Schools that dedicate more funding to supporting boys’ sports teams than girls’ are demonstrating “unlawful discrimination”, according to new government guidelines.
The move is part of a wider document issued by the Department for Education, outlining the ways pupils should not be segregated by gender, such as only providing food tech classes for girls and metal work classes for boys.
Regarding sport, it says: “Where separate teams exist for different sexes, it would be unlawful discrimination for a school to treat one group less favourably – for example by providing the boys’ hockey or cricket team with better resources than the girls’ team.”
The guidance is non-statutory, but has still been praised by campaign groups for helping to give girls equal access to sport.
“It is great to see further awareness being raised around girls participation in sport with renewed guidelines for schools,” Ali Oliver, chief executive of Youth Sport Trust told HuffPost UK.
Previous research from the Youth Sport Trust found girls aged 11 to 18 years old exercise less regularly and for less time than boys and feel less enthusiastic about sport. When asked specifically about their attitudes towards PE and school sport, less than half (45%) of girls said that it teaches them skills relevant to their day-to-day life in contrast to 60% of boys.
Oliver added: “We know the challenges for girls’ participating in sport and while most schools are doing a fantastic job, we want to stop girls from missing out and break the trend of low levels of participation due to barriers they may face.”
But she thinks even more could be done to inspire girls to play sport, which is why the Youth Sport Trust has created Girls Active in partnership with This Girl Can and Women in Sport. The scheme works with schools to help teachers understand what is preventing pupils enjoying sport, then make changes.
“By encouraging girls to be leaders and use the power of friendship, this will help to drive progress,” she says. “Girls need to be empowered through involving them in design and delivery of PE and physical activities, only by doing this can we change the record and get girls active.”
Sue Campbell, director of women’s football at the FA, pointed out the new guidelines echo the introduction of title IX - a law introduced in the US 40 years ago to ensure pupils are given equal sporting opportunities, regardless of gender.
“It very much sends the right message that both boys and girls have the same entitlement of having the best possible chance to achieve in sport,” Campbell told The Guardian.
“The introduction of title IX had a massive impact in the States, both in terms of developing women’s sport generally but also in creating role models in terms of managers, coaches. It transformed attitudes.”