Baroness Grey-Thompson, the 11-times gold medalist across four Paralympics, has urged the Government to explore opening school sport facilities through the summer and warned of the “perilous” prospect of vulnerable children missing out on structured activity until September.
Grey-Thompson has joined a growing call for a concerted national plan to mitigate the deeply harmful potential impact on the physical and mental health of children who now face a 23-week stretch off school.
It follows figures revealed by Telegraph Sport on Wednesday which showed that only one in five children have been meeting the chief medical officer’s guidelines of at least an hour of activity a day during lockdown and that one in 10 are getting no physical activity at all.
The Youth Sport Trust has also written an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson in which they have sought clarity over whether primary schools will continue to receive an annual £320 million ‘premium’ to invest in physical education from September. The PE and Sport Premium was introduced in 2013 and ringfences £16,000 a year for individual primary schools to invest in children’s PE and physical activity.
Numerous studies have shown a clear link between physical activity, health, mental wellbeing and academic success but, with many children’s access to activity dependent on school, there are mounting fears that a “lost generation” could miss the lifelong benefits of sport.
“Far fewer children than expected have been accessing school and school meals during the pandemic – this has left them in a perilous position,” said Grey-Thompson. “They now face up to 23 weeks without engaging in structured and enriching activities outside their home.” Grey-Thomspon has now raised the subject in the House of Lords, where she is a life peer, specifically asking whether the Government will “explore all options for keeping some schools’ facilities open safely across the summer holidays, providing activity and food, to support the most vulnerable children”.
Sport England’s research also showed that children from poorer families and black, asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were being disproportionately impacted by the crisis of inactivity. Replying on behalf of the government, Baroness Berridge said that only 15 per cent of vulnerable children were currently at school and outlined concern at the “sedentary nature of many children at the moment”. She said that schools had been specifically encouraged to use outdoor space, and even team sports with appropriate hygiene measures, as schools reopen on a phased basis.
In their letter to Williamson, the Youth Sport Trust stressed the “vital” importance of the PE and Sport Premium sport. “The uncertainty over whether this vital £320 million fund will continue just weeks from the end of this academic year is actively undermining the ability of primary schools to plan their provision from September,” wrote Ali Oliver, the Youth Sport Trust chief executive. “At a time of so much uncertainty, the confirmation of the primary PE and Sport Premium would not only send a message about the importance of young people’s health and wellbeing at this time but will also help schools do the very best for children.”