The provision of PE lessons in schools has plummeted to less than two hours a week under the coalition government, prompting concerns that the outlook for physical activity among young people was “bleak and worrying”.
Despite demands for politicians to capitalise on the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics, a survey of schools – conducted by the Youth Sport Trust (YST) – found that PE has actually declined since 2010, leading to calls for action to counter the “inactivity crisis” among young people.
Last year, prime minister David Cameron committed the government to funding the £150-million-a-year PE and sports premium for primary schools for a further five years, pledging a total of £750 million.
But the new figures have revealed that, in spite of the extra funding, take up of PE has collapsed under his watch to well below the recommended five hours of curriculum time a week.
The research coincides with the launch of the YST's manifesto, which demands more time for high-quality PE, as well as physical activity being embedded into every school day.
YST chair Baroness Sue Campbell described reversing the trend of physical inactivity among young people as a “seismic challenge”.
“With one in three children leaving primary school obese or overweight, and less than one in five meeting the minimum recommended guidelines for physical activity, it is a bleak and worrying picture," she said.
The trust pointed to research that shows the take up of physical activity can also lead to increases in academic achievement.
Baroness Campbell added: “We have set out where we believe any future government should focus its efforts if we are to stand any real chance of reversing the worrying trends that are leading to increasing sedentary lifestyles amongst young people.”
Derek Peaple, headteacher at Park House School in Newbury, said the drop in the time devoted to PE was a “worrying issue”.
“With the physical inactivity crisis continuing to grow, it is clear that the next government needs to make PE and school sport a real priority to help combat the threat,” Mr Peaple added.
“High-quality PE and school sport not only equips young people with physical literacy supporting their physical development, movement skills and body confidence; it also contributes to their physical, mental and emotional health and well-being.”
The Department for Education said its own research showed government cash for PE and sport in primary schools was being used to deliver "more and better sport".
“Our findings show that primary schools are delivering more than two hours of PE each week – and it has increased by an average of 13 minutes in the last year," A DfE spokesperson said.
"More than 80 per cent of schools also reported an increase in participation in after-hours sports since the introduction of the funding."
Schools must use PE to tackle 'crisis of inactivity', says sports chief – 5 February 2014
Girl power the answer to boosting take up of school sport – 28 June 2014
Primary schools in England to get £750 million funding boost for sport and PE – 6 February 2014