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Dallaglio RugbyWorks is an intensive, long-term skills development programme based on rugby, through which we aim to get teenagers outside of mainstream education into sustained education, employment or training.

Our Founder Lawrence Dallaglio OBE discusses the need to support sport provision for young people.

Our Founder, Lawrence Dallaglio OBE, spoke to the Sunday Telegraph about the need to focus on providing sports provision for young people across the country in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Below is the piece published on the Sunday Telegraph on 28 June 2020 written by Jeremy Wilson:

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Out of disaster comes change and, for Lawrence Dallaglio, there is a searingly obvious and urgent national priority. “The consequences of the last three months for the younger generation should not be underestimated,” he says.

“The recovery of a generation needs to happen post-Covid through participation in exercise and sport. That’s to build their confidence and self esteem and to ensure that health is really part of the strategy.

“There needs to be a fixation with sport, well-being and nutrition. They need to be baked into the school curriculum for every young person. Not just those who can afford it. For every young person.”

The passion in Dallaglio’s voice is unmistakable but his words are also underpinned with considerable first-hand experience. Now 47, he began his education in the state sector. He would later attend independent schools in Surrey and Yorkshire before embarking on an extraordinary rugby career.

Dallaglio’s charitable foundation, RugbyWorks, now specifically helps young people who are outside mainstream education whether at pupil referral units or alternative provision settings. “We work day-today with some of the most disadvantaged kids in the country and I know having schools closed will have had a serious impact on them,” he says.

“Life is about opportunities – you are what you are exposed to. As parents we need to expose our children to as many good opportunities as we can. Sport was a tremendous outlet for me to direct my emotions.

“What we have really seen over the last few months is that there is an enormous inequality. The gap between the haves and have nots has been growing. I think people are really starting to feel they need to do something about that and there are a number of quick wins for the Government post-Covid in terms of sport and exercise.”

Dallaglio identifies solutions that can be summed up in three words: Priorities, facilities and funding. And that specifically means enshrining PE, exercise and health in the national curriculum and Ofsted inspection framework; making sure that independent school sport facilities are maximised across society; and serious strategic investment.

Dallaglio was this week among more than 100 leading sports stars who signed an open letter to government which urged immediate clarity on the PE and Sport Premium.

This £320 million of ring-fenced funding, largely derived from the sugar tax, has been invested annually in getting primary schoolchildren active. Just about everybody agrees it is essential but, with three weeks until the end of term, many PE providers and staff are being served notice that their jobs are at risk because the Government has still given no firm guarantees.

For Dallaglio and numerous other world champions from across British sport, the suggestion this funding could be in doubt is incomprehensible.

“I know the Government is stretched but they should be doubling it,” he says. “It enables pupils to access high quality sport and PE as part of their curriculum – it’s specialist coaches, delivery of national programmes, leadership opportunities, teaching kids to swim, giving teachers in primary schools the confidence and knowledge they need.

“It gives children the opportunity to reach into a community sport and develop a lifelong habit. We all develop habits at a young age. Good and bad. We have to help our young children develop good habits.”

The formalisation of PE’s status within the curriculum, says Dallaglio, is also essential. Government guidance recommends that schools should provide at least two hours a week, but it is often the first subject cut once exams loom into focus.

More than a third of British children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school and research during lockdown has found that only one in five are meeting minimum recommended daily activity levels. One in 10 children have been doing no activity at all.

“What the corona crisis has demonstrated to all of us is that this fixation with exam results is not necessarily the way we need to move forward,” says Dallaglio. “The fact that some young people have access to less than one hour a week of sport is unforgivable. Our young children are being cooped up, made to get grades in their exams but not given enough access to sport and PE.

“Don’t get me wrong. Sport is one outlet. People might prefer to go down the culture and arts route. Exam results are important, but I think the dial has been turned very much in one direction at the expense of things like sport, nutrition, mental health and well-being.”

And so how do you ensure change?

“If Ofsted baked sport, PE, nutrition and well-being into the curriculum then I think you would suddenly see a shift. Imagine if there were league tables on physical well-being, PE and sport. If you look at an Ofsted report now, there is very little on this. But if schools were measured on things in a more balanced way we would see a real shift.

“I think the last three months have shown that you don’t have to be obsessed with academic results. And increased activity is going to have a very positive affect on your academic results anyway.”

Dallaglio identifies one obvious way to improve access. “I started my journey in the state sector,” he says.

“I moved to the independent sector and there was a whole different wealth of opportunity.

“Independent schools should have to open their facilities to the public for a period of time if they want to have charitable status and the benefits of that. They have these amazing sports facilities that are locked up for much of the year. It’s just a travesty.”

A director now at Wasps, Dallaglio also says rugby is facing its own post-Covid realignment.

“Everyone is hanging in there – hopefully rugby will be back on TV and people can play it by mid-August,” he says. “It has been living beyond its means for quite a few years. It has been a reality check.”

There is genuine optimism, too, that decision makers will be persuaded of sport’s wider potential. “I am pretty sure that this government will want to have some good things to announce and sport and physical activity could be a big win for them,” says Dallaglio.

“I’m no scientific expert but when you look at the numbers of this pandemic, it would suggest the healthier you are the better chance you have of avoiding any issues.

“Health is something we all take for granted. We know we have an issue around obesity levels in this country. We have a wonderful health service but that pressure on the NHS will get bigger and bigger if we don’t act.

“Successive governments have sort of paid lip service a bit and not really addressed it. The time has come for that to happen. This is an opportunity – and it is key for the health and well-being of an entire generation.”

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