Getting it right for girls

On the tenth year of International Day of the Girl, girls across the world are coming together to make their voices heard.

At the Youth Sport Trust, youth voice is something we’ve always been passionate about. Since 2015, the Girls Active programme, delivered in partnership with Women in Sport and funded by Sport England Lottery, has supported schools to take an approach which gives girls a voice and places them at the heart of decision making to shape the PE, sport and physical activity experience they would like in their school. We know when teachers and staff embed this approach and principles to engage girls, it has a powerful impact on their engagement, enjoyment, and relationship with being active.


Reflecting on the most recent Girls Active insight, it shows girls need more support. Too many are not realising the full benefits of being active, either due to their needs not being met, or barriers experienced to their participation.

In the Girls Active survey, only 46% of 6653 secondary school girls in England and Wales said they look forward to taking part in PE lessons, (a decline from 58% in 2016/17) and sadly this means 54% of girls are not consistently, (or ever) looking forward to PE. The insight below shows some of the notable challenges girls told us they experience, but if girls’ engagement in PE or extra-curricular is a concern for you, how will you gain an understanding of why it is from girls in your setting?

Low confidence impacts girls' engagement and enjoyment in PE and sport. The beliefs that stop them from taking part are:

  • 24% of girls think they are not good at PE and 30% say they are not confident
  • 36% of girls say they don’t like other people watching them

Shared just last week, a year 7 girl’s first experience of secondary PE was to participate in a mixed sex grouped cross country run around the school field with every student given a finishing number. Reflecting on the statistics above I can understand how experiences like this do not build confidence or enjoyment for many, I am sure some will have liked it, but I wonder what message this gives to all our young people about the purpose of PE and their perception of their ability?

Puberty is a significant time of change and girls’ worries are often heightened in PE

39% of girls say having their period stops them taking part in sport, physical activity and PE at school.

The top 3 concerns about participating in PE or school sport when on their period:

  1. Pain/discomfort (52%)
  2. Leaking (47%)
  3. Low mood (44%)

Only 33% of girls feel happy with the way their body looks (a decline from 44% in 2016/17)

What can we do to show empathy and understanding to girls and how can we work together with them so PE is a place they feel they can share worries? Herne Bay Academy’s Girls Active Leaders worked with their teacher and developed an online magazine, Sweat Bands & Fake Tans for girls in their school covering key issues such as periods, sports bras and profiling role models and ways to be active.

What steps will you take to make a positive difference to girls’ experiences?

The approach taken through Girls Active supports teachers to work with girls, through consultation and leadership and uses six proven principles to engage girls. Working consistently in this way builds relationships between teachers, girls and places girls needs at the heart.

  • Take a long-term approach to engaging girls
  • Put developing self-confidence at the heart of PE
  • Make PE and sport relevant to girls’ lives
  • Recognise the power of friends to drive progress
  • Develop role models for the future
  • Empower girls to design and deliver PE and sport.

If you’re in a school, the free Girls Active Getting Started toolkit provides more support and guidance on the principles - download it now to start making a difference. If you are a parent, carer, or grandparent - please share these resources.

Teachers can also register interest here if you would like information on further opportunities that will be available later this year.

The great news is there is a wealth of free support available that compliments the Girls Active approach

  • Youth Voice Toolkit supports practitioners in a range of ways to engage student voice in their school, representative of a diverse community of pupils.
  • Big Sister is created and shaped by girls for girls. Using their voices and lived experiences, it aims to inspire and empower girls to enjoy sport and exercise during puberty.
  • Studio You provides free video-based PE lessons for girls aged 13-16. It features a wide range of fun and engaging videos for PE teachers in England to use within their lessons.
  • Your Time is an inspirational programme designed to encourage girls in schools to participate in competitive sport and sports leadership opportunities.
  • This Girl Can… Create Change is a resource to support girls to lead campaigns, activities, insight and change in their own school.

Please get in touch [email protected] if we can help further.

Published on 11 October 2022