Schools White Paper ‘a missed opportunity’ to recognise crucial role of play and sport

The Youth Sport Trust and its Headteacher Ambassadors have responded to the Government’s new Schools White Paper, following its publication today (28 March 2022) by the Department for Education.

Responding to the publication, Youth Sport Trust Chief Executive Ali Oliver MBE, said:

“This White Paper represents a huge missed opportunity at a time when there is an urgent need for a change of approach to build back healthier, happier and more resilient young people following the pandemic. While it is good to see reference to an ambition for more sport as part of a richer school week, we would like to have seen this play a much more central role in this White Paper.

“There is a long overdue need to recognise the fundamental role that play, sport and physical activity should fulfil in every child’s education and development. This has all too often been overlooked and marginalised in recent years which have seen hours of Physical Education cut, activity levels decline, and health problems rise.

“The development of physical literacy must be put on a par with literacy and numeracy, recognising that it is essential to every child’s health, happiness and readiness to learn. We would urge the Education Secretary to recognise this in the Parental Pledge and wider ambition of the Schools White Paper.

“It is also disappointing that the White Paper has done nothing to address the destabilising uncertainty around funding for PE and school sport beyond this summer – particularly the future of the School Games Organiser network and the primary PE and Sport Premium.

“The School Games is one of the great legacies of London 2012 and government funding has been critical to its success. For the past decade, this network of 450 School Games Organisers has been the linchpin of school sport for young people in England. Without them, millions of opportunities for children to enjoy inclusive after-school sport would be lost, national governing bodies would lose a vital delivery partner, and in some areas obesity and mental health projects would be forced to cease.

“Schools and School Games Organisers are extremely concerned about the destabilising impact the uncertainty over funding will have if this has not been resolved by 8th April. The Youth Sport Trust is continuing to call for government to set out a long-term funding commitment for PE and school sport and – at least in the short-term – give immediate confirmation that funding for this vital network will continue beyond this summer.”

Youth Sport Trust Headteacher Ambassadors have also shared their thoughts on the White Paper publication.

YST Headteacher Ambassador Stephen Munday CBE added:

"We all know the central importance of physical activity, Physical Education and sport to every young person’s education and development. If that was true before the pandemic then it is even more true now. ‘Active recovery’ is fundamental to what is needed in our school system. As such, it seems a very surprising omission not to have been very clear about this in the White Paper and to have made significant commitments to this. Those of us working in the system will be sure to take this forward as best we can because it is so very important. It would have been good to have had that strongly supported in the White Paper.”

YST Headteacher Ambassador Ben Levinson OBE said:

“Whilst I am encouraged by the clear emphasis on the fundamental importance of physical and mental wellbeing for children, the detail does not match the vision. Prioritising these areas has the potential to create real change and achieve the government’s ambition for children to reach their full potential.

“The White Paper appears to set some tight boundaries for schools whilst emphasising that government does not have all the answers. Given the differing needs of children and families across the country, the commitment to groups of schools driving change and innovation and having the flexibility to do this is crucial. In our experience, prioritising children’s physical and mental wellbeing is the best way to improve their learning and potential.”

Read the Schools White Paper in full via

Published on 28 March 2022