Research indicates a 60% decrease in amount of time dedicated to organising nationwide participation for pupils
On the eve of an Olympic Games that has promised to “inspire a generation of young people through sport”, research has indicated a 60% drop in the amount of time dedicated to organising school sport nationwide in the wake of government cuts.
The research, compiled by Labour through Freedom of Information requests to 150 top tier local authorities, shows there are now 110 fewer School Sport Partnerships – local networks of organised school sport – than there were before the cuts in 2009/10, a decline of 37%.
Almost half of local authorities (48%) recorded a decrease in the number of School Sport Partnerships, while 28% no longer have any.
“When we won the Games we made a promise to the people of this country and the international community to inspire a generation of young people through sport,” said Tessa Jowell, the shadow minister for the Olympics who sits on the London 2012 board.
“It is important that schools are able to maintain this momentum and help young people develop sport and exercise as a habit that will keep them healthy and fit for the rest of their lives. It is not yet too late for the government to keep the promise that we made and make the most of this Olympic moment.”
In 2010 the education secretary, Michael Gove, threatened to axe £162m in ringfenced funding for a national network of School Sports Partnerships. In the wake of an outcry from athletes, pupils and opposition MPs, David Cameron ordered a partial U-turn, but the ringfenced funding was still cut by 69% and only guaranteed until 2013. It was redirected to a new scheme allowing PE teachers to be released for one day a week. Those working within the system fear that the funding will be withdrawn altogether next year.
The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has instead sought to focus attention on the School Games, a nationwide intra and inter school competition that proceeds through four levels to an annual final in the Olympic Park. So far, around half of all schools have signed up.
His department has introduced a new policy to focus £1bn invested over five years through grassroots funding body Sport England on 14- to 25-year-olds in a bid to address the precipitous drop off in sports participation when pupils leave school. But there are fears that the impact of the cuts on organised school sport, and on the provision of sport in primary schools, will impact on the amount of sport played by children even before they can benefit from the after-school clubs and better links between schools and clubs promised by the new strategy.
Chris Dunne, the headmaster at Langdon School in east London, which provided some of the children who travelled to Singapore in 2005 when the bid was won, has been highly critical of the decision to slash funding for the school sport partnerships.
“The prime minister and his secretary of state for education, who both regularly lambast state schools for not doing as well as the independent sector in nurturing talent, when it is in fact they who have destroyed the work we were doing to promote a renaissance in sporting achievement, are in my opinion little better than privately-educated hypocrites,” said Dunne, who said the network had helped increase the number of boys at the school playing first class critic from zero to 55 and nurtured the creation of four judo clubs.
According to the FOI responses, in every region of England the number of days worked by PE teachers on release compared with the school sport co-ordinators employed under the old system has more than halved. The worst affected regions are the West Midlands, where there was a 74% decline, the north-east, which decreased by 72%, and Greater London, which declined by 67%.
Clive Efford, the shadow sports minister, said Labour had succeeded in getting over 90% of children participating in two hours of school sport a week under the school sport partnerships network.
“They were the foundation for a national sports strategy that we should be building on,” he said. “It is incredible that David Cameron can complain that too many of our top sports people come from private schools when he is damaging the structure of sport in our state education system.”
The sports minister, Hugh Robertson, who on Tuesday said the budget for a grassroots sports initiative called Inspired Facilities had already distributed £19.4m in lottery money to 377 community projects and revealed the overall budget available had doubled to £30m, argues that it is only under the coalition government that PE had become a mandatory subject.
“You can’t divorce this project from the fact we are trying to deliver it in the middle of a global recession, and that is what led to the issue with School Sport Partnerships. All we can do is play the best hand we’ve got with the card that has been dealt to us,” he said. “I do think we get a lot of stick for cutting School Sport Partnerships and very little praise for increasing the amount sport gets through the lottery, which has safeguarded elite athlete investment, made this sort of thing possible and allowed us to continue with the Whole Sport Plan.”
The Lords science committee also warned in a report published on Wednesday that not enough was being done to improve the nation’s health on the back of the Games. It expressed “disappointment at the lack of joined-up thinking in government” on the potential health legacy from the Games and found that a recent survey of 48 London GP practices showed none were aware of the chief medical officer’s most recent physical activity guidelines.
“Government is failing to act in a consistent way to ensure that the Olympics help us tackle one of our greatest health threats, sedentary lifestyles,” said Lord Krebs, chairman of the Lords Science and Technology Committee.
“The government must take a joined-up approach to sport, physical activity and health to ensure the Olympics deliver a lasting health legacy.”