In a report on women and sport published by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, concerns have been expressed about the long-term health and social care implications of the low participation rates in sport by women and girls, and urges a more imaginative approach by schools, sports governing bodies and relevant government departments to engaging women in sport.
The Committee is especially concerned that many girls are put off sport by their experience of school games lessons, and it focuses a number of its recommendations on making school sport more appealing to girls. Five key recommendations are:
- Children’s activity levels to be measured annually, and that best practice amongst a few schools is turned into common practice in relation to encouraging higher levels of overall participation. This will need to include addressing specific problems such as poor facilities.
- Though there have been initiatives to improve the training of teachers in PE, more needs to be done—at both primary and secondary levels—to ensure that PE staff are equipped to support every child in a wide range of activities. The committee agrees with the Education Committee that the two-year time frame for the primary sport premium is too short and runs the risk of replicating previous short-term fixes rather than providing a long-term solution to the inadequacy of PE teaching in schools.
- Girls are being deterred from participating in sport by their experiences in school PE lessons. Unfortunately, an emphasis on competitive sport may make this situation worse for some girls. Schools need to be more imaginative in the type of sport that they provide for girls: while some enjoy team games like football and netball, or athletics, others would enjoy sampling a wider variety of activities, such as dance or cycling, or non-traditional games for girls like rugby.
- While it is unrealistic to expect schools to provide facilities and coaching for a wide variety of sports, there are good opportunities for sports governing bodies to reach out to potential future players and spectators through forging links between local clubs and schools. While some progress is being made in this area, sports governing bodies need to inject more urgency and enthusiasm into this task, otherwise it is doubtful that they will meet their target of increasing participation in sporting activity by 14-25 year olds.
- Whatever the reality, there is a perception amongst pupils and others that schools care more about, and spend more money on, sport for boys than for girls. The report does not want to add to the bureaucracy on schools, but considers that the decline in girls’ participation in sport is sufficiently serious that schools should be made to focus more attention on the sports offered to girls.
John Whittingdale MP, Chair of the Committee, said
“Sport still has too male an image, and it will require efforts from sport governing bodies, the media, schools and government departments and agencies to encourage us all to view sporting activity as a normal activity for women, which should be encouraged and facilitated.
Good habits are learnt early, and it is a sad fact that many girls are put off sport by school games lessons. Many of our recommendations therefore are aimed at increasing the variety of sports on offer, and making it easier for girls and women to participate in locally available, affordable activities adapted to their lifestyles. Some sport National Governing Bodies have been more inventive and quick to adapt than others.
We urge Sport England to continue to pressure the under-achievers to learn best practice from others, and we look forward to the outcome of Sport England’s imaginative initiative in Bury which aims to adapt sport to women’s lifestyles rather than expecting the reverse.
As far as elite sportswomen are concerned, we must build on the very positive exposure given to them by the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. There is scope for greater, and better, media coverage and more commercial sponsorship, but again NGBs must be prepared to put effort into presenting and marketing women’s sport in interesting ways.”
The full report is available for viewing by clicking here.