At what cost? Fewer than half of primary schools say they could keep children active if school sport funding is cut

Sports stars, organisations, charities and schools call for urgent action following new Youth Sport Trust research

Young people are likely to become more inactive and suffer poorer health as a result of critical school sport funding delays, a children’s charity is warning.

Fewer than half of all children in England (47.2%) are active for the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) recommended 60 minutes every day. New research from the Youth Sport Trust suggests that children’s activity levels are likely to deteriorate further unless government urgently commits to vital school sport provision beyond this summer. Current uncertainty around the £320 million Primary PE and Sport Premium ringfenced funding pot and protection for the nationwide network of School Games Organisers is raising concerns for children’s wellbeing.

Schools, young campaigners, health experts, sports organisations and stars including Sir Mo Farah are warning that millions of children may lose opportunities to play sport, learn how to swim and stay active, with school sport facing a looming crisis, following the stark research from the Youth Sport Trust.

The charity’s research indicates that schools will next month start planning for cuts to sporting provision from September, with many saying they will struggle to provide 30 daily minutes of physical activity for every child next year. The findings suggest that young people from low-income families will suffer most, with schools who have a higher proportion of pupils on free school meals likely to be most affected.

Key findings

  • A snapshot survey of 405 primary schools carried out over the past month found that three in four schools (73%) would be unable to maintain their current physical activity and after-school sport offer unless the Primary PE and Sport Premium funding continues into 2023/24.
  • Government recommends that half of children’s 60 daily active minutes should come during the school day. However, fewer than half of schools (46%) believe that they would be able to offer this from September if the Primary PE and Sport Premium was discontinued.
  • 68% of primary schools said they would no longer be able to offer after-school sport sessions, while 55% said they would have to discontinue top-up swimming lessons for those least confident in the water. Teachers are concerned this would mean more children leaving primary school unable to swim. Schools with an above average (23%>) proportion of children on free school meals estimate this could mean 52% of children leaving school unable to swim 25 meters, up from 28% presently.
  • 148 school sport events per day (28,000 over an academic year) would be lost without the 450-strong School Games Organiser network who are at risk of redundancy without swift confirmation of the funding for next year. 47% of these professionals said they have considered leaving their role in the last six months. The loss of this network would mean 2.2 million fewer opportunities next year for young people to enjoy competitive school sport.
  • Girls’ sport would be particularly badly hit with hundreds of girls-only football, cricket, rugby union and rugby league competitions lost.

Decision delayed ‘at what cost?’

Together with schools, young people, sports stars, and the country’s leading sport organisations, the Youth Sport Trust is calling for government to immediately confirm that this essential funding will continue into the next academic year and beyond.

Legendary British Olympian Sir Mo Farah said:

“PE and sport have such a positive impact on children’s physical and mental health and it is now urgent that the funding that supports people to deliver this is announced immediately. We need to make sure all children have the opportunity to be active, play and just be kids!”

Former Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Jonathan Van Tam said:

“PE, sport and physically active play should be important parts of every childhood that build healthy habits about enjoying exercise for life. Sadly, we know that too many children miss out at considerable cost to their health and wellbeing.

“It should concern us all that fewer than half of young people in England meet the UK Chief Medical Officers’ recommendations for physical activity.

“Schools and sports clubs have made some good progress recovering young people’s participation in sport and exercise following the pandemic, but there is still a long way to go. Their services are especially valuable for children from more deprived backgrounds for whom sport may otherwise be less affordable.”

Youth Sport Trust CEO Ali Oliver MBE said:

“This delay comes at what cost to young people? This is the question we have to ask at this time.

“We are very aware of the range of pressing issues the government is dealing with, but this is surely something that requires little debate.

“The nation’s children are desperately in need of the life-changing benefits that come from play and sport, and there is a compelling evidence base that more active children are not only healthier and happier, but they also perform better in the classroom.

“During a cost-of-living crisis provision of PE and after-school sport becomes even more important, as families with the lowest incomes have to cut back on activities in the evening and weekends.”

The Schools Active Movement supports a network of not-for-profit organisations who work with around 10,000 schools to help children be happier, healthier, and more active.

Vincent Brittain and Alan Watkinson, co-founders of the group said:

“There is an urgent need to protect and value the current and future role of the national network of experienced practitioners currently supporting schools to provide high quality PE, sport, and physical activity.

“There is an enormous feeling of frustration at the current cycle of last-minute short-term announcements. This is counterproductive to developing effective, long-term strategy and leaves this workforce constantly under threat of redundancy. The reality is that we are witnessing the loss of invaluable experience and expertise. For the benefit of schools and our young people, this has to change.

“This can be addressed by immediately announcing School Games Organiser and Primary PE and Sport Premium for 2023/24 and beyond.”

Article by Becky Service: