A COLLECTIVE sigh of relief was audible throughout the country last week by parents, guardians and most likely grandparents as well, as most children returned to school after at least six weeks of holiday.

School and university is a place where you have a captive audience and those who are charged with teaching should be in a position to deliver lessons that will improve children’s lives.

These lessons, should, of course, include physical education, but I worry that perhaps we are missing a trick here, particularly where young girls are concerned. Engaging young girls and women to participate in sport has traditionally been difficult. Many varied issues come to the forefront that impacts on their willingness to take PE.

Self-esteem issues, lack of confidence, puberty – it’s a strong mixture that can impact on all young women and create a vicious circle.

Participation in sport would help alleviate these issues, however, to firstly participate in sport they must have the confidence to overcome the many issues they collectively gather to impact on their self-esteem and are still prevalent throughout to this day.

There is a lot of work going on in this area to understand how we can encourage girls and women to take up sport and many plans afoot to further rack up delivery of projects that will bring change.

A recent report from the Girl Guides revealed that one in three girls, about 34 per cent, aged 11-16 say they do not have the same choices as boys in school sport, while for the younger age that drops down 10 per cent. Add to this the knowledge gleaned through UN Women’s research that claims that at puberty a girl’s confidence drops at twice the rate of a boy’s and that at that time 49 per cent of girls drop out of sports altogether – six times more than the rate of boys, you can understand the size of the problem.

I believe we should start this process at school. We must engage female students in sport and we must take time to understand the issues that prevent them from doing so.

One of the bright lights shining quite clearly at the moment is The Daily Mile. While not a sport in itself, it does deliver activity for all and it doesn’t create a ‘class system’ between participants. Every child can participate, there is no discrimination and no barriers of gender, race or indeed finance as it is free to implement and to participate.

The children put on their outdoor shoes and coats at a time of the teacher’s choosing and go and walk for about 15 minutes every day.

Elaine Wylie, the founder of The Daily Mile and the recipient of Pride of Britain Award in 2014 for her work in this area, introduced the first walk in 2012 when she realised that her P6 class could not run around a field. Just a few months later it was adopted by everyone at the school and is now a national phenomenon and has been taken up by many other institutions.

The next step then, is to make the transition from the Daily Mile into daily sport and to ensure that girls don’t get sidelined and that the unconscious bias of others does not determine how, when and what sport they participate in.

Give girls the choice, make them aware of the benefits and support them through the difficult time of puberty. They are worth it!