The Government has been warned over a potential lost generation of young people who are denied the lifelong benefits of sport after it was revealed that the number of children meeting recommended activity levels has fallen sharply during lockdown.
With schools providing many children with their main daily opportunity to get active and now unlikely to reopen fully before September, charities and sports leaders have urged Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to ensure physical development and wellbeing is prioritised in his department’s planning.
The Youth Sports Trust has been told of many children who are “struggling physically, socially and emotionally” without school and its associated physical activity and are now organising the first ‘virtual’ school sports days as part of a School Sports Week at Home from June 20.
UK Active, which represents leisure centres and gyms, has called on the Government to consider opening up schools and sports facilities during the summer while the Sport and Recreation Alliance wants reassurance on future funding for the PE and Sport Premium, which is usually paid annually to primary schools for investment in sport.
The underlying data is stark. Sport England tracked activity levels among children during eight weeks of lockdown from the end of March to the end of May and, although there was a gradual upsurge through that period, the wider decline was clear.
The chief medical officer recommends that children complete an average of at least 60 minutes of activity every day and 47 per cent of children achieved that figure in the most recent survey, published in December 2019. That same figure ranged from between just 14 and 22 per cent during lockdown. The statistics on inactivity were similarly concerning, with a range of between 40 and 48 per cent doing 30 minutes or less each day compared to 29 per cent in 2019. Most alarming of all, around one in 10 children reported doing no daily activity at all during lockdown. The data again showed that children from poorer families as well as black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were disproportionately affected.
“A later return to school for many pupils will mean children will continue to miss out on the important contribution of PE and sport to their physical development and wellbeing,” said Ali Oliver, the chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust. “It will be vital that schools are encouraged and empowered to deliver these as part of their re-introduction curriculum if we want to ensure this generation of young people do not become the ‘lost generation’ who miss out on the life changing benefits of sport.”
Lisa Wainwright, the chief executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, stressed the lifelong importance of early habits. “If children are engaged in physical activity at an early age, they are more likely to continue to be active as they grow up and develop a sporting habit for life,” she said.
The Youth Sports Trust has also deployed a network of more than 450 School Games Officers to engage primary and secondary school-aged children creatively in sport and competition at home. Using Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, they have been setting daily challenges and are now considering how virtual sports challenges and competitions can continue during the winter.