Hurrah for the Lionesses – now why don’t most schools offer girls football?

Nikita Parris of England in action England Women v Scotland Women Fifa Women's World Cup Group D football match, Allianz Riviera Stadium, Nice, France - 09 Jun 2019 Photo: Lynne Cameron for The FA

This feature originally appeared in the Stratford Herald on 4th July

ANYONE who watched England take on the United States on Tuesday night at the FIFA Women’s World Cup would agree with manager Phil Neville’s post-match declaration that the team ‘touched the souls of the nation’.

England Women v Argentina Women Fifa Women’s World Cup Group D football match, Stade Oceane, Le Havre, France – 14 Jun 2019
Photo: Lynne Cameron for The FA

Even though they lost 2-1, the Lionesses were true to their name, playing with great prowess and proud hearts. Goalkeeper Carly Telford said the team set out to inspire: “I hope there are a lot of young girls and boys picking up an England shirt. That’s an important message for us.”

While it’s a great sentiment, a majority of schools still only offer football to boys. In the UK only 43 per cent of schoolgirls are offered the chance to play team sports such as football, cricket and rugby, according to new research by Girlguiding. These statistics are mirrored in the Herald area with girls not routinely being offered football at their secondary schools.

It’s a subject that is particularly close to this reporter’s heart. My teenage daughter, Mery Sutherland, is in Year 8 at Chipping Campden, one of the schools that doesn’t offer football to its female students.

With four friends she gathered 400 signatures from their fellow Year 8 pupils petitioning the school to give them the same sporting opportunities.

She said: “Boys and girls shouldn’t be treated differently. Men’s sport always seems to overrule women’s. At the school we are pushed more towards dance, gymnastics and netball – this is while the boys are off playing rugby, cricket and football. It affects attitudes about what is ‘appropriate’ for girls – and that’s just so old fashioned.”

But she was quick to praise the efforts of the PE staff, who she said worked many unpaid hours offering extracurricular opportunities.

Head teacher John Sanderson responded at length to the Herald, outlining issues with new curriculum demands from the Department of Education and resources that Campden and many other secondaries face: “In response to the significant changes in GCSE PE, particularly the required sports, the PE Department have reduced the number of sporting activities to ensure that our pupils are able to access the top practical grades when they reach Year 11.”

Mr Sanderson explained that the school has offered football to girls in the past, but that it had been dropped through a lack of resources, and a lack of enthusiasm from students.

However, he added: “The PE department recognise that attitudes should start to change given the success of the Lionesses at the World Cup and so this will be reviewed periodically. Indeed, our new head of PE, Mr Cole, has already indicated that the staffing for Year 9 PE next year may lend itself to incorporating the delivery of some girls’ football and rugby alongside other different opportunities.”

The Herald asked all the schools in the area about their PE offering of team sports, perhaps unsurprisingly the ones that responded were proud of their egalitarian approach. Stratford Girls’ Grammar, Kineton High School and Alcester Grammar offer cricket, rugby and football to girls. Alcester Academy has just introduced football for girls in the last year and it is something it is keen to develop. James Powell, head of PE told the Herald: “Football is new to many of the girls so it is not something that comes necessarily naturally to them, and some aren’t very enthusiastic, but we are keen to give them exposure and get them interested in football especially given the Lionesses’ World Cup success.”

While some schools have been slow to offer chances, progress is being made in women’s and girls’ grassroots football, cricket and rugby, with many local clubs prospering and recruiting ahead of the next season.

Kirstin Wright has two daughters, eight and 11, who play for Stratford Town Colts. She told us: “Girls’ football is still not available in many schools. Most girls have to play in boys’ teams and are heavily outnumbered. Things are slowly starting to change, but there’s still a long way to go. Both my girls love it.”

Final word goes to Linda Wright, from Luddington, who commented on a Herald Facebook post: “Outside school, clubs are great, but the incentive has to start in school if it is to be inclusive. The Government keeps banging on about cutting obesity… Offering young children/ladies the chance to play the sport they see our national sides playing, at such a high level, is crucial in tacking this along with body image issues etc.”