'I forgot my kit’: A guide to poverty-proofing school sports

Written by: Craig Watson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Is your school’s PE and sports kit preventing disadvantaged children from fully accessing school sport opportunities? Craig Watson, from Children North East’s Poverty Proofing initiative, shares some tips for creating inclusive school sports


With summer term upon us, colourful cones and team vests are being prepared for playgrounds and fields across the country.

From sports day to team activities, sports are an important part of the school day. However, they can also be a space for inequality to develop, with kit costs, equipment and travel making participation more difficult for children living in poverty.

Physical activity has many benefits for children and young people’s physical health as well as their mental wellbeing. For these reasons, among others, PE is a statutory part of the national curriculum in England, with the Department for Education (DfE) recommending at least 90 minutes of physical exercise in primary and secondary schools each week.

Yet, despite the many positives, some pupils are missing out on these opportunities due to poverty.


PE kits are an extension of uniform

During my own time in school, I enjoyed PE, but even as a child I noticed it seemed to be the same children each week forgetting their kit or having an excuse for why they couldn’t do PE. I assumed they just didn’t like PE, and maybe it was as simple as that. However, looking back now I understand that there is often a deeper reason.

When we work with schools conducting poverty-proofing audits, one of the areas that we look at is uniform and, within that, PE kits. We look to find out what the children feel and experience around the rules of PE kits and the consequences for not having it, from being able to borrow kit to not being able to participate in the lesson.

Yes, some children can be forgetful and occasionally they forget their kit, but what if there is more to it than that? When a pattern arises, questions schools might reflect on include:

  • What if that child is saying they have forgotten their kit because their family can’t actually afford to buy the PE kit?
  • What if that child has a PE kit but it is old and ripped and through fear of embarrassment they would rather pretend they have forgotten it than wear it?
  • What if their PE kit is dirty but there isn’t enough money in the house to get the washing machine fixed, and saying “I don’t have my PE shirt” is easier than explaining that?

We suggest that when pupils are not in the correct uniform, including PE kit, it should be taken as an indication that there may be difficulties at home, and this should be used as an opportunity to offer support rather than sanction.

There are many ways to support children and their families, and we have seen many examples of fantastic practice in our work across UK schools. Lots of schools are trying to remove the shame and stigma around not having the correct PE kit by changing policies to avoid the need for school-branded clothes or by using it as an opportunity to speak to the child.

And this work will help schools to meet the new requirements for school uniform affordability, which are being introduced by the DfE in England this year (DfE, 2021). The rules of course extend to PE and sports kits and state that when developing PE kit policy, schools should “avoid being overly specific in their kit requirements for different sports and keep the number of items, particularly the number of branded items, to a minimum”.


How to implement best practice in your school

Relaxed kit rules: You don’t have to re-invent the wheel to make PE in school more inclusive for all. Having a more relaxed kit policy can be one of the most supportive ways schools can help children to partake in PE. Many schools are now doing this – encouraging children to wear either the PE kit or plain clothing that, if possible, matches the school colours (so if the school kit is a branded blue t-shirt, make it clear that plain blue is equally appropriate).

Communicate clearly with parents: Uniform policies on school websites should make it clear that plain clothing is more than suitable. Some parents we have spoken with found that it can be hard to find plain clothes that match the correct shade of colour in the school uniform and so to avoid embarrassment they would buy the branded school wear. One way around this would be to adjust school PE tops to be white. Plain white t-shirts are readily available and there would then be no concern around finding the correct shade.


Promote a no-logo approach

The one caveat to having a policy like this is to re-enforce the idea that clothes with large logos should be avoided, as this can also highlight financial differences and put the pressure back onto disadvantaged children.


Reduce the stress and stigma of spare kit

Ensure the quality, range and presentation of spare kit is of a good standard. Having a good standard of spare clothing can help reduce the stigma around using these. I remember myself the dread of trying to find a pair of shorts from lost property that hopefully resembled some sort of appropriate size without holes or stains on them!

Some schools choose to have a central location for all spare kit where it can be effectively managed and maintained, and some choose to have individual class spares. It is all about what works best for your school.

A central location can be great as it is easier to manage, and students will have a larger choice and range of sizes available.

However, depending on its location within school it can make it obvious who is regularly accessing the service and it might be daunting for children to go there.

Alternatively, spares in classrooms can be much subtler but can sometimes lack a range of sizes as finding space to keep a well organised bank of spares is not always possible.


Conclusion

Schools work incredibly hard to support their children and would never intentionally want to highlight or embarrass someone living in poverty, but next time you hear a child say, “I’ve forgotten my kit again”, think – is it just because it is a rainy Monday morning and they don’t want to do PE, or could it be something more?


Further information & resources


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