Response to Sport England’s new strategy: What does the future of sport and physical activity in colleges look like?

On 19 May 2016, Sport England launched its strategy to take us to 2021. It sets out their vision that everyone, regardless of their age, background or level of ability should feel able to engage in sport and physical activity.

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Further education is central to the delivery of the strategy. The strategy recognises that young people experience many transitions, physically and emotionally, including the move to further education. This will be a focus for Sport England’s work and investment.

With funding in the right areas, colleges will be able to change the behaviour of the 200,000 16 to 19-year-old students who will be contemplating taking part in sport and physical activity; as well as the 175,000  others for whom sport is not even on their radar. After all, providing programmes and projects which start with the needs of the individual is something colleges have become experts in.

Colleges provide support for 300,000 16 to 19-year-old students to take part in more than 145,000 sessions, in 56 different types of sport or activity. 35,000 students compete in sport against their peers making them fit for college, fit for work and fit for life. We have made great progress in engaging more students to be active since previous investment into Active Colleges in 2012, but there is still much to do. Over 300,000 16 to 19-year-old students do not take part in sport or physical activity.

There is no denying the challenge set by Sport England in their strategy will be tough. It is extremely difficult to get someone to do something they have not done before. Engaging with the hardest to reach adds an additional layer of complexity. However, engaging with the hard to reach and positively changing behaviour is fundamental to college core values. There are numerous examples of colleges reaching out to their communities, engaging with the disenfranchised, and turning their lives around.

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We are encouraged by Sport England’s focus and investment into volunteers. 25,000 sports students regularly volunteer in their local communities as part of their study programme. A very large proportion of these opportunities are with their partners in schools. With the increase in funding for the primary school premium we anticipate further opportunities for our students on apprenticeship programmes and more meaningful work placement opportunities.

Critical to the delivery of this strategy is having a workforce that relates to the local demographic. Significant previous investment in College Sport Makers and FE Activation Fund leads in colleges has seen growth in activity – particularly with the hard to reach. We must retain these talented, enthusiastic professionals providing opportunities for them to develop and progress, otherwise momentum will be lost.

Overall the new Sport England strategy and its shift in focus is great news for colleges. It confirms our long-held view that colleges are uniquely positioned to increase engagement in physical activity and sport among 16 to 19 year-olds, and the commitment that colleges are critical to improving the physical health and wellbeing of the nation.

MORE: Sport England releases new strategy – ‘Towards an Active Nation’

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