Sport England’s strategy for an active nation

By Phil Chamberlain, Director of External Relations

Sport England’s strategy for an active nationLast month Sport England published Towards an Active Nation their strategy for developing the priorities and new responsibilities set out for them in the Government’s sport strategy, Sporting Future. In this strategy, behaviour change gives a new focus to Sport England’s mission and we are assured that, along with new investment principles, this will attract and crucially retain participants in sport and physical activity. Part of this will see Sport England doing more to foster new relationships both with private and charitable organisations with an eye to developing sustainability within the sector.

‘Putting customers at the heart of what we do’

The Youth Sport Trust welcomes any strategy that aims to target those from under-represented groups as well as the inactive. Demographic groups identified within the strategy document include those populations already targeted by our interventions. Sport England has listened to insight on sport development from across the sector, including our own, with an ambition to move away from the previous delivery model which was directed towards capturing the highest number of participants, and instead to invest in activities and programmes that change behaviour.

Sport England has designated 25 per cent of its funds specifically for investment into the inactive population, where the potential social and economic gains will be the greatest. As we outlined in our consultation response, inactive groups identified within the strategy document (including women, disabled people and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds) face a diverse range of barriers to activity, both emotional and practical and hence a flexible workforce is required. By engaging the sector in the kind of thinking that aims to reposition participants as customers, Sport England is refining the idea in the Government’s sport strategy which sets a  focus on ‘particular sections of society that face common barriers to taking part’.

‘Children are customers too’

A large number of respondents, including ourselves, commented on Sport England’s new responsibility for young people (aged five-14) outside of school, making it clear that a joined-up system across all areas of the Physical Education (PE), sport and physical activity sector is essential for tackling inactivity.

We are pleased that Sport England has responded to this challenge and has been receptive to many of the points we proposed in this area, particularly in regard to giving young people a voice to identify their needs and subsequently offering them a choice, including in non-traditional sports. As part of this we look forward to working with Sport England, as we have done with the Department for Education, on the subject of transition as a key area for tackling inactivity, both in the young person’s current circumstance and for their future.

Sport England’s commitment to ensure that children do not lose their enjoyment of sport and physical activity as they move from one stage to another is outlined in their pledge to support the provision of ‘high-quality, insight-based training to coaches and teachers who work with children outside as well as within the curriculum’ and specifically in the specialist training of at least two teachers in every secondary school in England by 2020. The aim of this is to provide a PE and sport offering that can meet the needs of all children, ‘irrespective of their level of sporting ability, and to involve them in shaping the sporting opportunities that are provided.’ This should be seen as a positive step. As part of this we look forward to continuing our collaboration with Sport England in the delivery of the School Games, with the renewed priorities we can expect for the programme following the conclusion of its current review.

Sport England is also encouraging cross-sector collaborations, with organisations being encouraged to invest advice and insight into projects that aim at collectivised or shared missions. The Youth Sport Trust has extensive experience of establishing partnerships in sport development, such as working with the National Governing Bodies of Sport to create innovative and flexible sports formats for inclusive PE. We also work collaboratively on initiatives, such as Girls Active - a project the Youth Sport Trust designed in partnership with Women in Sport and This Girl Can, funded by Sport England, that aims to help teachers and teenage girls develop an action plan for PE based on an improved understanding of what motivates them to take part in sport and physical activity.

As part of our ongoing partnership with Sport England and in support of their new strategy we will be demonstrating the power of our network of schools to strengthen community links and contribute to comprehensive sport development plans, highlighting examples of best practice and economies of scale. Through this we’ll show how Youth Sport Trust programmes can deliver on each of the five key outcomes of the Government’s new sport strategy – physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development and economic development.

Club links

As part of our support of Sport England’s consultation we were invited to submit information about tried, tested and proven initiatives that could provide solutions for their new responsibility for young people aged five-14. The recommendations we made regarding reviving the Club Links programme (between schools and community-based sport and physical activity clubs) were captured in Sport England’s strategy as a pledge to ‘help to ensure there is a good sports and activity offer before and after the school day through supporting satellite clubs’. This was published alongside a commitment to ‘exploring the new Government investment into extending the school day’ (to be funded by the sugar tax).

As we learn more about how the sugar tax will be creating more sport and physical activity opportunities for young people, the Youth Sport Trust will be supporting its network of schools to develop the kind of out-of-school hours offers that can maximise the unique insight school sport professionals possess. Just one example of this is how we are consulting our network on solutions to tackle the inactivity that results as part of the transition from primary to secondary school.


Sport England is keen to see the repositioning of the volunteering workforce in order that across the sector it becomes a sustainable resource and a diverse and effective component of the sport delivery mechanism, well-equipped to attract new participants to physical activity. To do this the strategy asks organisations to consider how to support volunteer development and prioritise the motivations and needs of volunteers, and to think about how to diversify the volunteer workforce, potentially using new technologies and methods of engagement to target individuals and groups of volunteers.

As the Youth Sport Trust has already developed many approaches to volunteering it will be important that we demonstrate our expertise in this field, working with school sport practitioners and young people to deliver this component of the strategy and to enhance and diversify the sport sector’s workforce.

Tackling health inequalities

As part of the Government’s strategy for sport it commissioned Sport England to focus significant resources to support the development and implementation of local physical activity strategies in a number of selected geographic areas which have identified physical inactivity as a key priority through their Health and Wellbeing Strategies.

At least 25 per cent (£265 million) of Sport England’s total investment over the next four years will directly benefit inactive people, including a proportion of funding specifically for children and young people. Over the coming months and years the Youth Sport Trust will support schools to work even more closely with their local health commissioners, and all relevant local agencies, to tackle the health inequalities present in their areas and to stay current with the evolving devolution deals.

We now look forward to working with Sport England, and other associated sports organisations, to help deliver the many aspects of their strategy for all young people. Equally, we await the expected release of the Government’s obesity strategy, which we believe will be the final piece in the Government’s plans to tackle inactivity – which, again, we stand ready to support.