Sport and physical activity will be at the heart of children’s recovery from the coronavirus lockdown after the Government guaranteed £320 million of funding for primary school PE.
The announcement, which follows Telegraph Sport’s campaign to tackle an inactivity crisis among children, will preserve numerous jobs and is accompanied by a government pledge that schoolchildren will have access to at least an hour of sport and activity every day. That is the chief medical officer’s minimum recommendation, but the number of children meeting that guideline has fallen dramatically during the pandemic from 47 per cent to just 19 per cent. Most alarming of all, one in 10 children have been getting no physical activity at all.
Telegraph Sport revealed last week how more than 100 of the nation’s greatest sports stars, including Mo Farah, Hannah Cockroft, Lawrence Dallaglio and Alex Danson, had written an open letter to government demanding that the PE and Sport Premium for primary schools was guaranteed for the next academic year. They warned of “catastrophic” consequences for the physical and mental well-being of children if sport was not prioritised when schools fully return in September.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has responded by providing that commitment. “During these challenging times, it has become clearer to me than ever the importance of keeping active and how it benefits not just our physical health but also our ability to pay attention, our mood and our mental health too,” he said.
“I know that many children will have missed time spent outdoors with their friends – that’s why it’s so important that ahead of a full return to school in September, schools get the certainty they need to prepare their PE and sports activities for next year.”
Williamson will also allow schools to roll over unused “premium” funding from the disrupted 2019-20 academic year and each primary school will now have an average ring-fenced budget of £18,000 to spend on sport and PE between September and July 2021.
That will mean investment in equipment, facilities, specialist coaching, upskilling teachers and the chance to participate in national sports programmes and events. “It will give children the opportunity to develop a lifelong habit,” said Dallaglio, who, post-Covid, wants sport and physical well-being to form the foundation for “the recovery of a generation”.
More than a third of British children are overweight or obese by the age of 11 but, in a clear signal that schools must prioritise PE and exercise, Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, stressed that activity guidelines would be met.
“This £320 million package will ensure sport is provided in primary schools throughout the country so children get their 60 active minutes a day,” Dowden said.
The Telegraph launched its “Girls, Inspired” campaign last year to close the gender gap in children’s sport and called on government to support schools in three key aims:
To ensure an equality of opportunity to access sports; new guidelines, enforced by Ofsted, which elevated the status of PE; and for schools to empower girls by offering a wider and more innovative choice of activities. The Government’s School Sport and Activity Action Plan addressed these aims and outlined a range of new initiatives to modernise PE, as well as a requirement that schools should provide an “equal and coordinated” offer of sport and a promise that Ofsted will be “specifically tasked with inspecting and reporting on PE”. Nigel Huddleston, the Sports Minister, said that the Government had been “absolutely determined to maintain the momentum … highlighted by The Telegraph’s timely campaign”.
News that primary schools will again receive the £320 million PE and Sport Premium was widely welcomed. Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of the Association for Physical Education, said that the “crucial” funding would “have a significant impact on teachers’ confidence and competence”.
Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England’s chief executive, said that the money had “never been more needed given the massive disruption to children’s activity levels”.
The Youth Sport Trust had last month joined teachers, sports stars and former Conservative ministers Baroness Nicky Morgan and Tracey Crouch in urging the Government to make this “critical” announcement. “We are delighted,” said chief executive Ali Oliver. “As young people return to school, their well-being will be one of the biggest priorities in education. Sport and PE have an essential role to play in children’s recovery.”