08th December 2023
A young person playing tennis.
Children's activity levels hold firm, but significant inequalities remain
This week Sport England revealed the results from its Active Lives Children and Young People Survey for the academic year 2022.23.
The survey highlighted the fact that 47 per cent of children are meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of taking part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day.
This is in line with the 2018-2019 academic year, the last full year before the pandemic, and higher than in 2017-18 when it launched the survey.
However, the survey does reinforce that participation in sport and physical activity varies greatly.
Significant inequalities remain in activity levels, with Black (40 per cent) and Asian (40 per cent) children and young people, and those from the least affluent families (44 per cent), still less likely to play sport or be physically active than the average across all ethnicities and affluence groups.
Boys (51 per cent) remain more likely to be physically active than girls (44 per cent).
However, this gender gap varies depending on age, with children aged five to seven seeing a nine per cent gender difference, up from six per cent in 2017-2018.
Meanwhile, teenage girls aged 13-16 are seeing slightly stronger growth in activity levels over the longer-term compared to teenage boys (11 per cent versus nine per cent). Despite this, the gender gap remains wide at seven per cent.
However, the research reveals a number of positive stories, including 68,000 (1.5 per cent) more girls playing football since the Lionesses won Euro 2022.
There are now 845,000 girls playing the game in England, an increase of 176,000 (four per cent) since the 2017-18 academic year.
Levels of active travel remain high following the pandemic, with one million (11.5 per cent) more children and young people walking, cycling or scootering to get places than there were five years ago (academic year 2017-18).
The cost-of-living is still impacting children and young people’s relationship with sport and physical activity.
In February, Sport England’s Activity Check-in revealed almost one in five parents/carers said they were using free activities for their children to socialise with friends instead of paid, while 12 per cent said they’d reduced the regularity of paid activities.
This week’s report builds on these areas of concern. Children and young people from the least affluent families are the least likely to be active, with only 44 per cent meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines – compared to 55 per cent of those from the most affluent families.
Furthermore, the number of children doing no activity at all in the previous seven days has increased with 127,000 more children (1.4 per cent) falling into this category compared to 2017-18.
This means there are now more than 600,000 children in England doing no activity at all.
This highlights how important it is to meet the Government’s ambitious target of getting one million more children active by the end of the decade, as well as the scale of the challenge facing the country to do so.
Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive at Sport England, said: “While today’s figures reveal some positives and is further evidence of our sector’s ability to recover from the pandemic, they also underline how much more work there is to do to get our children and young people active.
“The fact that fewer than half are meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines demonstrates the scale of challenge facing our country.”
He added: “Too many children and young people are missing out on the benefits of living an active life – to their physical health but also mental wellbeing and positive social connection with friends and their community.
“We can see in the data published today: the more active the young person, the more positive their attitude towards sport and physical activity is likely to be.
“This underlines the need for more action – and greater concerted focus across Government departments, as well as across the sport and physical activity sector, and we welcome the launch of the new Physical Activity Taskforce, which meets next week, as a chance for this action to be debated.”
One sport that has seen a significant downturn has been swimming, with only 71 per cent of children in school Year 7 (ages 11-12) meeting the guidelines which state children should be able to competently and confidently swim 25 metres by the time they leave primary school.
This represents 6.3 per cent fewer school Year 7 children being able to do this compared to five years ago (academic year 2017-18), before the pandemic.
The number of children in school Years 1-2 able to swim this distance is 22 per cent – up 3.2 per cent in the last 12 months, but 11 per cent down compared to five years ago.
So what do we next?
Children and young people are a key focus of Sport England’s Uniting the Movement strategy as well as Active Sussex’s Getting Sussex Moving strategy.
Sport England’s 2022-25 implementation plan stresses the importance of creating positive experiences for children and young people that are created with opportunities designed around fun, inclusivity and safety, as well as choice. This links in with the Play their Way campaign and listening to Youth Voice.
Sport England recently announced major investment into local communities across England to ensure those in greatest need are able to be physically active, with £250m of National Lottery and Exchequer funding invested into place-based work, and £190m of this focused on an additional 80-100 places which have the greatest need.
In September, along with a number of its partners, Sport England launched the Physical Literacy Consensus Statement for England.
This helps us understand that our relationship with sport and activity changes over our lifetime, and how the experiences we have and our opportunities to be active impact how likely we are to take part.
Sport England has also invested £1.5m into Studio You, a ‘Netflix’-style digital platform designed to help PE teachers engage the least active girls through non-traditional online activity sessions, such as dance, combat and yoga.