This report offers a rare opportunity to hear the voices of girls themselves and reveals their attitudes to fitness and sport more than any previous research. It shows that a gender gap in participation begins in the later years of primary school, and then continues to widen at secondary school with years 8 and as 9 emerging key drop out points.
National data sources clearly demonstrate the significance of the problem in girls’ physical activity levels. Latest data from the Health Survey for England (2007) shows that only 12% of girls aged 14 do enough physical activity to benefit their health. This is supported by data from a national survey carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, which shows that 15% of girls aged 11-15 participate in the recommended levels of physical activity.
The reasons girls disengage are many. Families are shown to have the greatest influence, both in terms of role-modelling but also practical facilitation. However, this research shows that girls’ activity can be inhibited by anxious parents who are setting more stringent rules concerning outdoor play for their daughters than their sons. Friends are also influential, particularly as children get older, and girls are more influenced by their friends than boys.
Closely connected to friendship is the degree to which social norms around being female and feminine are still affecting girls’ attitudes and behaviour. Notably, being ‘sporty’ is still widely seen as a masculine trait. While ‘sporty’ boys are valued and admired by their peers, ‘sporty girls’ are not, and can be viewed negatively.
These social norms are a powerful influence and pose a challenge for traditional ways of delivering PE and school sport. While some schools have focused on these challenges, and been innovative in their response, this research shows that many girls are actually put off being active by their experiences in PE and school sport. A large number feel that too much PE and school sport is still focused on traditional competitive sport, and attention reserved for the sporty and talented.
This research shows that this approach is working for a minority of girls – the ‘sporty’ girls. But it is a huge turn-off for the majority and in particular for the least active who are most at risk.
Editor's comments - [ This report published by the WSFF presents new research that offers an the opportunity to better understand some of the causes of low levels of physical activity among girls in the UK. The project (the largest of its kind ever carried out in the UK) explores the views of girls – and boys – about physical activity, sport and PE, and the influence of schools, friends and families. It also includes interviews with parents and PE teachers. Importantly, the research points clearly to what can be done to help more girls get and stay active.
As part of the research, a survey asked 1,500 school children about their attitudes to fitness and sport. It found that:
- Half of all girls (51%) are put off physical activity by their experiences of school sport and PE.
- 45% of girls say “sport is too competitive” and more than half think boys enjoy competitive sport more than girls.
- Over half of all boys and girls agree that “there are more opportunities for boys to succeed in sport than girls.”
- Half of the girls surveyed (48%) say that getting sweaty is “not feminine.”
- Nearly a third of boys think that girls who are sporty are not very feminine.
- Of the least active girls, 46% say that they don’t like the activities they get to do in PE compared to 26% of the most active.
- 43% of girls agree that “there aren’t many sporting role models for girls.
- See VIDEO from the BBC about Girls PE ] Reference this?WSFF. (2012). This page title in italics. Retrieved date, from <this page's full URL>
In the text: Cryer (year)
Reference : WSFF. (2012). Changing the game for girls. London: Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation
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