Up to 670 private schools could open up their sporting facilities for all children over the holidays to help tackle the alarming slump in activity during the pandemic.
In another victory for Telegraph Sport’s Keep Kids Active campaign, the nation’s body of prep schools is “exploring” plans to help pupils from all backgrounds use their sports halls and pitches when lockdown eases.
Three of Telegraph Sport campaign’s five aims to tackle the child health crisis are now being addressed after the Government prioritised grass-roots sporting help and a college committed to curriculum-led online PE lessons from Monday.
The new pledge from the Independent Association of Prep Schools comes after research shows children lose an average of 80 per cent of their fitness during extended holiday periods. With sporting opportunities so limited over the past year, Christopher King, its chief executive, said he was lending full backing because “keeping kids active is just as important as keeping kids up to speed with learning”.
He said colleagues are “exploring opening IAPS school sports facilities to local communities during school holidays as soon as it’s safe to do so”.
Loughborough College – whose alumni include England footballers Ben Chilwell and Steph Houghton – is also hoping to make its elite facilities available, in addition to kicking off online PE classes for the nation from Monday.
The support from prep schools across the country comes after Team GB, Lord Coe, Laura Kenny, Baroness Campbell, the Youth Sports Trust and a host of child welfare charities lined up to back the campaign.
As a result, three key asks – to prioritise opening up activity at the earliest opportunity; to create a virtual physical education curriculum; and to open school facilities as community hubs to help close the social divide – are on the way to being met. Help from the private education sector comes as Sport England is ready to accelerate a £1.5 million national programme to open school sport facilities outside of teaching times when restrictions allow.
After the first national lockdown, the proportion of children meeting the chief medical officer’s recommended daily hour of activity nosedived to just 19 per cent. Almost half of children were not even completing 30 minutes a day, with 73 per cent of teachers then identifying “low physical fitness” as a concern when children returned to schools last September.
Over the summer, King wrote to the Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, to express his “frustration” at the Government’s “reluctance to accept help” from fee-paying institutions, adding that they could make a “significant difference” to the education of children in their local community.
The offer of help to Telegraph Sport comes amid rising concern that a decade of progress in narrowing the attainment gap is in danger of being reversed. In addition to offering up facilities, King suggested his network could also go some way to meeting a fourth ambition of creating a “centralised online hub with age-related activities and advice for parents”.
“To help keep kids active at home, we’ve developed an online hub where new activities for all pupils – not just IAPS pupils – are being uploaded every week during lockdown,” he added. “The activities are not competitive, but our research has found that the lack of competition at the moment is actually lending itself to more enthusiasm towards sport among children, not to mention improved skills and more confidence.”
Addressing the campaign last week, ministers promised that “gyms and community sport facilities” would be a national priority as soon as safely possible.
Telegraph Sportwill continue to campaign on its five asks of the Government, which also include delivering a plan to put physical education on a par with core subjects when schools return.