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This briefing provides information on policies and practice relating to physical education, physical activity and sport in schools in England.

PE in the National Curriculum

PE is a compulsory subject under the National Curriculum at all key stages; National Curriculum programmes of study outline what should be taught at each key stage. Local authority maintained schools are required to follow the National Curriculum; academies and free schools do not have to follow it but are required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the physical development of pupils.

Funding for PE and school sport

Funding for school PE and sport forms part of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), which is not broken down by subject or curriculum area.

Since financial year 2013-14, ring-fenced funding outside of DSG has also been provided to primary schools through the Primary PE and Sport Premium. From 2017-18, revenue from the soft drinks industry levy has been used to double the value of the premium from £160 million to £320 million. The Government has committed to continue providing the funding until the end of the academic year 2024-25.

In February 2017, the Government announced £415 million of funding from the soft drinks industry levy would be allocated to schools in 2018-19 to “pay for facilities to support physical education, after-school activities and healthy eating.” The funding was referred to as the Healthy Schools Capital Programme. In July 2017, the then Education Secretary announced the funding available for the Programme would be reduced from £415 million to £100 million to help fund an additional £1.3 billion for the core schools budget in 2018-19 and 2019-20. The £100 million was allocated through the existing arrangements for schools capital funding in 2018-19.

School playing fields

From October 2012, new regulations have applied to the provision of outdoor space by schools. These require that suitable outdoor space must be provided to enable “pupils to play outside” and “physical education to be provided to pupils in accordance with the school curriculum”.

Local authorities and schools must seek the consent of the Secretary of State when seeking to dispose of publicly funded school land, including playing fields. Guidance on the disposal of school playing fields sets out the relevant legislation and procedure relating to the disposal of school land.

2023 Sport Strategy

In August 2023, the Government published a new sport strategy, Get Active: a strategy for the future of sport and physical activity. The strategy included the Government’s aim to have 2.5 million more adults and 1 million more children classed as being active in England by 2030.

School Sport Action Plan

In July 2023, the Government published an updated School Sport and Activity Action Plan.

The Plan emphasises the importance of physical activity for children, including the Chief Medical Officers’ recommendation that children and young people should engage in ‘moderate-to-vigorous physical activity’ for an average of at least 60 minutes per day across the week, and that those with disabilities should engage in 20 minutes of physical activity a day.

The plan also set out the importance of equal access to sport for boys and girls.

Data on children’s physical activity levels

In December 2022 Sport England published the latest Active Lives Children and Young People Survey about the estimated activity levels of 5-16 year olds in England in the 2021/22 academic year.

The survey estimated that around 47% of children and young people (3.4 million) were considered “active”. This means they achieved the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more a day. An estimated 30% did an average of less than 30 minutes per day. These were around the rates recorded prior to the Covid-19 pandemic (activity levels declined during the pandemic).

As in previous years, the survey found that boys were more likely to be active than girls, and children from the most affluent families were more likely to be active than other groups.

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