Teach boys ballet and zumba to make PE gender neutral, head of sports organisation says

Teach boys ballet and zumba to make PE gender neutral, head of sports organisation says

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Schools should give boys lessons in zumba and ballet to promote the idea that PE is gender neutral, the head of a leading sports organisation has said as she reveals that girls as young as six are losing interest in exercise.

Offering a full range of activities will help to combat the stereotypes and “cultural norms” that are putting girls off sport before they reach junior school, according to Ruth Holdaway, who is chief executive of Women in Sport.

In addition to giving female pupils the option to play cricket and football, “boys should also be asked what they want, and given the opportunity to do a zumba class or whatever,” she said.
Ms Holdaway told The Daily Telegraph: “Boys should be offered a full range of activities in sport. It might contribute to breaking down stereotypes – why shouldn’t a boy be a dancer? “Of course they can be, and we know there are wonderful male ballerinas. Boys should see dance as just as much something they can enjoy as it is for girls.”

However, she added that giving boys more options will not solve the problem of girls’ disengagement with sport, since for decades, girls have been “proactively excluded” from playing sports like football and cricket.

She said that research conducted by her organisation showed that girls begin to lose interest in sport when they are as young as six. “For girls, around the age of six or seven they are starting to drop out of sport. What is particularly interesting is that this is the same time that boys start doing more,” she said.

“What seems to be happening is up until that age, boys and girls feel the same – they just run around, they don’t think about what they are doing, they will explore, they will climb.

“But there is something going on around that age that age boys start to understand sport is something they should be doing, they can do, they get recognised for, and they get encouraged to do.”

Ms Holdaway said that teachers should not make any assumptions about which sports girls – or boys – would like to play.

“It is all part of the same issue – if the boys get to play football and cricket and the girls play rounders and have a dance class – you are not offering girls the same opportunities,” she said.

“Often you will be surprised if you ask girls what they want there will be an assumption that they want to do dance and many of them will. But they might also want to play football or cricket whatever.”

Ms Holdaway said that school teachers and parents must have an effort to talk about women’s sport with as much enthusiasm as they do about men’s.

“Children are going have a lot of contact with men’s sport, it is around them all the time, with parents talking about it, teachers talking about,” she said. “Are people talking about the women’s Ashes? Are the making an effort to make sure they are talking about both the men’s and women’s Ashes so that there is parity?”

Other practical steps schools can take to encourage girls to play sport could include making adaptations to changing rooms.

“Female students may think: “If I am going to get hot and sweaty, I need to put my hair up, I need to take it back down, and if I don’t have a mirror I can’t do that”, Ms Holdaway said.

Small changes like allowing girls more time in the changing rooms, and putting up extra mirrors, may encourage them to run around and “get hot and sweaty” during PE lessons.

Earlier this year, Baroness Sue Campbell, who is head of women’s football at the FA said schools should put nice smelling soap in changing rooms to encourage girls to play sport.