Funding fears for PE in primary schools after lockdown worsens child inactivity crisis

Baroness Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, has sought urgent clarification from the Government over the ongoing status of an annual £320 million ‘premium’ to enhance physical education for primary school children.

With activity levels having dropped significantly while schools have been shut to most pupils during the coronavirus lockdown, concern is now mounting that children could be hit by the double whammy of a cut in the usual PE budget.

The PE and Sport Premium was introduced in 2013 and, at a total worth of £320 million during the most recent academic year, it annually ringfences £16,000 for individual primary schools to invest in children’s PE and physical activity.

Schools, though, are still waiting to discover if that funding will continue in September and Morgan has tabled a parliamentary question to ask when a decision will be made.

The wider backdrop is how an ongoing inactivity crisis among children and young people, which had shown signs of improving before the coronavirus pandemic, has again worsened while schools and whole sports have been largely shut.

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.

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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 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 girls, children from poorer families as well as black, asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were disproportionately affected.

The Youth Sport Trust has also written to education secretary Gavin Williamson to stress 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.”

A spokesperson for the department for education said that “the position of the PE and sport premium in the 2020-21 academic year will be confirmed in due course” but stressed the launch last year of the School Sport and Activity Action Plan which reinforced the importance of PE in the curriculum.

Eartha Pond, a PE teacher and former Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur footballer, said that it was vital for the Government to support schools in making PE and physical activity central to the recovery from the coronavirus. Citing the physical and mental health benefits, as well as data showing a clear correlation between activity and academic performance, Pond wants PE to be granted ‘core subject’ status in the curriculum.

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