With Summer Term just around the corner, colourful cones and team vests are being prepared for playgrounds and fields across the country. From Sports Day to playing as a team, the health and happiness PE can bring are significant. However, they can also be a key space for inequality to develop, with kit costs, equipment and travel making participation more difficult for children living in poverty. In our latest blog, Poverty Proofing Co-Ordinator and previous Primary School Teacher Craig Watson shares his experiences and advice on creating inclusive school sports.
Is it just because it’s a rainy Monday morning and they don’t want to do PE, or could it be something more?
Physical activity has numerous benefits for children and young people’s physical health, as well as their mental wellbeing (increasing self-esteem and emotional wellbeing and lowering anxiety and depression), and children who are physically active are happier, more resilient and more trusting of their peers. 
It is for these reasons, amongst others, that Physical Education (PE) is a statutory part of the National Curriculum for Maintained schools in England, with the DfE recommending at least 90 minutes of physical exercise in both Primary and Secondary each week. Despite the many positives that PE brings to children, some are missing out on these opportunities due to living in poverty.
During my own time is school I enjoyed PE but even as a child I noticed it seemed to be the same children each week forgetting their kit or having an excuse for why they couldn’t do PE. I assumed they just didn’t like PE, and maybe it was as simple as that, but now looking back at it from the view of a Poverty Proofing Coordinator, I wonder if there was a deeper reason.
When we work with schools conducting Poverty Proofing© audits, one of the areas that we look at is uniform and, within that, PE kits. We look to find out what the children feel and experience around the rules of PE kits and the consequences for not having it, from being able to borrow kit to not being able to participate in the lesson:
– “You either borrow some from PE or you don’t do PE.”
– “You would have to read instead.”
– “You would help out but not run round.”
Now for some children, yes it may be a case that they can be forgetful and occasionally they forget their kit, but what if it is more than that?
– What if that child is saying they have forgotten their kit because their family can’t actually afford to buy the PE kit?
– What if that child has a PE kit but it is old and ripped and through fear of embarrassment they would rather say ‘I forgot my kit’ than wear it?
– What if their PE is dirty but there isn’t enough money in the house to get the washing machine fixed and saying ‘I don’t have my PE shirt’ is easier than explaining that?
At Children North East, we suggest that when pupils are not in the correct uniform, including PE kit, it should be taken as an indication that there may be difficulties at home and this should be used as an opportunity to offer support rather than sanction.
There are ways to support children and their families and we have seen many examples of fantastic practice. Lots of school are trying to remove the shame and stigma around not
having the correct PE kit by changing policies to avoid the need for school branded equipment or using it as an opportunity to speak to the child:
– “If it’s repetitive they would just talk to you rather than tell you off.” Pupil
– “They always have spares so you don’t need to worry.” Pupil
– “I love the fact that uniform [and PE kit] doesn’t have to be branded as this can reduce the cost.” Parent
Schools work incredibly hard to support their children and would never intentionally want to highlight or embarrass someone living in poverty, but next time you hear a child say “Teacher, I’ve forgot my kit again,” think; is it just because it’s a rainy Monday morning and they don’t want to do PE, or could it be something more?
 PE and sport premium for primary schools, GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)