Physical activity offers many benefits for young people, from boosting mental well-being to promoting fitness, social interaction, teamwork, and leadership skills. However, the cost of living crisis has hit schools and families hard, prompting many to cut expenses such as extracurricular sports. So, how can school governors encourage the running of sports in schools without adding more pressure to family finances and school budgets?

Whether you’re a prospective or existing school governor, you’re uniquely placed to have your say about the importance of sports and well-being during this exceptionally challenging period. To help, we’ve put together the following advice to help you ask the right questions during board meetings:

  1. Advocate free, extra-curricular sport

According to the Youth Sport Trust, 42,000 hours of PE has been lost from secondary school timetables over the past decade, while after-school sport is increasingly run as a paid-for childcare service. With finances already squeezed, the extra cost for extracurricular sport is simply unfeasible for many families. This problem is more apparent among young people from less affluent backgrounds, as well as young carers and those with disabilities.

A spokesperson for the Youth Sport Trust said:

It is becoming increasingly evident that without urgent action, some young people are at risk of being priced out of sport and physical activity altogether, with dire consequences for not only their health and wellbeing, but also their education and wider life chances. It has, therefore, never been more essential to ensure that every child has a universal entitlement to purposeful physical activity in the school day. This should include at least 2 hours per week of PE as part of the curriculum, as well as the opportunity to enjoy free sport and physical activity as part of an extended school day.

To help tackle this problem, governors could firstly check whether their school complies with the above, while also advocating free sports opportunities for pupils. At board meetings, governors could ask about the school’s policy on promoting sports, and challenge how it’s being implemented. If the school budget is already tight, there are also plenty of free sports resources to signpost. For example, the Youth Sport Trust has developed a 30-minute online sports club.

  1. Promote the benefits for mental health

Taking part in physical activity can have a profound impact on the mental well-being of young people. Research from Sport England suggests sports can improve mood, decrease the chance of depression and anxiety, and lead to a better and more balanced lifestyle. However, only 45% are meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation to engage in around 60 minutes of exercise or more every day. To ensure your school is supporting these recommendations, governors could ask school leaders how pupils are encouraged to participate in sports, what the participation rates are, and, if they are low, what the barriers are. By understanding this, governors can recognise whether they school could dedicate more time and resources to the promotion of sport and its mental health benefits.

  1. The importance of sport for physical health

In a world where technology has increased time spent indoors, promoting physical fitness can help to prevent obesity and related health concerns. To encourage participation, governors can ask school leaders and staff whether they have adequate equipment and facilities for sports. Another strategy is to encourage teachers and staff to learn about the benefits of physical activity for young people and actively promote them to pupils. School governors could also suggest collaborating with local healthcare professionals to offer free advice and support aimed at helping young people stay fit and active. By promoting physical activity in schools, governors can help combat the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle and contribute to the healthy development of young people.

Discover more with Counting the Cost

As we face the effects cost of living crisis, it is important that all pupils are offered the opportunity to participate in sports and enjoy the many benefits that come with it. By following our guide, governors can identify areas where improvements can be made, and provide the right support to school leaders and families through this difficult period. For more support on what to ask during your board meetings through the cost of living crisis, please read our ‘Questions for Governors’ guide. You can also check out our Counting the Cost campaign page on our website for more resources, our weekly podcasts campaign articles, and video content.

This article – along with our other Counting the Cost resources – was made possible through the generous sponsorship of Allen & Overy