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Major parties outline school sport plans in bid to tackle ‘public health emergency’

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School sport and a national crisis of inactivity among young people were thrust to the forefront of the general election campaign on Tuesday when the major parties outlined competing plans to tackle what sports leaders say is “a public health emergency”.

In what is another major boost for the Telegraph’s Girls, Inspired campaign, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan outlined new £17 million plans for upskilling primary school teachers in PE and promised that school inspectors Ofsted will now be “specifically tasked with inspecting and reporting on PE”. 

The Liberal Democrats also pledged at least an hour a day of free additional activities to children from low-income backgrounds, who are statistically among the least active, while the Green Party said that they would ensure all children have timetabled at least a half-day equivalent of school sport every week.

Labour shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan accused the Government of “failing our children”, lacking interest in sport and said that 35,000 hours of PE had been cut from school timetables since 2012. Morgan said that a “Jeremy Corbyn-led Government” would “waste next year on two more referendums and crash the economy – meaning less investment for sport”. 

The parties were all responding to seven exclusive columns in the Telegraph in which the chief executives of the Football Association, the English Cricket Board, the Rugby Football Union, British Cycling, the Lawn Tennis Association, Swim England and the Rugby Football League called for the next Government to invest in facilities and ensure every schoolchild has access to an hour of activity each day.

Just eight per cent of girls and 16 per cent of boys aged between 11 and 18 are currently meeting guidelines set by the British Medical Officer of an hour of physical activity each day. Only 20 per cent of all children aged between five and 16 are meeting this recommendation, while a third of children are even doing less than 30 minutes of activity a day. Research by the Youth Sports Trust has showed that 38 per cent of secondary schools have cut PE time in the last five years for children aged between 14 and 16 during exams. 

The Telegraph launched its Girls, Inspired campaign earlier this year to close the gender gap and tackle the crisis of inactivity among girls. It specifically called on the Government to support schools in three key aims: To ensure an equality of opportunity to access sports; new guidelines, enforced by Ofsted, which put PE on a par with core subjects and for schools to empower girls by offering a wider and more innovative choice of activities.

Sports minister Nigel Adams has told The Telegraph that he wants to make sport and activity a mandatory part of the school timetable and up to five hours each week. Morgan on Tuesday stressed the importance of school sport and team games in health but also building “character, resilience and grit” and promised a new three-year programme to train primary school teachers to deliver better PE. She also outlined a £500m investment in new youth clubs and services. Allin-Khan said that the inactivity statistics were “appalling” and described childhood obesity in the UK as “a hidden epidemic”.

The Liberal Democrats described the inactivity statistics as “very alarming” and said that the hour of free activity for lower income families would be funded by local councils “through their public health budgets” and delivered in consultation with sports clubs and voluntary organisation”. They also said that “period poverty” was causing girls to miss school sport and promised to provide free sanitary products at schools, leisure centres, stadiums, colleges and universities.

The Liberal Democrats want to extend the ‘sugar tax’, which has funded the Government’s additional investment in primary school PE, to also include juice-based and milk-based drinks that are high in added sugar. Morgan said that the Conservatives would create a new £350m fund for cycling infrastructure. The Green Party are advocating an additional £2.5b into the nation’s cycling infrastructure. Labour also said that they would commission an independent review into discrimination, which will look across the sporting pyramid at the discrimination women and people from minority backgrounds face.

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