Girls’ football

Girls' football

The UK government has announced measures that aim to create equal school sport opportunities for girls, including playing football, and ensure a minimum of two hours of physical education per week. The intention is to build on the success of England’s women’s football team at Euro 2022. The FA described the announcement as “transformational” and “game-changing”. It is indeed good news, but there remains much to be done to ensure that the Lionesses’ legacy is not squandered. Less than half of children currently meet guidelines on daily physical activity, and there is evidence that girls’ enjoyment of and participation in physical activity drop off markedly in their teenage years. We need a broad and ambitious long-term public health strategy enabling everyone – young, old and in between – to take part in sport and physical activity and have access to high-quality, inspirational facilities.

The announcement – made on International Women’s Day – means that girls and boys in England will be offered the same sports during PE and as part of extra-curricular activities. Schools that successfully deliver equal opportunities for girls and boys will be rewarded through the School Games Mark, a kitemark scheme delivered by the Youth Sport Trust.

Schools “are also being asked”, according to the government press release (the FA says “will be expected”), to offer a minimum of two hours of curriculum time for physical education (PE). Ofsted will publish a report on PE in the coming months, which will inform future inspections and set out what they believe is possible in terms of offering high-quality PE and equal access to sports.

It comes with more than £600m of funding over two academic years. The government has also said that up to £57 million in funding will be used to allow selected schools around England to keep their sport facilities open for longer for after-school activities. This will be especially targeted at girls, disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs.

The announcement comes after the 23 members of England’s Euro 2022-winning squad wrote an open letter last summer to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – the two candidates vying at that time to be the next prime minister – in which they talked about their legacy and their goal of inspiring a nation.

The success of the summer has inspired so many young girls to pursue their passion for football. We see it as our responsibility to open the doors for them to do so and this announcement makes that possible. This is the legacy that we want to live much longer than us as a team.

Leah Williamson, captain of the England women’s football team, quoted on the FA website

Why we need to do more

Three months ago we highlighted Sport England’s latest annual survey of children’s activity levels. It found that less than half of children are currently meeting the UK chief medical officers’ guidelines of taking part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day.

Affluence has an impact on activity levels, as the Sport England survey also showed. Those from low-affluence families are still less likely to be active than those from high-affluence families, and children and young people in the most deprived places in the country have not seen activity levels recover to what they were before the Covid pandemic.

That is why we need a long-term, ambitious and generously funded public health strategy that covers access for all to sport and physical activity – one that includes support for local swimming pools, an issue that we blog about regularly.

There are particular barriers to girls’ participation in school sport. According to figures published by the FA, only 67% of all schools and 41% of secondary schools currently offer football equally to girls in PE lessons, and only 46% of schools provide the same extra-curricular opportunities as for boys.

In March 2022 a report from the Women in Sport charity found that 43% of female survey respondents who once considered themselves ‘sporty’ disengage from sport following primary school. This equates to around 1,300,000 girls across the UK. This figure compares with just 24% of boys of the same age.

Life-Based Learning and healthy lifestyles

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 ddenherder from Pixabay.

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