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Fahey, Tony and Delaney, Liam and Gannon, Brenda (2005) School children and sport in Ireland. Dublin: Economic and Social Research Institute, Irish Sports Council.

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Press release: Teachers who give of their time outside of formal teaching hours to organise extra-curricular sporting activities are at the heart of the delivery of children’s sport in Ireland. Adult volunteers in sports clubs outside the school also make a significant contribution in this regard. Almost half (46 per cent) of second level students get four or more sessions of sport per week from these two sources combined while a further 26% get two to three sessions of sport per week from these sources.

However while the majority of students get quite a lot of sport, there are significant minorities who get little or none. More than one in four (27 per cent) of second-level students get one session or less per week of extra-curricular or non-school sport. Among this group there is also a substantially higher number of girls than boys (38% against 17% respectively). The proportion with such low levels of participation is also higher among older students – 36 per cent of sixth year students take part once a week or less, compared to 21 per cent of second year students.

Commenting on the report, the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, John O’Donoghue said: “The report highlights the immense voluntary input that teachers and adults in the community make in energising children in sport. This is a phenomenon that should be applauded and supported. The report also makes a number of notable recommendations that will now be examined in the context of developing future policy for sport and physical activity”.

The study is based on surveys carried out by the ESRI in November-December 2004 of some 7,300 school children in 217 primary and second-level schools in Ireland. The samples included students from fifth class in primary school up to sixth year in second-level schools. The principals of the sampled schools were also surveyed. The report is the third in a series of reports prepared by the ESRI in collaboration with the Irish Sports Council over the past two years.

Ossie Kilkenny, Chairperson of the Irish Sports Council said: “The Irish Sports Council is determined to widen the evidence base for Irish sport policy and programmes. It was for that reason that we entered into partnership with the ESRI in preparing a series of three reports, the third excellent instalment on School Children and Sport in Ireland being published today. The research provides us with a much deeper understanding of the dynamics of sport in Ireland which in turn will allows the Council to plan essential participation initiatives which will sustain sport into the future.”

Apart from extra curricular school sport and non-school sport, physical education (PE) provided as part of the school curriculum is an important third pillar of children’s sport. It accounts for only a small proportion of children’s sporting activity: the average student in second-level schools gets 69 minutes of PE per week, compared to the 2 hours per week recommended in the PE syllabus. However, PE is significant as the main source of professional expertise and knowledge in the otherwise non-professional world of children’s sport. It thus has an important potential role to play in supporting the non-professionals who the main providers of children’s sport, especially the non-PE teachers who run extra-curricular sport in schools.

John Treacy, CEO of the Irish Sports Council said: “The report will be an invaluable resource in developing sports policy as we plan ahead. It highlights the enormous support that sport enjoys among young people and the positive role that it plays in their lives. However, it also raises important challenges such as the drop-off in participation as young people approach adulthood. This is especially marked among women and is something we need to address”.

Attitudes to sport and PE among students are generally very positive, and most boys in particular are very keen on sport. The only aspect of sport that causes concern to a majority of students is the fear of being left out of games because they are regarded as not being good enough. The possible exclusionary effect of sport on those with less sporting ability is therefore a concern.

Participation in sport and physical activity declines as students move through the years of second-level schooling. Transition Year, however, provides an exception to this pattern, as it gives rise to a ‘bounce’ to participation in sport and physical activity in the fourth year of the second-level cycle. Transition Year is the only year in the school cycle where students on average get almost the two hours of timetabled PE per week recommended.

The lack of facilities is an important constraint on sport for students in many schools, though it is often not as important a constraint as pressure of time from school-work. Facilities are seen as a particular problem by principals in primary schools. Schools rely heavily on off-site facilities for sport, and about eight out of ten schools at both primary and second level receive help from local sports clubs in providing their students with sport.

Sport and PE have a role to play in combating overweight and obesity among children. But, as has been found in international research, the present study finds that differences in levels of physical activity among young people correlate weakly with risk of being overweight. Sport has many benefits for the physical, social and emotional health of children. Policy on children’s sport should keep the full range of these benefits in mind and not become overly focused on its role in protecting against overweight.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Report
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
106 p.
Economic and Social Research Institute, Irish Sports Council
Place of Publication
0 7070 0239 7
Accession Number
HRB 2980 (Electronic Only)

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