Last year, research from Women in Sport, in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust, revealed girls are still turning away from school sports in alarmingly high numbers. 25,000 girls and boys from 138 secondary schools across England and Northern Ireland were surveyed, and – despite a raft of schemes and initiatives in recent years – found a chasm in attitudes towards physical activity between girls and boys.

Redressing the balance

In previous years, superficial gendered schemes, involving dated stereotypes like pink or princess motifs to encourage girls into taking part in PE, have not been successful. And despite evidence suggesting a sporty background helps girls to succeed in their careers, only a minority see the relevance of physical education in their lives.

The wonderful Girls Active programme seeks to change the imbalance between girls and boys in school sports. The programme is aimed specifically at girls who are less active and finds ways to get them involved. The scheme was hailed as the most inspiring national initiative at last year’s Women’s Sport Trust awards.

Enabling and empowering teachers to engage girls in sport

Girls Active supports schools to understand what motivates girls to take part in physical activity. It enables teachers to work with the girls to make the necessary changes to their physical education, sport and physical activity provision. Developed by the Youth Sport Trust, and delivered in partnership with This Girl Can and Women in Sport, Girls Active is funded by Sport England.

The Chief Medical Officers (CMO) recommend that all children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day.  Research shows that;

  • by age 7 girls are already less active than boys and this disparity widens as they move from childhood into adolescence
  • secondary-age girls are more likely to experience barriers to participation than boys
  • the biggest drop-off occurs during the transition from primary to secondary school, with disruption to friendship groups and declining body confidence affecting girls’ participation in PE and sport

In order to address this shocking reality, Girls Active was developed as the result of work with 20 secondary schools through a 12-month pilot aimed at tackling the negative attitudes that girls have towards their body image, improve their attitude towards PE, sport and physical activity, and to work closely with schools to make sport more relevant to girls’ lives.

Over 200 schools are now part of the Girls Active network, with a further 250 schools expected to get on board this year. Secondary schools and, for the first time, primary schools will be supported to implement changes in their own school and work together to support girls’ experiences as they make the transition from primary to secondary.

Girls Active Awards 2018

Girls who are already involved in the Girls Active programme will have the chance to celebrate their achievements in getting more of their peers active with the launch of the 2018 Girls Active Awards. The awards are a celebration of the work 8 to 18-year-old girls are doing in primary and secondary schools across the UK through the programme to get their peers moving and enjoying PE and physical activity.

For more information and to apply, visit girlsactive.youthsporttrust.org.

How can your school get involved?

We would encourage all schools to become part of the Girls Active network. You can get involved by following these steps:

  • Kick off with a self-review to benchmark your school’s provision for girls
  • Agree three actions for your school to take to help drive a difference for girls, and submit your pledges
  • Register your interest (girlsactive@youthsporttrust.org) for forthcoming Girls Active teacher training opportunities

Girls Active is doing demonstrably great work in area that badly needs it. What is girls’ school sports participation like at your school? As a parent, do you have a daughter who is active in any sports? Have you felt participation has not been encouraged? What more do you think can be done to encourage further participation for girls?

If you think there’s work to be done, and your school isn’t already on board, perhaps forward this article to the school, or mention it at the next parents’ evening. What have you got to lose?

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