Fall in number of hours of PE delivered in schools poses threat to wellbeing.

The Youth Sport Trust believes cuts to the hours of Physical Education on the curriculum pose a further threat to the wellbeing of young people, and should be a matter of immediate national concern.

The latest figures released by the government on Friday show a further 4000 hours of PE have been lost from the curriculum in state-funded secondary schools in the last academic year. These cuts come against a backdrop of declining children's health and wellbeing, increasing time spent online, and continued challenges with school engagement and attendance. The reduction continues a trend that has seen the amount of PE and sport in secondary schools in England fall by more than 12% since the 2012 London Olympics

In response to the latest figures Ali Oliver MBE, Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust said: 

"Fewer than half of children in the UK currently meet 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity which is the Chief Medical Officers' minimum recommended level. This is contributing to a nation where too many children are missing out, have poor wellbeing and lack a sense of belonging.  The evidence is clear; unhappy and unhealthy children do not learn and just this week we are seeing proof of this as high levels of persistent absence and mental ill health have been cited as undermining pupils’ GCSE results. 

PE provides a foundation for learning across the curriculum, the physical literacy it develops is as essential a life skill as numeracy and language literacy, and it provides a universal introduction to sport and physical activity for every child regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or affluence.  With increasing demands on the NHS, it should be harnessed for its contribution to public health as well as wider social and educational outcomes. 

We need to not just give permission to schools, but actively encourage and support them to embrace PE and school sport as valid and important part of the education and development of every child.  The introduction to the recent School Sport & Activity Action Plan stressed this important point:

"High quality physical education and sport are a vital part of what makes a great school."

However, we know from years of hard work on this agenda, this vision can only be realised through a clear and ambitious national target, a coherent long-term plan, and interventions which are co-ordinated and managed locally.   

Schools which collaborate locally, benefit from the expertise, connections and educational understanding of local partnerships, consistently benefit from teacher training, partnerships with community clubs, local competitions and co-ordinated access to coaches and sports facilities.  

I believe building a refreshed school sport system which delivers today - and for future generations - would send such a positive and powerful message to children, young people and families that we care about their wellbeing and want them to enjoy the life changing benefits that come from play and sport.  

If we can reverse the trend of declining PE and physical activity within schools and implement new ways of working effectively, this will help young people's mental and physical wellbeing, enable them to access new skills, and empower them to live happier and healthier futures.” 

Published on 21 August 2023