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Changing the game for girls: in action report published

Women in Sport releases the findings of a two-year project aimed at improving the provision of PE for girls in schools. Changing the Game for Girls: In Action makes tried and tested recommendations that are now being applied in schools across the country, to provide a solution to the alarmingly low levels of girls’ playing sport.

Only 7% of girls currently meet the government recommendations for physical activity and a third of girls age 12-15 in England are classified as overweight or obese. Now, within weeks of plans being announced to fund more sport in schools through a tax on sugary drinks, Changing the Game for Girls: In Action shares tested strategies on how best to address these shocking figures.

Funded by the Department of Health, the new research aims to inspire girls to take part in and enjoy sport at school, developing a positive relationship with sport from a young age as a long term, effective way to stay healthy throughout their adult lives.

Nearly 2 million fewer women than men take part in sport at least once per week and, finding from their study in 2012 that this gender gap between girls and boys playing sport begins to open at around age 8 – much earlier than previously thought – Women in Sport developed and piloted new approaches and interventions for girls at 25 schools across England.

The findings in our report highlight the importance of allowing girls to help shape sports programmes more effectively to their needs, and to express their motivations and ideas, thus improving participation. This is most often achieved by establishing a way to capture the girls’ voices and working with the girls directly.

Additionally, Women in Sport discovered that the positive impact of taking this innovative approach reaches far beyond the PE department. This includes increased concentration and improved behaviour, as well as important transferable skills useful for better negotiating day-to-day living, such as personal growth and increased self-esteem.

Through the two year pilot programme, the charity established a network of 25 schools and worked to help them adapt existing provision to create environments where it is ‘normal’ and aspirational for girls to be active, improving their health and wellbeing.

Women in Sport supported schools, through the work of a Schools Relationship Manager that it provided, to connect with partners, facilities and services in their local communities and promote local sportswomen as role models.

The pilot also addressed deeply ingrained issues around body image and self-confidence which research by Women in Sport shows contributes to preventing girls from being more active.

PE departments in participating schools are now demonstrating more awareness of the challenges girls face in engaging in physical activity and with input from girls, are shaping new opportunities for positive participation.

Schools that took part clearly valued being involved in the project and reported signs of more positive attitudes towards physical activity: from reduced sitting out in PE lessons, to take-up of new activities, as well as increased numbers taking GCSEs in PE. Participation in sport outside of school increased, with girls being motivated to do exercise by themselves, for themselves.

Women in Sport has wasted no time in applying its recommendations and in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust, is now putting the findings from Changing the Game for Girls: In Action into practice through a nationwide programme, Girls Active, currently working in over 90 schools.

Schools have been identifying less active girls, as well as those who are more traditionally ‘sporty’, to become Girls Active leaders, giving them the opportunity to take on leadership responsibilities and make PE and sport relevant to the lives of all girls in their school. This student led approach to sport and PE also gives opportunities to those girls who crave leadership responsibilities.

Ruth Holdaway, Chief Executive of Women in Sport said.

“At Women in Sport, we believe that getting girls active at an early age, ensuring they have a positive, empowering relationship with sport, is the key to them continuing to play sport and stay healthy through their adult lives.”

“Our report demonstrates the potential of sport and physical activity to impact on girls’ wellbeing, leadership and achievement across all aspects of their lives. There is an urgent need to articulate these messages strongly to senior leaders, teachers and girls themselves to raise the profile of PE and sport for girls in school.”

“This, we believe, is an effective and long-term way to tackle the entrenched gender gap in sports participation – and a key method to truly transform sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK.”

Women in Sport calls on schools to implement measures to understand the needs of girls in sport and PE, shaping their activities with the involvement of the girls themselves.

Photos courtesy of Camille Shah.