How schools can play a vital role to ensure equal access to extracurricular sport for all young people

Vicci Wells, Head of Sport at the Youth Sport Trust, Trustee of a large Multi Academy, and a parent, blogs about the role schools can play to keep young people moving in extracurricular sport during the cost of living crisis.

Just recently I was in conversation with a young lad who had sadly found his way into the youth justice system. We spoke about the value of sport, and I asked him about his experiences of sport in his school. His answer? ‘Sport just isn’t for someone like me’ andMum couldn’t afford to send me to after school club’. 

We all know when done well, extra-curricular opportunities can mean young people develop attachment, a sense of belonging and stronger engagement with their school - which often reflects how young people feel about school, and how they feel in school; yet during my conversation with this young person, he told me how he had sadly found his sense of belonging with a local gang, solvent abuse and crime.

This is a scenario unfolding before our eyes in our schools today. At a time when we are in a cost-of-living crisis. At a time when schools are seeing extreme increases in their costs, it is all too easy for access to extracurricular sport to be cut and all too easy for young people to seek a sense of belonging through other means than sport. In my role as a Multi Academy Trustee, I see first-hand examples where school leaders are opening up laptops, looking at energy costs particularly and the increase in staff costs and making hard decisions. One school has reportedly shared their energy bills may be rising by as much as 500%, the equivalent of several members of staff.

Difficult conversations are being had across the country around reducing staff numbers or cutting hours, most often those of Teaching Assistants, who do incredibly valuable work supporting the most vulnerable and highest needs pupils in our classrooms.

The challenges and crisis we are all living through is when school sport and extracurricular opportunities are needed more than ever. Recently it was reported by sports retailer Decathlon that nearly one in two parents worry about the increasing petrol costs and travel fares involved in taking their children to settings, and another 43% say being able to afford new school items, such as uniforms/kit, bags and equipment, is one of their biggest back-to-school concerns.

As a result of this bleak financial situation, nearly a third of UK parents said their child has missed out on a sporting opportunity over the past year because of the costs involved.  

As a parent, I have witnessed children who are desperate to participate in sport yet find themselves held back as they can’t afford to get there or pay for that ‘must be worn’ piece of competition wear. This happens across all levels of sport, including in the community, but also more frequently, at school. Whilst community sport is inevitably having to raise costs due to the cost-of-living crisis, I am seeing examples at a school level.

It is therefore deeply concerning that the socio-economic status of young people has a direct impact on their participation in sport, and its vital that school sport is seen as something that is accessible, free and meaningful for children and young people to get involved with. School is the leveller, it’s the hub of the community where all young people attend and is an ideal place to offer free sport – ensuring every child accesses the wider outcomes that being involved in sport has to offer, and not protected for those who have the income to attend.

At a time when we find ourselves also in an obesity crisis amongst our young people, and children saying their unhappiness levels have further plummeted, we only have to turn to the evidence to see that playing sport, being physically active, and having time to socially connect with peers is needed more than ever.

A study of more than 60,000 students and 4,000 teachers found that active pupils are happier (70% versus 50%) and more confident (76% versus 38%) than their inactive peers.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) also highlights that extended school time is often linked to a range of benefits for low-income students, which include increased attendance at school, improved behaviour, and better relationships with peers.

Nine in ten teachers think that being active improves pupils’ behaviour and schoolwork.

Support for schools to ensure equal access for all

To schools out there, who are faced with some bleak decisions to be made, let’s work together to ensure sport is something that is accessible to everyone. Let’s look at when we timetable our extracurricular sport, and how we can keep it free for all so cost isn’t a barrier.

Some things to consider:

  • Who locally are you working with to explore the appetite for community sport organisations, local clubs and commercial providers to help complement the offer of your school staff
  • Who delivers your extra-curricular/enrichment offer, and is there an opportunity to explore whether childcare vouchers are an appropriate mode of payment?
  • How have you designed your enrichment offer – have you consulted with your school community - pupils and families?
  • How might you benefit from conversations that include asset sharing – i.e., facilities availability, in exchange for people capacity to deliver?
  • The number one thing children said they wanted to do after the lockdowns was play - how are you facilitating time in your school day for pupils to play, have fun and socially connect with one another?

Some examples of schools who are working to address this include:

  • Offering a broad range of lunchtime clubs as well as after school requiring just trainers to play (noting some activities may require a kit due to health and safety reasons)
  • Having a school ‘boot room’ so when pupils grow out of football boots/astros they can be donated back to school - and others can then take the size they need to save buying new
  • Providing greater multi-sport opportunities, ensuring a variety of activity to support with pupils’ motivations and interests
  • Listening to pupils and their families- termly surveys or focus groups to understand how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting them, and what school can do to support them to still access sport and play
  • Collaborating with local Colleges/Universities to offer volunteer placements to students on teaching/coaching degrees who can gain valuable experience whilst delivering lunch/after school sessions free of charge for pupils.

For more information on strategies and solutions schools can adopt linked to the Primary PE and Sport Premium click here.

For further information on designing a meaningful enrichment programme, please refer to our ‘Power of Enrichment’ resource.

Published on 6 October 2022