subscribe: Posts | Comments

Schools hold the key to closing gender gap in physical exercise


Alison Clarke
WVoN co-editor

A new report by the English Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) has found that girls in the UK are not getting enough exercise – and that schools hold the key to encouraging them to get active.

The report, based on research carried out by the Institute of Youth Sport at Loughborough University, showed that half of all girls (51%) are put off physical activity by their experiences of school sport and physical exercise (PE).

Official figures show that just 12% of 14 year old girls are reaching the recommended levels of physical activity – half the number of boys at the same age. This is despite three quarters (74%) of girls saying they would like to be more active.

It also highlights the gender gap that emerges between girls and boys as they grow up.

In Year Four of primary school, girls and boys are doing similar levels of physical activity. However, by Year Six girls are doing considerably less exercise than boys – a gap that widens as girls reach Year Nine of secondary school.

As part of the research, a survey asked 1,500 school children about their attitudes to fitness and sport. It found that:

  • 45% of girls say “sport is too competitive” and more than half think boys enjoy competitive sport more than girls.
  • Over half of all boys and girls agree that “there are more opportunities for boys to succeed in sport than girls.”
  • Half of the girls surveyed (48%) say that getting sweaty is “not feminine.”
  • Nearly a third of boys think that girls who are sporty are not very feminine.
  • Of the least active girls, 46% say that they don’t like the activities they get to do in PE compared to 26% of the most active.
  • 43% of girls agree that “there aren’t many sporting role models for girls.”

Sue Tibballs, chief executive of WSFF, said:

“It is well-known that school children are less active than they should be. This problem is particularly severe for girls. Our research shows that PE and school sport is actually putting the majority of girls off being active, even though three quarters of girls are keen to do more exercise.

“We need schools and the Government to urgently address this issue, and create policies that will keep our children fit and healthy. The priority needs to be getting all children active not just focusing on the sporty ones.

“With sport front of mind in 2012, now is the ideal time to do it.”

  1. I’m really unsurprised by this report – I hated PE at school! In the 80s and 90s, more or less the only available PE at school was ball sports – boring, not terribly constructive from an exercise point of view (there seemed to be often too much standing around)and a serious problem if you didn’t like running (I still don’t) and had no aptitude for catching/throwing (I still can’t). (The one enjoyable exception was volleyball in our GCSE year, as led by an awesome tiny Scots lady, whose main emphasis was that we had fun.)

    Nowadays, amongst energetic gardening, walking, and dance, I’m a much more active and far fitter person than I was at school. What would be wrong with more dance or fencing offered at schools, which revolve around the personal acquisition of skill and physical training, rather than the insistence on team sports and pointlessly bashing a ball about?

    And how about that – rather than dictating activities to kids – let them choose! Sure, say they have to do SOMETHING, but coordinate between teachers and make arrangements with local pools, gyms, and dance teachers etc., and let young people actually choose what they want to do for a few weeks at a time. That then gets them into the lifelong habit of seeking out a fitness activity and choosing to follow it – not desperately waiting for the A-Levels to come around so PE’s off the curriculum.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I hated sports at school but am really active now and go running just about every morning. It all felt so competitive at school (especially hockey) whereas all I wanted was to get some exercise!

  2. Petra W says:

    While I also hated PE in school, there are 2 statements which I find the most worrying:
    Half of the girls surveyed (48%) say that getting sweaty is “not feminine.”
    Nearly a third of boys think that girls who are sporty are not very feminine.

    What a screwed up view of what is feminine! Getting sweaty is not feminine – well try having a baby…..

    I think these attitudes need to be addressed as this vision of femininity is causing serious harm to our children and teenagers and society as a whole.

    • Yes, I agree. It’s very worrying. Equally, though, when my son was that age he also worried about getting sweaty so I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a gender thing. it could be an issue about their age.

      • vicki wharton says:

        I have a five year old girl and in between a diet of Disney princesses and the total lack of sport at her school that isn’t football related, its very hard to think of what her internalised image of sport will be once she gets to 7. I take her with me to Zumba and will encourage her to do self defence too, plus running with a friend’s dog, bike riding, dancing, scootering and anything else I can think of for us to do together so that she can see that exercise is more about feeling good and keeping healthy than winning a trophy, or watching someone else win a trophy. I wish that women’s sports was given more coverage too, perhaps with more emphasis on it as part of a lifestyle rather than just a competition. But I can’t see this happening anytime soon …!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *