This article was originally published in The Mirror. To read the original click here.
Girls must be given the chance to play football in school or we’ll squander the Lionesses’ legacy, Bridget Phillipson has warned.
The Labour frontbencher vowed to increase the number of PE teachers to give more young women the opportunity. Ahead of watching the Lionesses play Scotland in her home city of Sunderland on Friday night, she took part in football training drills at a school in Spennymoor, County Durham. She was joined by her Labour colleague Thangam Debbonaire, the Shadow Culture Secretary.
In an interview with the Mirror, Ms Phillipson told how she was stopped from playing football at secondary school – and how she has taken up hockey at the weekend as a break from her life as an MP. Tory ministers pledged earlier this year to give girls an equal chance as boys to play following a campaign mounted by the Lionesses after their Euros 2022 win last summer. But Ms Phillipson warned “that’s not happening in practice”, adding: “Like a lot of things, the government makes a commitment and then there’s no plan to deliver it.
“I think there’s a real risk that we squander that fantastic legacy of the Lionesses. Right across the education system, we face a massive challenge around recruitment and retention of teachers too. That’s why we’ve said that Labour will end the tax breaks that private schools enjoy and put that money into delivering more teachers in our classrooms and on our playing fields too.”
The Government earlier floated the idea of scrapping A-levels and replacing them with a Baccalaureate-system with pupils studying more subjects after the age of 16, including maths. But Ms Phillipson warned this will be an “undeliverable gimmick” without investment in teaching staff.
The rising Labour star, who grew up in a council house in Washington, said if she becomes Education Secretary she is determined to make sure children from all backgrounds are given the chance to succeed, including at sport. “I do believe we’ve got a real opportunity to provide opportunities for the next generation,” she said. “For so many families, they can’t afford extra after school clubs, they can’t afford to send their children to Saturday morning football classes. So it’s absolutely crucial that our most disadvantaged children get access to really high quality sport within school.”
She added: “We need a shift where young women are encouraged to participate in sport. They’ve now got some absolutely amazing role models in the form of the Lionesses that just weren’t there when I was at school. There’s a real change I think in how we as a country value women’s sport in a way that we haven’t done in the past.”
Ms Phillipson, 39, revealed that she was banned from playing football as a young girl. “I played football right throughout primary school, was on the school team and was playing all the time. I arrived at secondary school and girls weren’t allowed to play football so that was the end of my footballing career,” she said.
The Labour MP took up hockey instead and captained her school team, which she said put her in good stead for later life. “I think there’s obvious health benefits that come from sport and physical activity,” she explained. “I think for girls in particular, to be able to focus on what they can achieve. It’s good for how you develop as a person. But it also means that even if you give up, later on in life you can take up sport again. You’ve got that knowledge and the confidence to do it.”
Ms Phillipson has re-joined a hockey team as an adult and now plays regularly at the weekend. “It’s been a great experience. I wish I’d done it years ago. I’m quite a competitive person, so it gives me an outlet on the sports field,” she added.