Children and young people have experienced unprecedented disruption in their lives since the onset of national lockdown in March. From the closure of schools to the lack of community connection, the impact on the health and wellbeing of our youngest generation has been devastating.
During the initial school closure from March to May, children’s physical activity levels in England plummeted, with only 18 per cent averaging 60 active minutes each day (the CMO’s recommended level). This has been slowly rising, reaching 21 per cent during the school summer holidays, as restrictions eased.
However, as we enter the winter and there are fewer opportunities for children to be outdoors, we have a long way to go to get back to the (already low) levels of activity we were seeing pre-lockdown.
Now is the time for strong leadership, willpower and a bold ambition and commitment from all political parties to support the most vulnerable in our society, placing children’s health and wellbeing at the heart of our recovery plans. Pre-lockdown, just 47 per cent of children and young people in England did an average of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Our ambition has to be to raise that considerably and our ability and will to tackle the entrenched inequalities that prevent millions of children enjoying fun and inclusive daily physical activity.
Research by the ukactive Research Institute shows that, in a normal year, children and young people suffer significant losses in fitness levels over the summer holidays, with the fitness of those from low-income families falling 18 times faster than their more affluent classmates. Additionally, children aged five from the poorest income groups are twice as likely to be obese than their more affluent peers, and three times as likely by the age of 11.
The provision of out-of-school activities, including after-school clubs, school holiday programmes and extended-schools provision are vital to achieving these goals, and it’s essential that safe, inclusive and accessible activity offerings continue to be available when children and young people are not engaged by school during term-time.
ukactive believes that part of the solution already lies on the doorsteps of the children and young people we need to support. We need to unlock existing assets that are purpose-built for children, are safe and trusted spaces that sit at the heart of local communities, and that house almost 40 per cent of all sports facilities in England – schools.
Through this lens, schools should be regarded as a vital community asset for the health and wellbeing of our children at this challenging time. Opening up school gates can re-shape school holidays and other out-of-school periods for those children and young people that really need it, at a time when positive activity experiences both in and out of school-time are utterly priceless.
We believe our ‘Schools as Community Hubs’ model is an unmissable opportunity for the government and the sector to support children and families through the pandemic
We believe our ‘Schools as Community Hubs’ model is an unmissable opportunity for the government and the sector to support children and families through the coronavirus crisis. We’re working with ukactive members to identify the programmes and pathways we can provide to dramatically impact these health outcomes. This will also create the foundations for early engagement and lifestyle change, increasing confidence and awareness to access the full breadth of local activity provision, such as swimming pools, sports clubs and classes.
We’ll continue to work with government to support children’s activity providers through this challenging time, providing protective measures and guidance for the safe operational delivery of holiday and after-school clubs, and other out-of-school settings.