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Stark figures reveal girls’ limited access to football, rugby and cricket in UK schools

Girls play around half the amount of football, rugby and cricket as boys in secondary schools across the UK, Yo can reveal, as calls grow to narrow the sports gender gap following the Lionesses’ victory at the Euros.

A report, published by specialist children’s research firm Childwise and seen by Yofound that girls aged between 11 and 16 were offered around half the amount of coaching in traditionally ‘male’ sports last year compared to boys the same age.

The Childwise Monitor Report 2022 surveyed more than 2,700 children aged five to 16 across the UK between September and November last year.

Just 33 per cent of girls aged 11 to 16 said they played football in school, compared with 63 per cent of boys.

This marked a stark drop compared with primary-age children. Fifty-four per cent of girls aged seven to 10 said they played football last year, compared to 80 per cent of boys.

Meanwhile, girls in secondary school played less than half the amount of rugby as boys last year, with 29 per cent of boys surveyed playing the sport, compared to 14 per cent of girls.

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Girls also played around half the amount of cricket as boys. Just 12 per cent of girls in secondary school said they played cricket in their PE lessons last year, compared to 21 per cent of boys.

It comes despite cricket coaching being almost equal between girls and boys in primary school, with 21 per cent of girls aged seven to 10 saying they received training in the sport last year, compared to 24 per cent of boys.

The figures compound concerns that while girls are offered broad access to sport in primary school, opportunities tend to drop off once they reach secondary education.

The report also found that the sports gender gap amongst children widened last year, with boys playing around 4.6 hours of sport both in and outside of school each week compared to 3.4 hours for girls.

While the figure was roughly equal in schools, the gulf widened for extracurricular sports clubs, and teenage girls aged 15 to 16 did the least amount of sport outside school. They played less than an hour of sport in their spare time each week, compared to 1.3 hours for boys the same age.

It comes after the Lionesses published an open letter to Tory leadership hopefuls Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss yesterday calling on them to ensure every girl in Britain is given the chance to play football in school.

The Entire England women’s squad urged the Government to commit to giving girls at least two hours of PE lessons each week. They also called on the leadership hopefuls to invest in and support female PE teachers to provide role models for young girls.

“We want every young girl in the nation to be able to play football at school. The reality is we are inspiring young girls to play football, only for many to end up going to school and not being able to play,” they wrote.

The Lionesses cited figures published by the FA which showed that just 63 per cent of schoolgirls are offered football lessons in PE, with the figure dropping to 44 per cent in secondary schools.

Lioness Alessia Russo, whose heel-kick goal in the semi-final against Sweden proved one of the most iconic moments of the tournament, said this morning that it was “crazy” that girls still don’t have equal access to football in schools.

“I remember when I was a kid my route into football was through boys’ football, which was okay for me but other girls might not want to get involved unless it’s a girls team,” she told SkyNews.

“I think that as we’ve just achieved something great, we want to achieve something greater and help push this for the young girls out there who want to get involved in football but feel like they can’t.

“It’s kind of crazy that it isn’t a thing already.”

Labor has also called on the Government to introduce an “Equal Access Guarantee” for schools, which would ensure that girls and boys are offered equal access to sports during PE lessons.

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson urged the Government to update current guidance which recommends that while boys can be taught traditionally ‘male’ sports on boys-only teams, girls should be offered “comparable” sports.

Ms Phillipson said the phrase was “outdated” and “limits the options of boys and girls and does nothing to break down traditional access barriers”.

The Childwise Monitor Report showed girls are still playing far more traditionally ‘feminine’ sports such as netball and taking part in gymnastics, which typically get less airtime than sports such as football, cricket and rugby.

Girls in secondary school played almost five times the amount of netball last year than boys, with around 61 per cent of girls aged 11 to 16 saying they had coaching in the sport compared to just 13 per cent of boys.

Meanwhile, girls did more than three times the amount of gymnastics as boys last year, with just eight per cent of boys aged 11 to 16 offered training in the sport during PE lessons, compared to 30 per cent of girls.

The Department for Education (DfE) has insisted that it is up to individual schools to decide what sports to teach, noting that swimming is the only compulsory sport on the national curriculum.

But the Lionesses’ have called for a nationwide shake-up to the way sports are taught, telling the Government yesterday that “this is an opportunity to make a difference”.

“We – the 23 members of the England Senior Women’s Euro squad – ask you to make it a priority to invest into girls’ football in schools, so that every girl has a choice,” they wrote.

Lioness goalkeeper Mary Earps called for football to be added to the national curriculum to address current sports inequalities in schools.

“I don’t think there is any doubt in my mind that it absolutely should be on the curriculum,” she said.

“I think if you could ask the squad what they would want, it’s access to football in schools for young girls… I really would like to see more girls at school being able to play.”

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