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Blog: Learning from listening

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Posted 14th October 2021

Our Events and Programmes Manager, Emma Binnersley, blogs about the This Girl Can week that has been taking place in West Yorkshire this week, and how insight played a central part in its creation.

Read time: Four minutes

This Girl Can week in West Yorkshire has seen some in-person activities put on by School Games organisers; and an online booklet that is available to every school. It is all designed to be an introduction for inactive girls in years seven and eight to take part in different types of sport and physical activity.  The online booklet was put together with individuals and organisations we partner with at YSF, and local partners in the School Games.

It gives schools the opportunity to include specific activities for girls that takes away a lot of the onus from teachers, and I think it packages together activities really nicely. We included videos and links to various activities, such as to the new on-demand Studio You resource.

When we started planning this in the summer, we weren’t sure where schools would be in September in regards to Covid restrictions, so we wanted to provide a resource that could be totally flexible. We did the same thing in South Yorkshire in the spring, and the insight we gained from that has been invaluable in shaping what we have done.  Firstly, teachers:

  • Teachers were really positive about how the resource could be used to suit their school’s needs. Some schools were doing virtual learning, some were doing in-school provision, so it can be used to achieve what is good for the school.
  • It was there when they needed it, and they could intertwine it with other programmes. Having it as a permanent resource is really valuable, particularly at a time where schools are still having challenges to get a consistent timetable.

But the most valuable insight came from the girls themselves. During the spring, schools in South Yorkshire were able to sign up as ambassador schools which meant they were happy to be involved in shaping future provision for young girls. As part of that, we released a survey for them to complete.

More than 200 girls took the survey, which was fantastic. We learnt that:

  • a third of the girls said they didn’t enjoy the current activities on offer in schools, so need a different type of activity than your traditional offer.
  • 70% said that lack of confidence was one of the biggest barriers to taking part in physical activity. So, we’re designing the event to make it fully inclusive and not competitive, but purely about participating.
  • Over half said that friends were an influence in taking part, so any events now and in the future will emphasise that social element and keeping girls in their friendship groups.

The survey was sent to teachers to pass on to the young girls electronically, because we didn’t really have another choice at the time. I know a lot of surveys at School Games have been on paper copies in the past and girls have to scribble down their answers and it’s a bit rushed. But having it online meant girls could access it on their mobile phone, teachers could share it with them at a time that was more appropriate, and I know a number filled it out in their own time so they had their own space.

We also had space for girls to write things, and I got quite upset reading some of it. The girls were able to just be really honest.

For me, the biggest learning from the ambassador survey and speaking to the girls, was that it’s quite easy to jump to conclusions and make assumptions about what girls need.  I’m 28, but I kind of assumed I knew the struggles a girl at that age had. When we gave them the opportunity to voice them, it was really hard hitting. Periods were the biggest thing that we hadn’t included on the drop down list, but a lot put that. It was something echoed in research released by the Youth Sport Trust earlier this week. 

We also learnt not to make assumptions that while teachers provide a really valuable insight, you do have to ask the young girls to really get to what they want. We’ve taken that insight and for the School Games programme as a whole in the future, youth voice is pivotal. We’ve created a School Games ambassador programme that will shape the provision for years to come. This was already in the pipeline, but what we learnt just confirmed this was the right way to go.

One of the big challenges is changing perceptions of physical activity for staff in schools. This week is clearly for the young girls, but we have a chance to show the teachers what different activities are out there. We’ve purposely chosen local This Girl Can ambassadors for the West Yorkshire School Games, This Girl Can festival in November, so if there is interest on the back of the events, they can go into schools and allow them to experience it more.

We hope this event will play its part in getting more young girls involved in more physical activity, and we’re excited to get the feedback from those involved once again.

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