Charity releases landmark research as it looks to the Class of 2035

Children risk becoming increasingly disengaged from physical activity over the next decade unless more is done to champion the value of PE and school sport, especially among the most disadvantaged, a landmark research report warns.

The Youth Sport Trust today publishes The Class of 2035: How sport can empower a generation. The study, carried out by Foresight Factory, warns of significant inequalities in young people’s engagement with sport and exercise, particularly among those from poorer backgrounds. It calls for young people to be given a greater say in provision, and more opportunities to lead sport among their peers. 

Using detailed insights from young people and experts across education health and sport, the study set out how a generation’s engagement with PE and school sport could evolve between now and 2035. It builds on the findings of the Youth Sport Trust’s original Class of 2035 report published in 2015. 

The Class of 2035 study concludes that if more young people recognise the benefits of sport and play, and are empowered to lead and influence its delivery, it could not only drive-up participation and improve their health but also contribute to social mobility and foster a greater sense of belonging.  

It comes at a time when fewer than half of young people are physically active for the average 60 minutes per day recommended by the Chief Medical Officer. Activity levels have declined even further over the past year, according to Sport England’s Active Lives research. 

Key findings from the Class of 2035 report: 

  • Children from poorer backgrounds are the least confident being active. 51% of 11-to-16-year-olds in the D and E socio-economic groups rated themselves as confident taking part in physical activity, compared to 75% of 11-to-16-year-olds in the A and B socio-economic groups. 
  • Young people’s awareness of the benefits they should get from PE and physical activity are in decline. Compared with six years ago, fewer children agree that PE and physical activity helps them to be healthy (down from 78% to 72%), be fit (down from 80% to 71%) or improve their social and team building skills (down from 43% to 34%). Children from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to agree that what they do in PE will help them to achieve their ambitions in life (52% for ABs vs 32% for DEs).
  • Children increasingly want to see sporting activity led by their peers. One in three (36%) young people said they would do more sport if it was led by someone their own age – up from 23% six year ago. This is especially important for young people with disabilities – 46% of whom agreed.
  • Teachers play an essential role in tackling inequalities. Young people from poorer backgrounds were the most likely to agree that their school teacher or sports coach inspires them to be active (42% for DEs vs 38% for ABs) and much less likely to say their dads inspired them to be active (35% for DEs vs 55% for ABs)
  • New technology should be used to engage young people in physical activity. Almost half (45%) of young people would like to see more use of new technology in PE lessons. 

The report concludes that it will be essential to give young people a greater voice in provision and promote a more explicit recognition of the positive outcomes young people gain from sport among educators, parents and policymakers. It recommends refocusing the school curriculum to place a greater focus on young people’s wellbeing, which has suffered at the expense of attainment.  Essential to this should be a greater recognition of the important role of Physical Education as a core subject. 

Optimistically, the research found that young people now have a greater appetite to do more sport than they did six years ago. Some 54% of young people said they wanted to do more sport and exercise, compared with 44% who said the same in 2015. 

Ali Oliver MBE, Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said: 
 
“Following the huge disruption of the past 18 months, we have a unique opportunity to create a new and better, normal for young people. One which empowers young voices and harnesses the power of sport to improve lives and drive social change. However, there is a risk that things could go the other way. 

“Even before COVID-19, far too many young people were inactive and disengaged from sport. National lockdowns and school closures exacerbated inactivity and inequalities which meant that play and sport were less likely to be making a positive contribution to the lives of young people who were disabled, from ethnically diverse communities or less affluent backgrounds. Left unchecked, these inequalities will grow further. 

“This second edition of the Class of 2035 reminds us how quickly things change and the need for agility from organisations like our own. The report also shines a light on these challenges and, through insights from young people and leading experts in sport, health and education, sets a direction for changes we can all make if sport and play are to be a universal entitlement which brings a sense of belonging for every child by 2035." 

I am grateful to YST for their research and findings, I now look forward to hearing the Government's response to this ticking time bomb. No child should be denied the transformative power of sport.

Radzi Chinyanganya, Ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust
Radzi Chinyanganya, Ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust

Youth Sport Trust Ambassador Radzi Chinyanganya said:

“Looking back at the last 18 months, it's easy to say ‘young people are incredibly strong, robust and so they will get through this!’ Because whilst that might be true, young people are still ultimately human. Still products of the world around them. So, when that world has been a sedentary and claustrophobic one, we have sadly created a landscape which catalyses and magnifies that which we already knew to be true. Now however, The Class of 2035 makes it empirically irrefutable.

“Whilst sport may be a universal language, it isn't always a cheap one to learn. Despite this the benefits of doing it, aren't just for the individual, they're shared too. As are the costs of not doing it. I am grateful to YST for their research and findings, I now look forward to hearing the Government's response to this ticking time bomb. No child should be denied the transformative power of sport.”

Josh McBain, Consultancy Director for Foresight Factory, said:

“The Class of 2035 report signifies the role that sport engagement and participation can play in driving positive social change for the UK. Sport has the potential to drive positive outcomes for young people across the areas of their lives that we expect to be the most challenging for this generation – ensuring long-term holistic wellbeing and rising to the challenges of a quickly changing workforce as a consequence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“The recommendations of this report provide a clear blueprint of how we can ensure that young people are provided equal access to the true value of sport – building a resilient and empowered generation able to thrive in tomorrow’s world."

Organisations contributing to the research included the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL), The FA, The Children’s Society, the David Gregson Foundation, Sport and Recreation Alliance, Our Parks and Ukactive.

To download and read the report in full please visit www.youthsporttrust.org/Classof2035