Boris Johnson has pledged to make tackling the inactivity crisis of schoolchildren a “key pillar” of his programme for the Government if, as expected, he succeeds Theresa May as prime minister next week.
In what is a significant boost to Telegraph Sport's “Girls, Inspired” campaign, which seeks to tackle inactivity among girls and close the gender gap in schools, Johnson has also promised to accelerate the new cross-departmental approach to an issue that has huge associated implications for well-being and academic achievement.
A new School Sport and Activity Action Plan was published on Monday, which includes a range of new measures designed to modernise physical education, increase choice, make children active in school for at least 30 minutes a day and ensure equality for girls and added accountability for schools.
Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, said that the Government and schools had been “inspired” by The Telegraph campaign, and both Johnson and fellow leadership contender Jeremy Hunt have moved to address concerns that the momentum could cease amid an imminent Cabinet reshuffle and Brexit uncertainty.
In a letter to the Youth Sport Trust, Johnson acknowledged what he called the “startling” data which shows that only 14 per cent of girls and 20 per cent of boys are meeting the chief medical officer’s recommendation for a minimum of a daily hour of exercise.
“I am happy to reassure you that tackling any sort of decline in young people’s overall well-being will be a key pillar in my programme for government,” Johnson wrote. “It is our responsibility to provide an environment where children and young people can be actively engaged in sport and physical competitions.
“I can also clarify that any government I lead will seek to reduce childhood obesity and increase the amount of physical activities our children are exposed to. The health and well-being of the next generation of young people is a top priority for me.”
Johnson also promised to explore how the £4.6 billion he says will be invested in primary and secondary education “could be utilised and integrated into encouraging increased activities in school sports programmes”. He said he would maintain the cross-governmental approach to the issue alongside the departments for health, education and digital, culture, media and sport. “If I am fortunate enough to be elected prime minister, I will seek to ensure quick and effective co-ordination. We have a responsibility to do all we can to facilitate and encourage healthy participation and continual engagement in sport. I am also aware that the mental health of our children, and indeed adults, is intrinsically tied to the positive link between participation and general well-being.”
The new action plan includes £2.5 million for additional teacher training and schemes to open school facilities outside school hours, as well as £3 million from Sport England to develop satellite clubs and new resources and approaches to modernise PE and empower girls with more choice.
It is emphasised within the 24-page plan that “it is important to reframe sport and physical activity as part of everyday life, rather than the preserve of ‘sporty kids’”.
Additional investment at the next spending review is considered critical within the sector, however, when an updated Government action plan will also be published.
Hunt pointed to his work both as health secretary and secretary of state for culture, media and sport, and said that he had funded major initiatives related to youth sports, mental health and community sports facilities.
“Improving children’s well-being, and that of the whole population, will be at the heart of my programme as prime minister,” he wrote in his letter to the Youth Sport Trust. “The Childhood Obesity Plan that I published recommended that every primary schoolchild should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. These ideas are so important because they will make a significant positive difference to young people’s lives.”