PE ‘enjoyment gap’ for girls is widening – survey

Children in Physical Education Class

The number of girls who say they enjoy physical education in school has dropped over the past six years, a report suggests.

But the enjoyment level of their male peers has remained broadly consistent, according to a survey by the Youth Sport Trust charity.

Fewer than two in three (64%) female pupils who were surveyed said they liked taking part in physical education (PE) compared to 86% of male pupils.

In a similar survey carried out during the 2016/17 academic year, 74% of girls said they enjoyed PE compared to 86% of boys.

The survey, of nearly 25,000 pupils aged between seven and 18 in England, found that the gap is particularly pronounced at secondary school where only 59% of girls said they enjoyed PE.

Girls identified a number of barriers to being active in school – including not feeling confident, having their period, not liking being watched by others, and worrying about their appearance.

The annual survey, carried out by the charity between March and June this year, suggests that more than one in three (35%) female secondary school pupils believe offering better options for PE kit would help them feel more comfortable when they have their period.

Olympic pole vault bronze medallist Holly Bradshaw 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.

“I would appeal to anyone responsible for working with young girls in sport, whether within or outside of school, to really listen to their concerns and be flexible in looking for solutions together.”

The survey received responses from more than 18,500 girls and over 6,000 boys from 154 schools across England.

Ali Oliver, chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said: “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.

“We must be absolutely committed to understanding the experiences of young women and girls, how these are constantly changing in a complicated world, and be better at working with them to address the barriers they face.

“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.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), 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.”

In March, the Government said it would tell schools they must deliver at least two hours of PE each week and it would reward those providing equal sporting opportunities for girls and boys.

It pledged over £600 million in funding over the next two academic years to help improve the quality of PE and sports in schools.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman 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.

“That is why our school sport and activity action plan sets out how we will support schools to make sure girls and boys alike have those same great opportunities.”

The DfE added that an extra £57 million is supporting schools to open up more sport facilities outside of school hours – and the fund is targeted at girls, disadvantaged pupils and pupils with special educational needs.