Scheme to use school sports facilities after lessons will be prioritised as part of the government’s School Sport and Activity Action plan

Credit: PETER CADE

Sport England are ready to accelerate a £1.5 million national programme to open school sport facilities outside of teaching times when Covid-19 restrictions allow.

In a further boost to The Telegraph’s Keep Kids Active campaign, the national body for recreational sport has begun work with 22 ‘Active Partnership’ networks across the country so that more facilities can be utilised after school, at weekend and during holidays to help tackle an inactivity crisis among young people.

Research has previously found that children lose an average of 80 per cent of their fitness during a six-week summer holiday and, with opportunities to access sport so severely limited over the past year, the scheme will be prioritised as part of the government’s School Sport and Activity Action plan.

Funding has come from the Department for Education, with Sport England having separately also spent £1.5 million on a new digital resource designed to inspire teenage girls and which will also be rolled out nationally once Covid-19 restrictions allow.

It all follows a government statement last week in which the Departments for Education and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport responded to The Telegraph’s campaign by pledging that reopening “gyms and community sport facilities” would be a national priority as soon as safely possible.

With most children now again facing a prolonged period out of school, The Telegraph had specifically called on the government to open school sport facilities outside of teaching times and prioritise reopening kids’ activity at the earliest opportunity as part of five key campaign asks. 

Numerous athletes and influential figures from the sports sector also joined The Telegraph in calling on the government to set out a radical plan to transform the long-term opportunities for children to get active and enhance the status of PE in schools.

The government launched its School Sport and Activity Action plan in July 2019 and, while the funding for new initiatives has been welcomed, sector leaders have also stressed the need to go further. 

Ali Oliver, the chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust, called for the action plan to be “recast into a bold vision for our children to be the happiest and most active in the world”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson, the 11-times Paralympic champion, also said that the action plan should be enhanced and urged government to set itself a target to make “the children and young people of this country to be the happiest and most active in the world by 2031”.

In evidence on Tuesday to parliament, Huw Edwards, the chief executive of ukactive, specifically called for a concerted national plan to maximise school facilitiesschoo, subject to Covid-19 guidance, during this year’s Easter and summer holidays. 

“There is a real opportunity to work across sectors – national governing bodies have incredible programmes,” he said. 

“We need to work with the estate we have. We don’t need new facilities – use what we have and go at scale. This nation is hosting the Commonwealth Games next year – 10 years on from the Olympics – we need to think about the legacy around that.”

Edwards also told MPs that the School Sport Activity and Action plan needed to be “energised and amplified” into a comprehensive programme to address the physical and mental wellbeing of young people.

Among a series of pledges, the action plan promised to make the chief medical officer’s recommended activity level of ‘at least 60 minutes-a-day’ as recognisable to children and parents as the previous ‘five-a-day’ fruit and vegetable campaign.

There was also a promise to update the plan and set defined targets for increases in children and young people’s activity levels. Sport England has exceeded a target of creating 400 new satellite after-school clubs, with 1,100 established in the past 18 months and government funding for young people to volunteer in sport has also resulted in more than 800 new volunteers.