To mark International Day of the Girl, the Youth Sport Trust have released new data which highlights that in both secondary and primary settings, the level of girls' enjoyment of PE has dropped over the past six years, whereas the enjoyment level of boys has remained broadly consistent.
At a time when studies have also shown that girls’ mental health deteriorated more than that of boys during the pandemic*, the Youth Sport Trust asks what can we all do to ensure all girls are able to access the physical and mental well-being benefits that PE and physical activity can bring?
The Youth Sport Trust annual Girls Active survey has been running since 2016, and this year received responses from over 18,500 girls aged between 7 and 18. Key results from the survey showed that:
- Only 64% of all girls enjoyed PE in comparison to 86% of all boys. The gap is particularly pronounced at secondary school where just 59% of girls say they enjoy PE.
- Enjoyment levels for girls are falling, in 2016 74% of all girls enjoyed PE.
- Nearly two thirds of all girls (64%) want to be more active in school but there are barriers that stop them taking part such as not being confident, having their period, being watched by others and worrying about how they look.
- Having fun and being with friends are the strongest two motivations for all girls to take part in sport, physical activity and PE at school.
- Trampolining, Swimming and Netball are the top 3 choices by all girls for activities in PE lessons or other physical activities at school.
The priority has to be supporting more girls to be active in a way that works for them.
In response to the findings, Olympic pole vault bronze medallist Holly Bradshaw, who has worked with the Youth Sport Trust on the Girls Active programme, said:
“It’s not surprising but it is disappointing to see that so many girls still lack confidence to really enjoy PE and physical activity at school. I can really empathize with their worries about being watched and judged by others. I too have struggled with body confidence issues whilst competing for Team GB, particularly after facing online abuse in relation to my body shape.
I would appeal to anyone responsible for working with young girls in sport, whether within or outside of school, to really listen to their concerns and be flexible in looking for solutions together. My particular passion is campaigning for more choice around kit, and the survey data suggests girls would like more choice too, so that they can wear something which feels most comfortable to them, allowing them to focus on the activity, and not what their body looks like. The priority has to be supporting more girls to be active in a way that works for them.”
Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust added:
“The headlines from the recent Girls’ Active survey represent an urgent call to action to us at the Youth Sport Trust, and all organisations involved in the development and delivery of physical education and sport for young women and girls. We know that despite all the hard work being done, there is so much more still to do.
Not only should this research raise alarm bells about future adult activity levels and the consequences of this, but it is devastating for the physical and mental health of young women today.
We must be absolutely committed to understanding the experiences of young women and girls, how these are constantly changing in a complicated world, and be better at working with them to address the barriers they face.
At a time of unprecedented low levels of social and emotional wellbeing, we know getting things right for girls in PE can be life changing. Thanks to funding from the National Lottery via Sport England, our Girls Active peer leadership approach is delivering consistent improvements in belonging and self-esteem, body image and physical identity, as well as increased fun and enjoyment, and even improving engagement in learning. We desperately want to build on this work and be able to support more schools to achieve these outcomes."
The Youth Sport Trust has always sought to find ways to ensure that PE, sport and physical activity are relevant, motivating and accessible for girls. The Girls Active programme helps schools understand what motivates girls to take part, enabling teachers to work with girls through consultation and leadership to make the necessary changes to their PE, sport and physical activity provision to engage all girls in ways that appeal to them.
For more details of the research including the full reports, please visit our dedicated Research page.