Girls and sport: Schools urged to make PE more attractive to girls

Girls doing sport A number felt teachers paid too much attention to the girls who were best at sport

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Schools are being urged to introduce more female-friendly fitness activities such as Zumba classes and rollerblading because so many girls are opting out of exercise.

Research suggests the gap between the amount of exercise girls and boys do widens during their time at school.

A study for the Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation says more than half of girls are put off by PE classes.

The WSFF wants schools to make sports lessons more appealing to girls.

The research was conducted by Loughborough University, which found big differences in the attitudes of girls and boys towards doing sport.

Those differences were wider among older schoolchildren.

Falling exercise levels

Eight-year-olds did similar levels of activity: about 60% of those questioned, both girls and boys, said they did regular exercise - at least an hour, five days a week.

But among 14-year-old girls, that figure had halved - only 31% said they exercised regularly, compared with 50% of 14-year-old boys.

The research found most girls wanted to do more physical activity, but many were put off by PE classes.

Some said they did not like exercising in front of boys, and they were not confident about their sporting skills.

Girls at Willowfield School in east London talk about why they enjoy sport

A number felt teachers paid too much attention to the girls who were best at sport.

Role models

Girls were also concerned about what their friends thought about exercise, and said getting sweaty was not feminine.

And many of those questioned said they did not think there were enough female sporting role models.

The WSFF is writing to schools offering advice on how to make school sports more attractive to girls.

WSFF said some PE lessons were "stuck in the 1950s jolly-hockey-sticks style of the past".

"It's simply unacceptable that the overwhelming majority of our young women are leaving school with dangerously low levels of physical activity," said WSFF chief executive Sue Tibbals.

"We can't afford to keep ignoring the evidence that school sport plays a key role in shaping attitudes to sports and fitness."

The Youth Sport Trust said schools needed to do more to address issues such as girls feeling body conscious or lacking confidence in their abilities.

"Schools that deliver PE well recognise these challenges and offer a wider variety of sports and physical activity that make girls feel included," said chairwoman Baroness Sue Campbell.

"We would like to see all schools take this approach."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    I thnk many people are reverting to the stereo-typical 'Grimleys' style PE teacher that existed in days gone by.
    I am a PE Teacher/Head of Year, and despite poor facilities, we offer many non-competitive sports to keep KS4 girls engaged (self-defence, aerobics, street dance, rowing, fitness)...participation levels are excellent due to this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    The issue is not genger specific. I loath most sports as a result of my time in school. When you spend hours being ridiculed because you are too short to rugby tackle a 6 foot school teacher, you tend to come up with any excuse to avoid it again!

    If there were more options for non contact sports like Swimming or Cycling my views may be very different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.


    Maybe but there are also plenty of people here proving they are more than prepared for hard work - work they put in as adults teaching themselves to love an active life. What they hated as a child was't hard work, it was embarrassment and a lack of the right options of activities to keep them motivated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    I hated PE apart from the couple of half terms I got to do aerobics. I was the stereotypical last pick for everything, and I was forced to fail at one sport after another with no help to improve until I hated them all. I don't know about whether it's a boy/girl thing but something other than competitive sports for those of us who just didn't have the skills would have been welcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    I hated PE at school: macho, shouting, bullying teachers who praised their budding athletes and ridiculed everyone who wasn't... and those awful changing rooms where kids were picked on. Now I love running and I'll try anything new - skiing, snowboarding, trampolining, climbing etc. But to this day I still detest netball and hockey... all because of those horrible PE lessons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.


    Those thorougly deserving ladies hardly get the same press coverage that Ronaldo, Muhammed Ali, Usain Bolt get do they?

    As such maybe the media should concentrate more on female sports starts for sponsorships, adverts etc.

    How many adverts have Paula Radcliffe and Tessa Sanderson done?

    Im a keen sportsman but never heard of Zola Budd. Sorry

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    My daughter is 17 now and I brought her up during her primary school years to be as active as possible. When she moved to High School, her attitude changed. The popular boys played rugby. The popular girls were the "plastics". Conversations with her have been enlightening. The trouble is, girls want to attract boys and they do it by looking like supermodels, not by achievements in sport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    All the sports I have tried since leaving school were not permitted then: ice skating, speed skating, power walking (up to half marathon) and weights work in a gym. When one of my class asked for rollerblading to count as exercise, the PE teacher laughed in her face. Even swimming was not allowed, and that's the only thing I could do at school as I can't run to save my life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    Scottish PE teacher here and PE is no longer stuck in the 70's with 'Brian Glover from KES' types bullying pupils. Some girls have issues re hair/make up and not wanting to appear too masculine in front of their peers. We offer boxercise, pilates and hip hop to girls as alternative activites. The sedentary lifestyles of the playstation generation makes participation in PE more important than ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    While it is certainly good to consider how to reinvigourate girls' participation in PE by finding more ways of providing adequate sports, I would like to see a similar concern for boys, who are dangerously resigned across the rest of the educational curriculum. If the outcome is simply a feminisation of sports, boys will disengage from one of the last school activities where they still thrive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    How I hated sport at school! I wasn't very good at it, particularly any ball games. I didn't do any sporty exercise after leaving school until at 50 I decided housework and gardening wasn't enough and I joined a gym. Now, 8 years later I can run 5km comfortably and am taking part in my first triathlon later this month just to prove I can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    I am amazed at how many overweight girls there are at school these days a lack of physical exercise and poor diet do contribute no doubt but as long as society panders to these "real women" and makes excuses for obesity we will not move on. Why do we call fat women curvy, they are fat full stop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Let's put it to the vote:
    If you consider being forced to undress and shower in front of other people against your will to be unacceptable, even bordering on sexual abuse, then click the vote up button.
    If you think its wrong to hold such a view and that we should just do as we're told, then click the down button.

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    I hated PE at school but not because of the showers or teachers. It was being forced to do the same basic set of sports, whatever the weather. Add to this always being picked last and a lack of support to improve. Since school I have discovered other sports and found a passion for rowing. I now train 5 days a week and compete. The key is to provide options so kids can find a sport that suits them

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    Utter rubbish, they're just lazy,

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    I was never good at PE at school, but I still enjoyed it greatly. My PE teachers were very supportive and recognised effort. I have fond memories of playing rounders and doing trampolining, plus didn't have to do football and could do netball instead. Having read the comments on here I feel very lucky that we had such a supportive PE staff with a varied curriculum!

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    My comment that exercise is good for young girls and that being 'sweaty' doesn't make them unattractive was removed. Why? Is the BBC saying that exercise is NOT good for them, or that it DOES make them unattractive?

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    This whole story is utter rubbish. The reason for girls' drop off in sport has nothing to do with PE lessons.The points made here were addressed 20 years ago with the introduction of lifetime activities such as aerobics and dance to PE lessons. Swimming provision, a life time activity has always been poor but is now further hit by cuts, but then it was the 14 year olds who got us in this mess(sic)

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    #200 Dale - Couldn't agree more. Precisely my experience, too. HATED communal showering - utterly uncivilised. Bred in me a lifelong loathing of sport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    306. WhyStandOnASilentPlatform
    I wonder how many people with the bad experiences/negative comments about PE are now overweight and out of shape

    Who knows. I wonder how many jocks are still pompous and judgemental bullies?


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