Three-year trend of girls reporting same barriers to physical activity in schools

Periods, low confidence, and other people watching. New data has shown that girls are continuing to report the same barriers to physical activity in schools.

On International Day of the Girl (11 October), children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust wants to raise awareness of how barriers can be removed to support more girls into sport in school. 

Data from its Girls Active programme over the last three years has revealed the barriers remain the same, but periods have become a bigger concern for girls when doing PE in school over the last academic year. 

A total of 27,867 girls surveyed by the charity reported the below as being their biggest barriers between 2018 and 2021: 

  • 37% of girls said their periods stopped them from getting active in school in 2020/21 vs 27% in 2018/19. A rise of 10 percentage points 
  • 33% said they were not confident to get active in school in 2020/21 vs 30% in 2018/19. A rise of 3 percentage points 
  • 33% of girls said other people watching them take part in physical activity in school put them off in 2020/21 vs 27% in 2018/19. A rise of 6 percentage points 

Through the Youth Sport Trust’s Girls Active programme, which is funded by the National Lottery through Sport England and supported by Women in Sport, it is empowering more girls to learn how to engage their peers and support teachers to remove barriers. 

As we celebrate International Day of the Girl and the aims to support girls to learn new skills for their future careers and lead as a generation of activists accelerating social change this year, we need to look at the role sport can play and how we can remove barriers to encourage more young people to fulfil their potential. 

Wendy Taylor, Development Manager for Girls Active at the Youth Sport Trust
Wendy Taylor, Development Manager for Girls Active at the Youth Sport Trust

“Our Girls Active research has revealed that girls being on their period significantly impacts their ability to feel confident, comfortable and participate in PE, sport and physical activity, particularly at school. We know the issue is multi-faceted and complex with other concerns such as poor body-image, feeling on show, and feeling self-conscious in PE kit contributing further to their confidence at this time.  

“We want to understand further from girls what would help make a positive difference to them during their periods, so they feel that physical activity is a space that supports and helps them. Through Girls Active we have seen 93% of girls involved learn how to get other girls to enjoy being active and 84% of Girls Active leaders say they like being active more now through the programme.” Wendy added.

The Youth Sport Trust research found that having fun and being healthy were consistently rated by girls as the top motivators for taking part in physical activity at school over the last three years. In its Class of 2035 report, which launched last month, one of its core recommendations is to give young people a greater voice in provision. 

As part of International Day of the Girl, the Youth Sport Trust is encouraging schools to share and use its research and ensure PE lessons focus on these motivations for engaging pupils. It also plans to undertake some deeper insight with teenage girls to hear directly from them on issues, worries and what further can support them. 

At Herne Bay High School in Kent, 28 pupils in year 8 to 11 on the Girls Active programme are making waves to inspire their peers by creating their own magazine ‘Sweat Bands and Fake Tans’ and Girls Active group. The online magazine covers lots of areas to help girls get active, feel comfortable within themselves and have a positive mindset. 

Isabella (16) who is a Girls Active leader and supports the development of the magazine at Herne Bay, said: 

“To me, Girls Active is very important. I value the programme and that’s why I want to do my part and prove that being active can be fun and help overcome barriers. Over the years it has taught me various lessons that I will pass on to others we meet over the next couple of years at school. 

“Girls Active has been a great way for us to express our passion for getting girls involved in sport, especially through the magazine. It has gone in the direction that we wanted, and girls have been reading it and wanting to get involved in what we have to offer! 

“We are very excited for the next academic year. With the covid restrictions lifted it means we can do a whole lot more and therefore plan engaging and exciting activities that will cater for all. We’ve started up weekly clubs for the younger years once again too. 

“Our future plans will be to progress with the magazine, reach out to girls in different years and encourage them to take part in the programme, educate the younger years on what Girls Active is, its importance and why we are running it.” 

For more information on Girls Active or if you are a school which would like to register an interest please visit  

Published on 11 October 2021