THERE is a strong focus on education at the moment, on how can we ensure pupils’ and teachers’ safety when they return to the classroom and how will they cope with the new system of blended learning.

However, one thing there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about is how, when and if we can integrate PE back into the school curriculum.

I believe we need to have that debate, as soon as possible.

It can create conflict, academic learning versus physical education, and it can be a struggle at times to impress upon teachers and parents, the importance and benefit of PE in keeping pupils in good physical and mental health.

It is also an aid to academic achievement, with researchers having identified a link between good grades and regular physical activity.

A survey in Italy looked into the health of young people during the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on junk food intake and inactivity levels, and their findings were quite shocking.

Probably in line with most people, children are lacking motivation, and the survey found they were eating an extra meal each day as well as sleeping for an extra half an hour. The exercise they would normally get walking to school, playing with their friends and participating in PE lessons was no longer happening and it was found that there was up to an extra five hours a day screen-time used, while snacking on junk food and sugary drinks!

In order to safeguard the health of our young people going forward, we need to recognise this trend and put steps in place to guarantee that when schools do open, PE is high on the curriculum and that pupils are encouraged to understand the importance of keeping fit and active for their own long-term benefit.

Where girls are concerned, this is especially important because statistics have shown over the years that the drop-out rate for girls participating in sport is so much greater than for boys.

We now have a lot of knowledge and information on the reasons for this disparity. They include changes in the body due to puberty and changes in body composition, which makes this is a difficult time for girls. We must have a plan to overcome this issue as the health of our future generations is at risk.