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Our response to Active Lives Children and Young People Survey 2020-21

Today, Sport England published the latest data from the Active Lives Children and Young People Survey for the academic year 2020-21. The pandemic continues to affect the lives of disabled children and their families. The report highlights inequalities, the impact of restrictions, and the need to encourage positive attitudes towards physical activity.  

Adapting activities at National Junior Athletics Championships

The latest data tells us that many disabled children continue to miss out on the benefits of being active. Disabled children are less likely than non-disabled children to enjoy being active, and to understand why being active is good for them. Worryingly, the pandemic has led to further decreases in positive attitudes towards physical activity.

Kirsty Clarke, Director of Innovation and Business Development at Activity Alliance, said:

“Everyone benefits from a quality active experience from a young age. This new data indicates a further widening of inequalities. We must not let disabled children be forgotten as we look at new ways to improve activity levels. It is not right or fair that so many of our younger population miss out for many reasons that can be solved quickly or with greater consideration. As the leading voice for all disabled people in sport and activity, we are aware of the many challenges involved in overturning the inequalities detailed in this report.
“We’ve also listened to concerns that the activity levels of children from special educational needs (SEN) schools or children with profound needs may not be thoroughly reflected in this research. We recognise this as a shared challenge and will continue to work with Sport England to improve data collection for disabled children through inclusive methods.
“Our partnership with Sport England, as well as our members, is crucial to achieving fairness for disabled people in sport and activity. By continuing to work together as a movement, more young disabled people will feel encouraged to take part and that they are genuinely included.”

Activity levels for disabled children

31.5% of disabled children were ‘less active’ (doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity each day) this year, compared to 30.2% of non-disabled children. While this difference is not significant and does not represent a decrease from the 2019-20 academic year, it means that almost a third of disabled children are missing out on the well-established benefits of being active.

Like all children, disabled children were more likely to be ‘less active’ during periods of tighter restrictions. During the spring term, 36.2% of disabled children were less active, compared to 31.1% in the previous academic year and 33.9% of non-disabled children. This shows the impact of restrictions on indoor and organised activities, and the national lockdown in the spring.

Children with multiple impairments

The Active Lives data does not show a correlation between being less active and the number of impairments. However, there are challenges with inclusive research for large-scale projects. We have heard concerns that the activity levels of children from Special Educational Needs (SEN) school or those with more profound needs are not well-represented in this research. 9% of disabled children attend a SEN school, and our research indicates children attending special schools are less active. We will continue to work with Sport England to improve data collection for disabled children.

Our report ‘My Active Future’ from 2020 used inclusive methods to explore the experience for disabled children. 17% of those who took part in the survey attended an SEN school. We undertook in-depth interviews with children with profound, multiple, and sensory impairments and their families. The research uncovered many differences, in activity levels, enjoyment, the barriers experienced, and participation across different types of activities.

Impairment differences

The data gives insight into the activity levels and experience of children with different types of impairments. Being less active is more common among children with dexterity or coordination impairments (35.2% and 35%), as well as with mobility (32.3%) and speaking impairments (32%). Please see the data tables for more information.

Attitudes and wellbeing

The survey shows that as disabled children get older, they are less likely to have positive attitudes on competence, understanding, enjoyment, confidence, and knowledge in sport and physical activity. Only 10% of disabled children in school Years 7-11 have positive attitudes on all five measures, compared to 13% of non-disabled children. This decreases from 18% of disabled children in school Years 3-6. Our ‘My Active Future’ report highlighted the challenges that disabled children face as they get older.

The pandemic has led to a worrying decrease in enjoyment of physical activity for all children. Only 39.3% of disabled children said they enjoy taking part in sport and exercise, compared to 47.7% of non-disabled children. Disabled children were also less likely this year to say they understand why sport and exercise are good for them – 59% compared to 63.6% in the 2019-20 academic year. This is lower than for non-disabled children (67.4%).

Periods of restrictions coincided with falls in positive attitudes for all children. The association between attitudes and activity levels and health and social outcomes reinforces the need to support children.

The data shows disabled children are more likely to feel lonely ‘often or always’ – 28% compared to 6.8% of their non-disabled peers. Worryingly, this has increased since the 2019-20 academic year, when 24.2% of disabled children felt lonely ‘often or always’. Sport and physical activity have a key role to play in tackling loneliness in this group.

About the survey

This report presents data from the Active Lives Children and Young People Survey for the academic year 2020-21. Data is presented for children and young people in school Years 1-11 (ages 5-16) in England. Data was collected from over 86,000 children.

The report contains a full year of COVID-19 restrictions. This includes comparisons back to summer term 2020, when school sites were closed to most pupils for much of the period.

More information

We continue to support organisations and deliverers to support children stay active during the disruption. Our Inclusive PE Training Programme is now being delivered online. The course helps teachers and school staff to provide inclusive and high-quality PE experience to pupils.

Our ‘COVID-19: The impact on disabled people’ overview gives further insight of the impact of the pandemic on disabled children and their families.

Please get in touch with Jessica, Senior Research and Insight Advisor, if you would like to discuss the research. Email Jessica at Activity Alliance