Girls’ enjoyment of physical education in school has declined over the past six years, with a lack of confidence, concern about periods and anxiety about their appearance holding them back, according to research.
Less than two-thirds of girls and young women (64%) who took part in a survey this year by the UK charity the Youth Sport Trust (YST), said they enjoyed PE, down from 74% when the poll began in 2016.
Enthusiasm decreased as girls got older and was lowest among secondary school girls, where just 59% said they enjoyed PE, resulting in a growing gender “enjoyment gap”, with boys’ enthusiasm remaining high at 86%.
The Olympic pole vault bronze medallist Holly Bradshaw, who has experienced the barriers described by young women in the survey, said she was not surprised by the results and called on teachers and others working with girls and young women in sport to listen to their concerns and allow for flexible solutions.
Bradshaw, who has worked with YST’s girls active programme, said: “It’s not surprising but it is disappointing to see that so many girls still lack confidence to really enjoy PE and physical activity at school.
“I can really empathise with their worries about being watched and judged by others. I too have struggled with body confidence issues whilst competing for Team GB, particularly after facing online abuse in relation to my body shape.”
Bradshaw has campaigned for more choice around kit for girls, “so that they can wear something which feels most comfortable to them, allowing them to focus on the activity, and not what their body looks like. The priority has to be supporting more girls to be active in a way that works for them.”
Almost 25,000 pupils, made up of more than 18,000 girls and 6,000 boys aged between seven and 18 took part in this year’s survey, and although 64% of the females who participated said they would like to be more active in school, they are held back by familiar barriers.
They would like to be trampolining, swimming or playing netball – the top three choices for girls – but are put off because they do not feel confident, they may have their period, they do not like being watched by others and are concerned about how they look, the survey found.
Ali Oliver, the YST chief executive, said more must be done to address the barriers holding girls back. “Not only should this research raise alarm bells about future adult activity levels and the consequences of this, but it is devastating for the physical and mental health of young women today.
“At a time of unprecedented low levels of social and emotional wellbeing, we know getting things right for girls in PE can be life changing.”
In March, the government said schools should deliver at least two hours of PE each week and pledged £600m over the next two academic years to help improve the quality of PE and sports in schools for girls and boys.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Despite the progress made in championing women’s sport – through things like the success of the England women’s football team – there are clearly deeply ingrained societal barriers around issues such as body confidence which deter girls and women.
“We have to redouble our efforts to overcome these challenges and ensure that girls are able to enjoy and benefit from the vital part that PE plays in health and wellbeing.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Building on an inspirational summer of British sport, including the success of the Lionesses in this year’s Women’s World Cup, we want to ensure all children have the opportunities to follow in their sporting heroes’ footsteps.”
Source : The Guardian