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Uniting the movement for children and young people

With the publication of our fifth annual Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, our chief strategy officer blogs on what the figures mean and what we're doing to provide enjoyable experiences of sport and physical activity.

08th December 2022

by Nick Pontefract
Chief strategy officer, Sport England

Today we are publishing the latest set of annual figures from our Active Lives Children survey, our world-leading research into children’s sport and physical activity levels.

These figures are from the 2021/22 school year, so from September 2021 to July 2022, the first full year after the Covid-19 pandemic.

As is often the case, the figures show a mixed picture – with some good news and some areas we remain concerned about.

Recovery

One major positive is that overall levels of children’s physical activity (that’s the percentage of children who do the recommended average of 60 minutes of activity per day) has returned to the levels we saw in the last school year before Covid (September 2018 to July 2019).

It’s great that these levels have bounced back to where they were and shows how important school is to getting active, and the impact that school closures had – but also how hard so many people have worked to get sport and activity back safely as restrictions came to an end.

We know that activity habits aren’t locked in permanently, so there was no guarantee they would return to these levels just because restrictions came to an end.

There’s more good news in that the places we’ve worked in intensively through our Local Delivery Pilot programme have seen better results than similar areas we haven’t worked in. Activity levels across those 12 areas has now exceeded the levels seen before the pandemic.

This re-enforces the value of the highly collaborative, systemic approach to our work in these areas. Expanding this approach is a fundamental part of delivering our strategy.

However, while this is positive, the recovery isn’t universal.

Inequalities remain

Children at school in more deprived parts of the country have seen their activity levels recover more slowly and they are yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

As well as where you go to school, we also know that family affluence has significant impact on activity levels – children from poorer families are significantly less likely to be active than better off families.

This highlights the continued importance of tackling the inequalities within sports participation, the central mission within our 10-year strategy Uniting the Movement and will be a fundamental part of everything we do.

We can also see some issues faced by many children, which we know we want to help address.
 

It’s great that these levels have bounced back to where they were and shows how important school is to getting active, and the impact that school closures had – but also how hard so many people have worked to get sport and activity back safely as restrictions came to an end.

For example, we haven’t seen a full recovery in positive attitudes towards sport and physical activity.

Across the five fundamental attitudes that make up physical literacy (enjoyment, confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge) we are seeing fewer children reporting positively.

This is a concern as we know the more positive children feel across these areas, the more likely they are to be active, but also because it is a reflection of a consistent reduction in broader wellbeing.

Overall happiness and life satisfaction are down – this is due to factors well beyond the world of sport and physical activity but it impacts on people’s activity habits.

Crucially too, done right, sport and physical activity can help.

Four girls play hockey on a school field

We know that being active makes you happier and improves your wellbeing, so the more children we can help get active, the better the contribution we can make to their wellbeing.

We can’t do that alone though; our role is as much about convening others as it is in investing ourselves.

Without a really strong and successful system underpinning children’s participation – including teachers, schools, clubs, coaches, our network of partners and, of course, parents and carers – which puts children and their experiences at the heart of everything they do, we won’t ever make the progress we all want to see.

This is the central premise of Uniting the Movement, that no-one can deliver change alone, that it is only when we join up work, genuinely collaborate to improve the experience of sport and physical activity for children and young people and unashamedly work to address the inequalities in sport, will we achieve our overall mission.
 

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