A Level Playing Field: Equalising access to sport and exercise for young people after Covid-19
by Gavin Rice, CSJ Head of Work and Welfare policy
Before Covid hit the UK’s shores, the country was already suffering from a different sort of health pandemic: obesity, a nationwide illness that costs the NHS a staggering £6 billion per year. Two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese, and a shocking one third of primary school children. Those living in the most deprived areas are also twice as likely to suffer from obesity, with all the problems in later life this brings. We know that Covid is a greater threat to those with underlying health problems – especially obesity – giving the lie to the claim that the virus affects all equally.
Yet a majority of children do not meet the Chief Medical Officer’s recommended 60 minutes’ exercise a day, with one third achieving less than half this target. There is no legal minimum for time spent doing physical activity in our schools, with many pupils receiving less than 1 hour per week of PE or Games.
In our new report, ‘A Level Playing Field’, the Centre for Social Justice makes the case for radically expanding physical activity and extra-curricular sport in state schools. Those who can afford independent school fees gain access to a much higher level of organised exercise for their children, with all the benefits that that brings. We make the bold and ambitious case that these benefits should not be reserved for the few. By extending the school day to accommodate a completely overhauled extra-curricular offering we can achieve so much more.
Children who are physically active achieve better academic results, have improved behaviour and improved mental health. Regular participation in sport is linked to increased resiliency, leadership skills and teamwork, and as a consequence to better prospects in the world of work. The 4-6pm time slot is also when young people are most likely to be lured into – or become the victims of – crime. This is time that should be put to better use.
Evidence shows that pupils who engage in organised extra-curricular activities can make an extra two months’ academic progress per year – that’s two years’ more education over the course of a school career; time which we are currently denying to the majority of British pupils.
With a new national priority of “levelling up”, extending the lifelong benefits of after-school sport to all the UK’s young people – and levelling the playing field – is the best place to start.
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