Participation in Gym, Team Sports Falling Among British Students

Although the London Summer Olympics – and which brought a welcome surprise in the success of British athletes – brought a renewed focus on athletic programs in schools around the country, this enthusiasm hasn’t actually led to expanded physical education programs. On the contrary, according to The Daily Telegraph, teachers are reporting that time set aside for all extracurricular activities, including gym, has been on the downturn over the past two years.

The information comes courtesy of a new study by the left-leaning Smith Institute, which blames lack of funding for the lack of sports participation opportunities for students. The report cites a number of policies adopted by the Coalition government that researchers claim are responsible for this lethargy, including the elimination of the £162 million-per-year “school sports partnership” program.

Ministers also scrapped previous targets requiring pupils to take part in two hours of sport a week and introduced a new Olympic-style “school games” programme to increase access to competitive sport. But according to the latest study, some 97 per cent of teachers are in favour of the reinstatement of the two-hour target. It also emerged that a “significant minority” of teachers – 42 per cent of those in primaries and 16 per cent in secondary schools – were failing to take part in the school games project.

Although government officials have gone on record saying that the approach they’re taking actually elevates the status of competitive sports among students by funding regional and nationwide tournaments to give young people more chances to participate, according to shadow sports minister Clive Efford, this is not enough.

The sports participation rates are falling, Efford claims, because the Coalition has reversed a number of Labour policies aimed at expanding opportunities for physical activity to more students. According to Efford, by doing so Prime Minister David Cameron is squandering the chance to lay the groundwork for the next generation of Olympic athletes.

The Smith Institute surveyed more than 1,000 teachers and school sport officials as part of the report.

Some 33.7 per cent of primary school teachers said there had been a “decrease in participation” in sport over the last two years, with 11.6 per cent reporting an increase and the remaining insisting that levels had remained the same. In the secondary sector, 34.6 per cent reported a drop, 57.1 per cent said participation was unchanged and just 8.2 per cent reported an increase.

According to the report, when asked for the reasons why participation rates were falling, teachers chiefly cited a lack of funding and a lack of time.