England’s Lionesses have written an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss demanding that all schoolgirls have access to a minimum of two hours a week of sport classes.
All 23 members of the England women’s team called on the Tory leadership candidates to prioritise female football because “this generation of schoolgirls deserve more”.
The Euro 2022 winners warned that “women’s football has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go”.
While football is the most popular team sport for young people in England, only a third of girls aged five to 18 participate each week, according to research by the Football Association (FA).
Just 63% of schools in England offer equal football coaching to boys and girls, the FA found.
But the national celebration of the Lionesses’ 2-1 win over Germany in the final last week at Wembley Stadium has prompted calls for an overhaul of physical education (PE) classes.
In their open letter, released on Wednesday, the squad said that they are “inspiring young girls to play football, only for many to end up going to school and not being able to play”.
The Lionesses asked Mr Sunak and Ms Truss, one of whom will be Britain’s next prime minister in September, to “ensure that all girls have access to a minimum of two hours a week PE”.
Currently, there is no mandatory minimum PE requirement in England’s schools, but the Department for Education “expects” 30 minutes of advisory daily physical activity.
The victorious women’s team also asked the leadership contenders to invest in female PE teachers, and provide them resources to deliver football, as “their role is crucial” as “key role models from which so many young girls can flourish”.
Reflecting on their experience growing up, the Lionesses said in the letter that “we were often stopped from playing, so we made our own teams, we travelled across the country and despite the odds, we just kept playing football”.
“We want every young girl in the nation to be able to play football at schools,” they added.
“They deserve to play football at lunchtime, they deserve to play football in PE lessons and they deserve to believe they can one day play for England. We want their dreams to also come true.”
In response, neither leader explicitly committed to the demand from the Lionesses.
Ms Truss’s campaign said she was “committed to investigating what prevents schools” from two hours of PE per week and “wants equal access to all sports for boys and girls”.
A spokesman Mr Sunak’s campaign said he “passionately believes in the importance of sport for children’s development and would love to see all schools provide two hours of PE a week”, as well as asking Ofsted to include sport in all inspections.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has written to James Cleverly, the Education Secretary, calling for an “equal access guarantee” to ensure football is available to pupils regardless of gender.
Currently, England’s national curriculum says primary school pupils should be taught to “play competitive games, modified where appropriate”.
In secondary school, at key stages three and four pupils should “use a range of tactics and strategies to overcome opponents in direct competition through team and individual games”.
The national curriculum is not sex-specific and only lists football as an “example” sport, rather than mandatory, alongside others such as badminton, cricket and netball.
The Department for Education (DfE) said it is up to schools to decide which sports to offer to pupils but they should offer “comparable activities” to girls and boys.
A DfE source told the PA news agency that football is not mandatory on the curriculum “because we want pupils to be involved in the decision making of the sports they want to play, and the space and equipment available will differ from school to school”.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied that he had “snubbed” the Lionesses after failing to host a Downing Street victory reception, as the men’s team have had.
Mr Sunak and Ms Truss responded by saying they would throw one upon taking office.
Figures published by the FA, which is running a LetGirlsPlay campaign to give girls the same access to football as boys in schools and clubs by 2024, show that while 72% of primary schools offered equal football coaching to boys and girls last year, this fell to just 44% in secondary schools.
Its research found 60% of the girls who play football in schools want to play more and 91% of girls who do not play want the opportunity to do so.
A DfE spokesman said: “The success of the Lionesses in the Women’s EURO 2022 will inspire a generation of girls to get involved with football.
“We’re funding work to help thousands of girls take part in physical activity, including the ‘Your Time’ Programme, which gives thousands of girls aged eight to 16 access to competitive sport and sport leadership opportunities.”
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