Social research during COVID-19

Our Research and Insight team discuss the opportunities and challenges of social research during the pandemic.

We recently published our summary on how our charity has adapted to COVID-19. In this blog, Ross Levy (Evaluation and Research Officer) discusses what the Youth Sport Trust (YST) has done during this unprecedented time to deliver evaluations and uncover new insight to inform future delivery and policy.

Research and Insight has always been at the heart of YST with high-quality monitoring, evaluation and research across our work providing evidence of what has been achieved (impact) and drawing out key lessons to support the future development of our work. Our research helps to influence policy and practice, and ultimately supports our charitable mission to pioneer new ways of using sport, play and physical activity to improve children’s wellbeing and give them a brighter future.

During lockdown we have continued to collect data by employing innovative methods. We are constantly adapting and tailoring our research approaches to meet the needs of our research participants. A good example of this is where our researchers consulted with 72 Strategic Leads1 from across the UK, using an online insight community to gather essential feedback on how the FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships supported by Barclays programme can develop life skills for girls through the vehicle of football. We spent over 331hours (almost 14 days) collecting this data, all without anyone having to leave their houses. This method had the feature of “The Locker Room” which enabled Lead Practitioners to share best practice with videos, images or documents, which will hopefully be invaluable to them when delivery returns in the autumn term.

COVID-19 has presented great challenges to young people’s wellbeing, which has only reinforced  our resolve to provide life-changing opportunities through play and sport. As schools and community settings begin to reopen, our evidence paper on COVID-19, collected by Amanda Vernalls (Head of Research and Insight) alerts us to the issues and opportunities that lie ahead for a generation of children affected by the lockdown. With only 19% of children meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ recommended guideline of 60 active minutes per day and with Barnado’s reporting that one third of children have experienced an increase in mental health issues, including stress, loneliness and worry, there are challenging times ahead.

Furthermore, recent YST research among school leaders shows that key issues they wish for support on include: helping students get back into the routine of school life (77% of survey respondents), combatting alarming educational gaps that have grown (68%) and dealing with lower fitness levels in young people (58%).

YST programmes that are delivered safely and creatively, with appropriate social distancing measures, can contribute to tackling such substantial challenges by developing crucial life skills including communication and teamwork, and raising aspiration and self-esteem. Recent YST research among children suggests that half of all children and young people are planning to do more sport and exercise than previously (Source: YouGov survey, June 2020). Perhaps COVID-19 restrictions on sport, physical activity, physical education and play has sparked a new “movement” in young people to fall in love with activity all over again!

However, our research and insight consistently reminds us that we must not homogenise the youth experience. Evaluation and Research Officer Mark Carey is currently working on an evidence paper looking into the social and health inequalities experienced by young people in the UK, with socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, and disability all contributing to significant differences in how young people access and enjoy the life-changing benefits of play and sport. These inequalities have been further magnified by COVID-19 and we hope that this evidence paper can pave the way for a better understanding on how to level up this access and contribute to supporting a generation of happier and healthier young people.

Sign up here for updated versions of our COVID-19 Evidence Paper, and for news of the release on our social and health inequalities paper. Both are highly recommended reading for school leaders, sports practitioners and those interested in social research in sport, physical activity and physical education and young people.

1 Strategic Leads work across their relevant geographical areas in both primary and secondary schools to promote and support the delivery of the FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships supported by Barclays programme.