What's wrong with school PE kits?

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Research has proven time and time again that school PE kits are putting girls off sport - and the impact continues right into adulthood. So what's wrong with the current kits, and what can schools do to ensure girls - and indeed their entire student body - feel happy and confident taking part in PE?

At the start of the year, the Daily Mail published a study looking at the effects PE kits have on schoolgirls. According to the survey, 75 per cent of girls in secondary schools have at least one concern about taking part in school sports, with the majority citing the discomfort and embarrassment of wearing their PE kit as a major factor for sitting on the sidelines during sports lessons.

This survey echoes the findings of a similar study carried out by The Telegraph in 2014, in which nearly half (46 per cent) of schoolgirls surveyed admitted to actively avoiding sport due to the embarrassment caused by their school PE kit. In this instance, most girls said they enjoy being active, but shun physical activity because their sports kit makes them feel ugly.

This, coupled with the Mail’s more recent survey, is undoubtedly the reason why encouraging teenage girls to become more active is now considered a major problem across the UK and beyond. Research shows that 90 per cent of girls under the age of 16 are not getting enough exercise to meet the government’s recommended guidelines - a worrying statistic, and one that could have a detrimental impact on the future health of those affected.

So what’s going wrong with school PE kits, and how can schools better promote sport and exercise in young school students?

Jennie Price, head of Sport England, believes the problem with PE kits rests in their outdated design and impracticality. Speaking at a recent conference of school leaders, Price said that female pupils should be allowed to wear a PE kit that they feel comfortable in, and that the traditional ‘short skirt’ kit still favoured by most primary and secondary schools is outdated and in need of a complete overhaul. She went on to add that schools should install cubicles and hair dryers in their changing areas, so that girls can reconstruct their personal image after taking part in sports and physical activity in school.

But if, as Price suggests, schools were to introduce new PE kits for their pupils, what would they look like, and how would they help to alleviate the problems associated with girls not taking part in sport and physical education?

School uniform and sportswear specialists, SWI, believe the key to a successful PE kit rests in innovative fabrics and new garments specifically designed to help foster an interest in sport among young girls.

They said: “By providing a PE kit which benefits from breathable performance fabrics and flattering design features, schools can help their students feel more comfortable in their sportswear. A PE kit should empower young girls to engage more freely with sport, as well as generate a sense of pride and professionalism. We’d recommend garments which offer practicality as well as style, such as opaque leggings and breathable, high-necked collared training tops. Dark fabrics are also a good choice, as they hide sweat patches and keep the body cooler.”

Of course, introducing a new PE kit is only the first step in encouraging school pupils to take a more active interest in sports and physical education in schools. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation has previously reported that 23 per cent of women say PE put them off sport and physical activity for life, so it’s important school governing bodies take steps to better endorse sport in school in the future.

Looking for exciting ways to engage children, especially girls, in sports? Discover creative approaches to PE in these related articles:

  • Sports in the spotlight - A series of activities related to some of the world’s most celebrated sporting events: Wimbledon, The Ashes and Euro 2016.
  • Sport in the urban school - Not all schools have playing fields or wonderful sports halls. Crispin Andrews visits a Victorian London primary school which has made the best of their fenced in playground.
  • Making the most of your primary sports funding - Ringfenced funding for sports in primary schools was a welcome move. But how can you get the most for your money?
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