Involving girls in discussions about how physical education should be delivered could help dramatically raise engagement levels, a year-long pilot study has revealed.
The Youth Sport Trust project involved 20 schools and saw notable affects on the body confidence of female students and their attitudes to PE and school sport.
Publishing its findings, the charity has gone so far as to warn that not giving female students a say in PE provision could risk “putting them off sport for life”.
The pilot was launched because of fears that a negative attitude towards their own body image prevents many girls from engaging with school sport.
In the pilot schools, teachers worked with female students to discover what motivates them to take part in PE and sport and to jointly develop an action plan based on their feedback about how it should be delivered.
Female students were also encouraged to become role models, setting up leadership groups which focused on how they could make PE and physical activity more appealing.
One school saw a group of girls get involved in the creation of three new girls-specific extra-curricular clubs – boxercise, football and basketball. Another school set-up a cheerleading group that went on to compete at a national event in London.
As a whole, the pilot saw the proportion of girls who felt “very unhappy” with the way their bodies looked reduce from 37 to 16 per cent, while the proportion who looked forward to PE lessons increased from 38 to 71 per cent, and those who looked forward to extra-curricular sport went from 35 to 66 per cent.
The charity is now to work on a project to get 100,000 girls more active and 2,000 involved in sports leadership by 2018. It is also calling on schools to “review and refresh” their PE and sports provision for girls and hopes to produce new guidance in the next academic year.
Alison Oliver, managing director of the Youth Sport Trust, said: “Many girls are simply not interested in traditional PE and sport and unless schools give their students a voice, and ask them what they would like to take part in, they risk putting them off physical activity for life.
“Participation levels in physical activity among girls are worryingly low. If we are to get girls more active – developing an interest in PE and sport, and a confidence to take part – then we must work with them to understand what appeals to them.
“The health benefits are obvious, but equally important for teenage girls is the positive impact that physical activity can have on emotional health and wellbeing, overcoming low self-esteem and reducing levels of anxiety.
“When girls don’t feel confident about themselves they are far less likely to be comfortable taking part in PE and sport. Through this pilot we have discovered that if you involve girls in the process of deciding how PE and physical activity should be delivered then you can influence their attitudes.”
Schools wanting to get involved with the Youth Sport Trust’s Girls Active programme can visit www.youthsporttrust.org/how-we-can-help/girls-active