Girls and boys will be offered the same sports in schools for the first time, the Government has announced, following a campaign by i to ensure the Lionesses’ legacy translated into better PE opportunities for schoolgirls.
The Department for Education (DfE) has announced that it will update its official schools guidance to set out “new standards for equal access to sports”, in a major shake-up of the current curriculum.
The new guidance will make clear that girls and boys should be offered the same sports during PE and extracurricular time in schools, as part of a new requirement for schools to teach a minimum of two hours “quality” PE per week.
It follows outcry last year after i revealed that Government guidance failed to guarantee that schoolgirls be offered the same football lessons as boys, and said that they should instead be offered “comparable activities”.
The national curriculum for both primary and secondary education suggested comparable sports could include netball, rounders, tennis and badminton.
Asked by i last year whether the DfE would reconsider its focus on “comparable” sports for girls following the Lionesses’ victory at the Euros, the DfE said it was up to schools to decide which sports they teach.
It prompted the Lionesses to issue an open letter last summer to then-Tory leadership hopefuls Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss calling on them to ensure all girls have access to football in schools.
In a joint letter signed by the entire England women’s squad, the Lionesses said their historic success at the Euros was “only the beginning”, as they urged the Government to ensure all girls are given football training as part of a minimum of two hours PE each week.
Announcing that both measures will now be implemented to mark International Women’s Day, the Prime Minister said on Wednesday that it would help “build on the Lionesses’ legacy”.
“Last year the Lionesses’ victory changed the game. Young girls know when they take to the pitch that football is for them and, thanks to the Lionesses, they too could be a part of the next generation to bring it home for their country,” he said.
“We want schools to build on this legacy and give every girl the opportunity to do the same sports as boys, as well as provide a minimum of two hours of PE. This means every child can benefit from regular exercise and we are proud to provide them with the support needed to do so.”
Leah Williamson, captain of the England women’s football team who last year lifted the country’s first major trophy since 1966, added that the new measures would “open the doors” for better access to football for girls.
“This is the legacy that we want to live much longer than us as a team. On behalf of all the Lionesses players, we’d like to thank our teammate Lotte Wubben-Moy as a driving force behind this transformational change,” she said.
“We couldn’t be prouder to stand alongside her and we all look forward to seeing the impact this legacy creates.”
New measures targeted at improving girls’ sport
As part of a new package of measures to improve girls’ access to sport, the Government has also unveiled an extra £57m in funding to allow selected schools across England to keep their sport facilities open later for after-school activities.
The scheme will be “especially targeted” at girls, disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs, and will benefit an estimated 1,350 schools across the country.
The Government will also expand its Schools Games Mark scheme “to reward parity of provision for girls”, meaning schools could be in line to receive more funding if they prove that they provide equal sporting opportunities to boys and girls.
The scheme was launched in 2012 to reward schools for their commitment to encouraging competition within sports in playgrounds and in the wider community.
Ministers also announced that Ofsted, the schools watchdog, will publish a report into PE in the coming months to “set out what they believe is possible in terms of offering high quality PE and equal access to sports”.
It comes after figures published last year showed that more than half of secondary schools do not offer equal football coaching to boys and girls.
A report by England Football, part of the Football Association (FA), showed that just 44 per cent of secondary schools provide equal football lessons in PE for both genders.
It compares to around 72 per cent of primary schools, suggesting that football opportunities drop off once girls reach secondary education.
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, said the fresh measures announced by the Government would help “break down the barriers” preventing girls’ access to football in schools.
“Every child – girl or boy – should have access to high quality sport and activities. Not only are these opportunities great for both physical and mental health – but also for all those other skills young people will need throughout their life like teamwork and communication,” she said.
“Today, on International Women’s Day, we are breaking down the barriers some children face to access sport and building on the Lionesses’ legacy to ensure girls have the same access to all their favourite sports as boys.”