Two statistics – one a cause for celebration, the other more a cause for shame – caught the eye this week. First the good news: the UK television audience for England’s appearance in the women’s football World Cup final peaked at 14.8 million. And then the bad: the amount of PE and sport in secondary schools in England has fallen by more than 12% since the 2012 London Olympics, something the charity Youth Sport Trust said should be “a matter of immediate national concern”. Politicians and other leaders often pepper their speeches with phrases like ‘legacy planning’ and ‘building for the future’. But, as we have asked before, how do we ensure that all the fine words about legacy don’t turn into empty promises, with plans quietly shelved or downgraded when difficult choices have to be made? How do we use high-profile events like world cups to promote participation in sport and physical activity, in and out of school, as part of a coordinated, ambitious and long-term public-health strategy?
According to Youth Sport Trust’s analysis of recently released government figures, 4,000 hours of PE have been lost from the curriculum in state-funded secondary schools in the last academic year. The charity goes on to highlight a trend that has seen the amount of PE and sport in secondary schools in England fall by more than 12% since the 2012 London Olympics.
According to the BBC, the latest government figures show that 326,277 hours of PE and sport were delivered in secondary schools in England in 2011–12. This had fallen to 290,033 in 2021–22 and then to 285,957 in 2022–23.
PE provides a foundation for learning across the curriculum, the physical literacy it develops is as essential a life skill as numeracy and language literacy, and it provides a universal introduction to sport and physical activity for every child regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or affluence. With increasing demands on the NHS, it should be harnessed for its contribution to public health as well as wider social and educational outcomes.Ali Oliver MBE, chief executive of Youth Sport Trust
If we can reverse the trend of declining PE and physical activity within schools and implement new ways of working effectively, this will help young people’s mental and physical wellbeing, enable them to access new skills, and empower them to live happier and healthier futures.
In our 2022 blog Building on the success of the Lionesses we pointed out that “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.”
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 2023 the UK government announced measures that aimed to create equal school sport opportunities for girls, including playing football, and ensure a minimum of two hours of physical education per week.
Sport England’s latest annual survey of children’s activity levels 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. 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 yet seen activity levels recover to what they were before the Covid pandemic.
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.
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.
Tackling health and wellbeing combines a focus on children learning how to look after themselves with a coordinated, whole-school focus on physical activity. 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.
Image at the head of this article by ve2cjw from Pixabay.