-Based Learning is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face, now and in the future, become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning.
Life-Based Learning emphasises participation in sport, physical activity and outdoor play to help children grow up physically and mentally healthy. It also recognises the importance of children developing habits and a healthy mindset that they will carry with them into adult life. The Body is one of nine learning themes that make up Life-Based Learning. Tackling health and wellbeing combines a focus on children learning how to look after themselves with a coordinated, whole-school focus on physical activity.
Image at the head of this article by 7721622 from Pixabay.