• 81% of parents want schools to offer 30 minutes of activity a day as children return
• Two thirds of parents worried their children's activity levels have dropped "dramatically" during lockdown
• Olympian Sharron Davies backs School Guide's #PrioritisePE campaign
Millions of children returned to the classroom in England today, and school sport and after school activities have finally been given the green light to resume after almost twelve months of lockdown restrictions.
While government summer term ‘catch up’ plans include extending the school day, cutting the six-week holiday and extra tutoring, School Guide is calling for PE to be prioritised alongside maths and English as children desperately need to learn to be active again.
Our latest School Guide survey has found that 90% of parents are worried about the lack of physical activity their child had during lockdown, and brand new research by the Youth Sport Trust confirms that 81% of parents now want schools to ensure pupils are physically active for at least 30 minutes every day while in school.
The Great PE Catch Up
School Guide is today launching our #PrioritisePE campaign to highlight the importance of getting pupils moving again as schools reopen.
We are delighted to have the support of Olympian Sharron Davies who is passionate about getting kids moving often and eating well, and believes we have a real opportunity to make changes in schools as we reset daily habits and school timetables after lockdown.
“PE should be inspected by Ofsted along with maths and English,” says Sharron. “I’m very much hoping the government will put an emphasis on physical activity and we will learn from the lessons of Covid-19.” Sharron highlights data that links the highest death rates from the coronavirus to countries with the highest obesity levels, and says pre-pandemic, we were already seeing 20% of children leave primary school obese, and that figure will undoubtedly be higher after months of staying at home.
Physical health goes hand in hand with mental health
While there has been an increased focus on the importance of discussing pupil's mental health post-lockdown, Sharron says it's imporant that physical health is discussed too, especially as the two are inextricably linked.
"Physical activity is terribly important for mental health. Some children have mental health issues due to low confidence levels based on the way they look or feel, and if they are struggling with their weight it won’t help. As parents, we have to find the right kind of support and tackle issues together with schools.”
But what about concerns over mental health and anxiety when we raise issues such as weight gain with our kids, especially with the rise of eating disorders reported in schools?
“We can’t wrap our kids up in cotton wool. We have to face problems head on and arm children with the right habits.
“I find it extraordinary that McDonalds was open when sports activities were shut down at school. It’s time to re-set the message we are giving to our young people.”
Prioritise PE along with maths and English
The solution isn’t costly or hard to organise. Getting children active again requires a renewed focus on the importance of physical activity, which many children – as well as many adults too – may have let slip during the stay home, save lives restrictions.
60 minutes is the recommended daily activity for school age pupils but less than half of parents surveyed by YouGov are aware of this figure.
The nation's PE teacher Joe Wicks has done a great deal to get the nation's children moving during lockdown and schools are perfectly placed to pick up Joe's YouTube mantle.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could get our kids into school earlier each day and spend the first 20 minutes being physically active and talking about what they ate for breakfast? It doesn’t have to be organised sport. Star jumps in the playground or during assembly would make a difference."
Prioritising PE would not take away from catching up on academic subjects either – in fact, evidence shows the opposite. Sharron says:
"The evidence from schools that prioritise physical activity in the daily timetable is that they see higher concentration levels in the classroom and better results."
Plus, says Sharron, there's room in the timetable if we re-think the emphasis on traditional subjects that may not have life-long value for every pupil.
"Children learn French," says Sharron, "which they may never use again after they leave school. It’s far more important to teach children skills for life: how to read food labels and the long term benefits of exercise. I meet so many grown ups who tell me they regret giving up on sport at school. PE was never a priority."
Parents are PE 'teachers' too
Sharron does not believe we can push the whole problem on to schools, however. Parents have an important role to play in modelling active behaviour and not being afraid to tackle their kids on issues around inactivity and weight gain. It can be a hard conversation but the alternative is may be much harder.
“As parents, we are really stretched and busy, and our kids have got used to a lot of extra time on their devices,” says Sharron, mum of three, including her youngest son who is currently in Year 9 at secondary school “But if we line up excuses about why they are not outside on their bike or kicking a ball around with their friends, we are potentially lining them up to have a fight with their weight for the rest of their lives.”
Sharron Davies MBE first swam for Team GB at the age of 11, and attended her first Olympics at 13
“I find it extraordinary that McDonalds was open when sports activities were shut down at school. It’s time to re-set the messages we are giving to our young people.”
Sharron Davies, GB Olympian
Victoria Bond, Founder of School Guide and mum of two teenage boys, agrees that the partnership between parents and schools is the answer. “I’ve struggled to get my own usually sporty boys moving during lockdown. They have missed months of team sports and it seemed easier to just let them play FIFA on the Xbox. I’m guilty of feeling like exercise was just another to thing to nag about when we had homeschooling to get through each day.
"I’m over the moon that my children are back in school today but I don't want all the catch up talk to be about academic subjects. There are growing calls to modernise the curriculum following the pandemic. Parents have seen first-hand during homeschooling that there is too much emphasis on learning overly complex grammatical rules and teaching to exams. PE and daily movement should be timetabled in a more modern post-pandemic approach to learning. More burpees; less fronted adverbials.
"PE and daily movement should be timetabled in a more modern post-pandemic approach to learning. More burpees; less fronted adverbials."
Victoria Bond, School Guide Founder
Victoria adds: "In my time as a school governor, I saw the 5-a-day campaign really have an impact on school dinners and the way children were helped to make healthy choices. Turkey Twizzlers are a thing of the past, and it just goes to show that change is possible. The last thing I want to do is give parents another thing to put on their worry list after all the stress of homeschooling. But I think if we work hand in hand with schools to get our children moving again, we can reduce a lot of stress and worry in the future."
Sharron Davies first swam for Great Britain at the age of 11, and attended her first Olympics at the age of 13. She won two Commonwealth gold medals at 15, and gained Silver at the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. Sharron’s charity work includes Swim For Life, an annual swimming event which has raised millions of pounds for charitable causes which she launched with Princess Diana. Sharron is a mother, public speaker, author, TV presenter and successful Personal Trainer.