At a time when society seems to be offering up so little hope to trigger the ambitions of today’s young, physical activity and sport continues to play an important if not vital role. At the latest Bucks and MK Sport and Activity Forum, Leap colleagues welcomed over 40 delegates to share learning and challenges around the topic of young people. I was pleased to welcome a broad audience with representatives from Education, Health, School Games Organisers, Police, Community Officers, the Fire Service and many others keen to work together to give young people the active start in life they deserve.
Inactivity is compromising the health of the next generation
30:30 is how we are beginning to understand the Chief Medical Officers (CMO) recommended 60 mins of physical activity per day for children. 30 mins in school time and 30 mins out of school activity. Bucks and MK is a mixed bag in terms of the current levels measured through the national Active Lives Survey* in schools. Activity, both in and out of school is lower than the national average of 17.5%, however the Chiltern area is the lowest with only 11.9% of young people surveyed meeting the CMOs daily recommended levels.
More positively Milton Keynes and Wycombe areas show high levels of school-based activity at 36.1% and 32.6% respectively against a national average of 27.7%. Whichever way the figures are viewed the overall assessment nationally is that too few children and young people are coming close to meeting the CMOs recommendations.
The list of benefits physical activity provides young people is lengthy, being active improves overall fitness, builds stronger hearts, bones and healthier muscles, it lowers stress, improves self-esteem, posture, and balance, helps prevent certain diseases, improves academic ability and allows young people to socialise beyond the virtual world. Given this unequivocal evidence we should be finding every opportunity to increase the daily score above 17.5%.
Working together to raise physically literate young people
This call to action could not have been voiced more passionately than it was by Jayne Molyneux, Sport England’s Director of Children and Young People. Sport England is seeking to build stronger foundations through personal competence, enjoyment and avoiding bad or negative experiences. It has invested hundreds of £millions into enabling more young people to enjoy sport since lottery funding became available in the mid 1990’s. The core ingredients to maximising this investment is a strong political lobby, collaboration and joined-up Government, time and training for pre-school and primary PE co-ordinators to demonstrate impact and the cross-curricular benefits of physically active children.
Jayne explained how Sport England had adopted the International Physical Literacy Association’s definition for physical literacy which has 5 easily understandable elements.
Physical literacy components:
Physically literate children and young people are more likely to be active and we know through recent research that enjoyment is the biggest driver of activity.
In addition, physically literate children and young people are happier, more resilient and more trusting of other children and young people.
Physical activity helps protect the mental health of children and young people
Our second speaker was April Brett, Buckinghamshire’s Public Health Principle who spoke about the challenges and prevalence of mental health issues. The statistics were startling, with 1 in 8 (5yrs – 19yrs) having one type of mental health disorder. April emphasised the importance of building and developing good mental health through physical activity at a very early age. The challenges are stark, children from low-income families are most likely to suffer with mental health issues; the same children with the lowest levels of physical activity.
We don’t need to look too deeply to understand the social challenges certain families have which contribute to a wide-range of limiting life-chances, and much more needs doing to abate and reverse this. Girls in particular as they enter adolescence will see their levels of physical activity reduce, and the level of emotional disorders increase. April stressed the more protective factors a child has through friendships, a loving family, quality schooling and strong community, the more emotionally resilient the child will be. Decreased levels of those protective factors and the chances of mental illness increase. April concluded with the same rationale as Jayne that physical activity at the CMOs recommended levels will improve every child’s life-chances, and lower the risk of mental illness and childhood, adolescence and adult life.
Projects changing the future for young people
James Gregory, from Street Games brought much of the theory to life through and energetic and heartfelt presentation. Street Games creates active communities which change lives, and life-chances. Through direct community engagement and training, Street Games harnesses the power of sport to improve lives to help young people be healthier, safer & more successful. James talked about the unmet demand for sport and activity in the most deprived areas, he clarified that these areas have fewer voluntary sports clubs, fewer safe place to play, fewer people willing to volunteer, less exposure to sporting events, and behaviour, fewer sporting role models, and fewer inter-generational sporting memories. Street Games address this through a number of approaches including Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), the assets are the physical structure, the green spaces but also existing community groups. His work has seen him make connections, and bridge the empathy gap, unify communities and grow local movements and it seemed no challenge was too great, or situation too complex with the right people and organisations working in partnership.
To close Sue Imbriano, Leap Chair and former Buckinghamshire Director of Children’s Services brought together the key learning and messages. Sue summarised that there is a clear focus to address this at the highest level and as Education Minister Damien Hinds MP puts the final touches to his School Sport Action Plan, with a clear mandate to optimise resilience and character; and revisions to the national curriculum and OFSTEDs inspection framework are implemented; there is hope that all young people will get the offer they deserve.
We all must strive to achieve the CMOs recommendations and ensure these become an achievable entitlement regardless of background. Locally we must continue to develop strong collaboration between partners, stakeholders, investors and deliverers; we must plan side-by-side with children’s well-being at the heart of all discussions, plans and investments.
I’d love to hear your views on the forum, and ideas of how we can work together to make active lives achievable for all. firstname.lastname@example.org
* National survey responses 109,503 / Leap area 3,250 – scholastic years 1-11