New research released this week by the Children’s Society showing English children are among the unhappiest in the world at school makes for “worrying reading” according to leading Youth Sport Trust (YST) chief executive, Ali Oliver.

The report adds further weight to the YST’s strong belief that greater focus is needed on supporting the wellbeing of young people as they progress through school and the vital role that physical activity, high quality physical education (PE) and school sport can have.

The findings, which are outlined in the Children’s Society’s annual Good Childhood report, paint an alarming picture of children’s experiences at school in England, and their wider sense of wellbeing.

An estimated half a million 10- and 12-year-olds are physically bullied at school. The study also reveals that children in England are particularly unhappy about their appearance. Girls came bottom in terms of satisfaction with their appearance and self-confidence compared with girls elsewhere (with the exception of South Korea).

This international survey reinforces just how important the mission of the YST is to build a brighter future for young people through PE and school sport.

The YST’s extensive research illustrates the significant impact PE, school sport and physical activity have on enhancing emotional wellbeing, an essential ingredient for success in the classroom and in life. With declining wellbeing, this is a priority area for the charity.

A key success for the YST has been Girls Active, which has helped tackle the negative attitude that girls have towards their body image. A pilot of the initiative saw the number of girls who are happy with the way their body looks more than double from 25% to 56%. In addition, the percentage of girls that felt positive about school rose from 24% to 78%. This demonstrates the power of PE and sport to improve wellbeing and this is the message that we must continue to spread in order to help tackle this wellbeing crisis amongst young people.

The Class of 2035 Report launched in June this year presented both worrying and optimistic outlooks for future generations. It highlighted the importance of embracing technology in a positive way and explored an innovative “new” approach to PE whereby the subject delivers emotional and social literacy as well as physical. Like the Good Childhood report, the Class of 2035 survey highlighted a worrying decline in children’s wellbeing but it also told us that, by taking action now, we can help ensure a generation which is “fit-for-purpose”.

That is why it is now more important than ever to champion the vital role of PE, school sport and physical activity to enhance physical health, boost mental wellbeing, build resilience, lift academic achievement and create active habits for life. It is a view supported by the Department for Education (DfE) and Public Health England (PHE), with both having produced guidance for school leaders on the value of promoting physical activity and wellbeing in order to support achievement and attainment.

YST chief executive, Ali Oliver, said: “The Children’s Society report makes for worrying reading and sadly reinforces our concerns about the fragile state of wellbeing that many young people face.

“We tirelessly promote how PE, school sport and physical activity make a unique contribution to pupils’ wellbeing and is the most powerful subject in terms of its impact on both physical and emotional health.
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“We are already seeing the impact of new approaches to the delivery of PE and school sport through our network of health and wellbeing schools and we are advocating that PE teachers, with appropriate support and training, can make a real difference to young people’s achievement elsewhere in school life.”

“The YST is demonstrating real commitment in this area. Last month, we launched the PE2020 Active Healthy Minds programme to improve the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of young people, aged 11 to 18, across Northamptonshire. Working alongside Northamptonshire county council and in partnership with Northamptonshire Sport, the programme will see all secondary PE departments introduce a new approach to the teaching of PE which delivers explicit health, wellbeing and achievement outcomes.”