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Great to see sports stars telling Cameron the truth on school sport axe

Posted on 30 November 2010 | 10:11am

Flying into Heathrow at the weekend, I was struck once more by the beauty and the power to inspire of the nascent Olympic stadium. If it can do that now, a year and a half ahead of the event, imagine what it will feel like to be an athlete flying in from overseas in the summer of 2012, as the pilot says ‘if you look out of the left-hand window, you will see the stadium’.

I was particularly lucky on Sunday. Cold but sunny, a fabulous light, to the left the Dome, beyond the stadium the City, then the Gherkin and beyond that a succession of bridges towards Parliament. It really was stunning.

Yet if there is a cloud hanging over the whole thing, it is the coalition government’s decision to axe the £162million budget for school sport. David Cameron and Michael Gove are being utterly dishonest in their misuse of statistics on the issue. And the planned school Olympics will do next to nothing by comparison with the 450 School Sports Partnerships being axed.

I return to the subject because of the letter from Olympic medal winners which has been sent to the PM asking him to rethink. I hope it has as powerful an impact on him as a previous collection of sporting letters had on his predecessor a few years ago.

The decision to go for the Games was never black and white. There was a lot of Cabinet opposition. The costs were likely to be considerable. There was a good chance we wouldn’t get it. Tony Blair’s instincts were always pointing in the ‘go for it’ direction, but not without the occasional flicker towards ‘play safe’.

A brilliantly produced collection of letters from top athletes, which I put in with his weekend reading for Chequers, helped to stop the flickering. He came back on Monday morning convinced we had to go for it, and after that we did. As anyone on the IOC will tell you, his personal commitment thereafter was a huge factor in seeing off the French.

It was the sheer unadulterated passion of the athletes, their powerful belief that hosting the Olympics would inspire a whole generation to put sport at the centre of their lives, that so moved TB. I hope Cameron is now similarly moved. Because the truth is his government’s decision shows that while the Olympics are a great bandwagon for them to leap aboard, their commitment to sport is less than skin deep.

Well done to badminton player Gail Emms for organising the letter, and to the likes of Denise Lewis, Tessa Sanderson and Jason Queally for throwing their weight behind the campaign. ‘We cannot stand by and watch as your government threatens to destroy any hopes this country has of delivering a genuine London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic legacy,’ they say. ‘The future health of all our children is at risk if you axe this funding’. Hear hear, and let’s hear more of the same from MPs of all parties when the subject is debated in the Commons today.

If Cameron fails to land the 2018 World Cup for England, a lot of fuss will be made about last night’s BBC Panorama programme (which I missed because I was watching Barcelona beat Real Madrid 5-0 in one of the best team performances of all time.) But if I was working for one of the rival bids, it is the decision on school sport I would be putting in front of the Fifa powers that be. It is not the action of someone who cares about sport, or understands its potential.

  • Sarah Dodds

    Fascinated by Gove on TV last week and how he rubbished SSPs in favour of “traditional” sports such as “rugby, football and hockey.” He derided some partnership schemes such as “circus skills” as being pointless. What I’m assuming he was talking about was efforts made to make teaching and participating in gymnastics fun, motivating and interesting. But no, no, no, no. Kids in Gove’s schools must not have fun now, must they? They must compete and run round freezing fields having their characters built. Let me guess – he is also about to remove hot water from school showers just to build those charcters a bit more. (After all, he did say there would be SOME money spent on school buildings.) I fear that rather than being motivated, interested and keen about sports and health as my older child is, my toddler my well end up hating it as much as I did.

    One thing I noticed while marching round with a SSP petition last week, (and I wonder how much of Labour Government policy this relates to) is that many people love the schemes. But not many seemed to be unaware that they had actually happened on purpose!! How much of the good that Labour did is being lost because people just don’t quite realise how schemes such as these were Government driven? Which brings us back again to that old theme again – defending Labour’s record before so much good is trashed.

    I noticed that one of the first things Gove did at the education department was to take down that rather chirpy rainbow logo, and he went with an all greyish look. I joked flippantly at the time that was an ominous sign. But it does seem that he is intent on taking all of the colour and life from education.

  • Chrissie Sampson

    I have the feeling with Gove that he has a touch of the John Majors about him – warm beer, maidens cycling to cricket, all that rubbish … they have a vision of how they think the world was and they want to take us back to it, whatever it was

  • Deborah Hill

    I think it was great to get the Olympics. Less convinced we need the World Cup. We are football obsessed enough as it is. But totally agree they are vandals concerning school sport. Power to your elbow

  • Colin Robertson

    They just do not get it … on any level

  • Chris lancashire

    You clearly subscribe to the belief that money in = results out. That theory has been tested to (near) destruction in the last ten years and found wanting. All the extra money spent in the last decade has resulted in lower pupil participation in sports and lower competitive sports between schools. Aside from that, in the words of Liam Byrne “there’s no money left”. So forget lamenting a reduced budget and ask why this has happened. It has to have something to do with the ethos in schools, sports teaching and broader social problems. Forget money and look elsewhere for a solution to this problem.

  • Sarah Dodds

    You are so wrong. Participation is up. Competition between schools is up. Beyond any doubt. Ask any real teacher in in any real school. As the Tories have shown time and time again, you just can’t trust their figures.

  • Quinney

    They don’t give a toss about this country only themselves and their class. How embarrassing for Dave to be PM if we produce only a mediocre medals tally, that’ll be Labour’s fault too.

  • Richard

    If your pals had not let the original TB delivered £2.4 billion Olympic budget get out of control, and approach £10 billion, the school sports budget could have been increased to £300 million a year…..and lasted 20 years.
    That would have been an Olympic legacy!
    Geddit?

  • Chris lancashire

    Could we have your figures then?

  • Janete

    Take a look at the School Sports Partnership website. They summarise the success of the programme as follows

    ‘The impact of school sports partnerships on young people:

    In 2010 3.02m young people were involved in inter-school competition during the academic year; an increase of 1.63m young people since all school sport partnerships became operational in 2006.

    In 2010 4.8m young people were involved in intra-school competition during the academic year; an increase of 1.15m young people since all school sport partnerships became operational in 2006.

    In 2010 1.57m young people in years 1-13 were actively involved in sport volunteering and leadership over the academic year, an increase of 777,000 young people since 2007.

    School to club links have multiplied from an average of 5.00 links per school in 2004 to 9.1 links last year, and 1.84m young people were participating in one or more community sports, dance or multi-skill clubs with links to the school, an increase of 600,000 young people since 2006.

    SSP’s work with students who haven’t previously engaged in sport to identify source appropriate opportunities. As a result, in 2010 5.6m young people were participating in at least 2 hours of high quality PE and out of hours school sport in a typical week, an improvement of 1.5m young people since all school sport partnerships became operational in 2006.

    The benefits of school sport partnerships for schools:

    Achievement and attainment
    In February 2010 there were 501 sports colleges and academies with a sport or sport-related specialism. Sports colleges continue to see an improvement in the percentage of pupils achieving five or more A*-Cs including English and Maths. In 2009 47% of pupils in sports colleges achieved this standard, up from 40% in 2006. The rate of improvement in sports colleges has been higher than the national average improvement over the last three years. From 2008 to 2009 this improvement was 2.54 percentage points, compared to the national average of 2.20. Sports colleges continue to be the fastest improving specialism.

    Economies of Scale
    Economies of scale e.g. on purchasing and service provision like coaches. It is easier and more effective to employ a coach to work for 30 hours per week across 5 schools than for 6 hours in one – experience shows we need a PDM to recruit, employ and effectively deploy coaches.

    Attracting additional investment into schools
    SSP’s supplementing the budgets and resources of individual schools from external sources, creating shared opportunities for local youngsters to engage in a much wider range of new activities. For example, SSP’s have levered additional funding of nearly £9m into coaching over the last two academic years.’

    Other benefits are listed if you take the time to look.

    Details like this are a real irritation to politicians (and their supporters) who try to rewrite history.

    My guess is that much of the detailed social impact data of all types collected by Labour will be abandoned by the current Government, so the impact of their cuts will be hidden. Factual data can then be replaced by the subjective ‘happiness’ index.

  • Julie

    Children playing 2 hours of sport a week gone from 25% in 1997 to over 90% in 2010. Children playing competitive sport now 2 in 5, reflecting the facts that not everyone gets picked for the team and that many children prefer to participate in other sports activities which are not competitive. I teach in a comprehensive which has sports and science status and we have children who are competing not only with other schools, but also at county and national level. Sport in schools, as it has been delivered over the last 10 years, has allowed all children to benefit, not just the sporty ones. By the way, Gove’s ‘Olympic Sports Day’ idea is nothing new – we did it in our school this year. The whole school was out on the sports’ fields in vertical (Year7 -11) teams each representing a different nation. As usual on these occasions I cried as members of my Y10 tutor group won the 4×4 relay! Brilliant.

  • Pam

    “impact data of all types collected by Labour will be abandoned by the current government so the impact of their cuts will be hidden”.

    Just like Labour used to do!

    Pam