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Time to turn up volume on sport schools revolution

Posted on 11 February 2010 | 10:02am

A day out of book promotion mode today to head to a conference organised by the Youth Sport Trust to celebrate the work of specialist Sports Colleges.

When TB talked of the three domestic priorities being ‘education, education, education’ sport was always an important part of that.

The size of today’s event, with more than 2000 people there, emphasises the growth of Sports Colleges. From zero, then the first 11 early in our first term, there are now 501 of them, and of all the specialisms this is the one showing the fastest improving results. They use sport not just for its own ends but to help in the teaching of maths, English and foreign languages.

The Youth Sport Trust says there has been a ‘quiet revolution’. My message to them today is that it is time to turn up the volume.

Because whoever wins the next election there are going to be some tough choices and the profile of any part of the public sector does matter when it comes to governments taking decisions.

Why do the Tories not dare say they would cut NHS spending, even whilst banging on about waste and bureaucracy? Answer, because the NHS is embedded deep in the hearts and consciousness of the British people.

Sports Colleges are a real success story, part of an important movement of change. Those who work in them know it. Those who learn there and their parents know about them. But there is little broader awareness.

By focussing exclusively on the issue of grass playing fields, the National Movement of Whingers and Cynics have developed the myth of participation in sport going backwards. It really is a myth.

When the Tories were in power, they did not even keep accurate figures for PE activity. ‘Significant variations’ was the official line. You can say that again. According to the Youth Sport Trust access to two hours’ good sport and PE has risen fourfold to 90 per cent since 2003. And the huge network of School Sport Partnerships means there has been improvement in primary as well as secondary schools. Investment opposed by the Tories has been central to this.

The other myth spread by the Movement of Ws and Cs is that there is no competitive sport. There is now a national network of 225 local competition managers. We have had – widely ignored by the national media needless to say – the first UK School Games, now an established event with a top backer, Olympics sponsor Lloyds TSB. The official targets on participation have been smashed. London 2012 can only help the trend.

The people in the Tory party and the media who slag off our state schools and sport provision tend to have their own kids in private schools which have taken good sports facilities for granted.

Now that the state sector is catching up, and in some cases overtaking, they have a vested interest in running it all down to justify their own decisions.

Sport is a good thing in its own right. But it also happens to help shape better and more active people who shape better societies. That is why though the people I am speaking to in Telford today are not just involved in education policy, but health policy, crime policy, the economy, the environment and culture. We are surrounded by so much negativity, a lot of it media driven. Today I will be urging heads, teachers, sports co-ordinators, local authorities and everyone involved in the spread of sport through our schools to put the whingers and cynics out of their minds, and take real pride in the way they are delivering better education and so a better Britain.

I will also tell the story of how right around the world people have looked at Australia as the model to follow when it comes to developing grassroots sport. And who did the Aussies ask to advise them on a new model for the modern age? Answer Sue Campbell, no relation, a Brit, a terrific chair of UK Sport and now also the Youth Sport Trust, also in the House of Lords, who has devoted her life to elite and mass participation sport and has seen every stage of what really has, despite all the challenges, been a transformation.

She’ll be there today too, living proof that if you ignore the Ws and the Cs, believe in what you do more deeply than the superficial negativity of the critics, you can actually make change happen.

** My assiduous book publicist (yes I am not the only one punting Maya left right and centre) has just reminded me apparently I will be in book promotion mode up there too, signing copies of novels and diaries alike. And to remind you, if you want to help raise money to fight the Tories, if you buy The Blair Years at half of the cash goes to Labour.

  • Jerry McCallum

    I flew into London Heathrow on a late flight from Lisbon a couple of weeks ago. Had a window seat. Was blown away by how many sporting venues, floodlit, I saw from the sky. Most were all weather and of course the ones who say all the playing fields have gone do not count these. I also know from my own family that my son and two daughters get great PE and are all active and healthy in part because of it.

  • Helen George

    As a teacher in a state primary please accept my thanks for the support you and your partner have always given to state education. One of the most depressing things about being a teacher is constantly reading and hearing about how terrible we are, and how bad our schools and our kids are. They are not, and it is great when someone with a voice as strong as yours speaks up for us. A colleague of mine is at your event today and I have asked to get a signed copy of your new book. I already have the diaries which is why I know of your commitment to state schools.

  • Jim Lafferty

    Even when we did so well in the Olympics there was an attempt to say it had nothing to do with government investment. Of course it did The Lottery may have been a Tory government law but it is Labour who have seen this huge investment in sport and we should celebrate it as you say

  • Keith Moore

    Sue Campbell totally deserved her elevation to the Lords. She is a passionate and articulate advocate of sport at all levels. As you probably know she is also a Labour supporter, so good egg all round!

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    Do these Sports Colleges make you do PE in your pants if you leave your kit at home?

  • Ben Bradshaw

    Thanks for this, alastair. The transformation in school sport is one of Labour’s great success stories. There’s recognition of this at local level but getting national coverage (with the honorable and unlikely exception of the Telegraph)is a real struggle.

  • jon

    How come Everyone on Incapacity Benefit is freezing to death, while everyone over a certain age gets a winter fuel allowance? Is it because we are already dead in the water?

  • Alan Quinn

    My son plays junior football and some of the venues we play at are fantastic, some of the schools used are tremendous. None of this was by accident, it was because Labour chose to invest in sport and schools.
    Obviously as a Mancunian I have to point out that the cockney olympics wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for the brilliant Manchester Commonwealth Games where we showed the world that the UK could put on an intenational event.

  • s chapman

    Totally unreal that GB and TB did a deal over leadership – I mean how undemocratic was that….can you believe the arrogance…” yea ok GB ill pass the baton to you post 2005 – bugger the electorate “