The two-hour school PE target should be reintroduced


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The importance of school sport in keeping Britain’s children fit and happy needs no explanation. What has become harder to discern is exactly how much of it they are doing. The last comprehensive school sport survey, undertaken in 2010, and since scrapped by the Coalition, showed that 90 per cent of pupils took part in school PE for at least two hours a week.

That two-hour target – set by the previous Labour government – has since been watered down, despite the vociferous support of some in the Conservative Party, including the London Mayor, Boris Johnson. Now new data suggests that the ball has been dropped.

According to research by the Youth Sport Trust, the time spent in PE lessons by children aged five to 14 has slumped below the two-hour mark. Though private, and with a far smaller sample size, theirs is the largest survey undertaken in the four years since the Coalition came to power. It casts a pall over claims that the Olympics would “inspire a generation”, and that safeguarding their legacy would form a central plank of Coalition policy. Two hours ought to be a bare minimum. The Youth Sport Trust is right to call for an additional three hours of some form of exercise to be incorporated into school routines. Private schools routinely offer their pupils a five-hour programme.

With more pupils leaving secondary school unfit, obese or overweight than ever before, the burden of inactivity is one later supported by the NHS. Money for sport is not so much the problem. Cowed by criticism of the decision to cut funding for School Sport Partnerships (SSPs) – a network that helped rebuild sport in state schools – in 2010, the Government relented two-and-a-half years later and put most of the £162m per year back into primary school sports.

But it has yet to find a way of making that money count, at least as effectively as the SSPs. The This Girl Can campaign – launched today by Sport England – sensibly targets young women, whose activity rates are too low. But now is the time to stand up for the two-hour target for all children, once again. Too many have been left sitting down.