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Primary Education News
News A lame Olympic legacy for school sport | David Conn
Since the Olympics, the government has fallen far short of a plan to encourage an active and healthier generation
Finally, seven months after the multimillion-pound closing ceremony of the £12bn Olympic Games, here it is, David Cameron's "Olympic legacy boost" for school sport – £150m, to cover all the 17,000 primary schools in England.
This is, at least, something – two and a half years after the education secretary, Michael Gove, vandalised school sport, putting a red line through £162m funding for a system that was working very well. In the runup to the Olympics, hosted by London on a promise from Tony Blair and Sebastian Coe that it would inspire a new generation, the School Sport Partnerships (SSP) structure, which organised and promoted sport across schools, was destroyed.
Developed by the Labour government to rebuild sport in state schools, where it had deteriorated pitifully under the Conservatives in the 1980s and 90s, the £162m funded a specialist school sport co-ordinator for two days a week, stretched locally across 450 SSPs to reach all schools.
The results, after the Tory years of decline, were startlingly good: more than 90% of pupils in 2009-10 had two hours of PE a week restored, and 78% took part in competitive sport.
The outcry against Gove's cut, by teachers, the Youth Sport Trust, which organised the SSPs, and sports professionals, led to a partial restoration of the funding: £32.5m each for 2011, 2012 and this year, when the money will end. It was intended to allow a reduced form of SSPs, but the money was not protected for sport, and half the SSPs perished, according to the Youth Sport Trust.
Cameron's government also abolished the school sport survey, so the effect of the cut on provision could no longer be measured. However, in a survey last year by the cricket development project Chance to Shine, 54% of parents said their children were doing less than two hours PE a week, a startling decline.
It took until last month for Ofsted to publish a report, Beyond 2012: Outstanding Physical Education for All, which vindicated the positive work done by the SSPs.
"Funding for school sport partnerships ended in 2011," Ofsted noted. "Evidence is that these partnerships had left a notable legacy in the vast majority of secondary schools and their feeder primary schools over the last four years."
Cameron's government drifted into the Olympics with that school sport structure so casually wiped out by Gove. To claim this £150m as an Olympic legacy, seven months late, only gives the impression of a government that, since the summer's euphoria, has been scrambling to put something real in place.
The state schools, in which 93% of our young people are educated, do not ask for much – they are pleasantly surprised by the £150m. Certainly, they never dare argue for anything level with the lavish facilities at the private schools, such as the Olympic rowing lake, extensive tennis courts, and loamy playing fields of Eton ,which Cameron enjoyed in his youth.
Yet, now, Cameron's government is restoring funding that should never have been cut, but not the SSP structure it paid for. According to Gove's guiding ideology, the money must go to each of England's 17,000 schools – giving them £8,823 a year each, ring-fenced for sport – for them to decide individually how to spend it. One of the chief concerns of education and sport professionals is that an army of private providers will be eager to profit from this new money.
There is to be a pilot programme to train more primary school teachers in PE – their current course includes just six hours of it – and closer links are promised with the governing bodies of sports that might send coaches into schools. Cameron is wrapping this funding with the grand claim: "This investment will benefit a whole generation of children for many years to come."
There is, within it all, painfully little evidence of joined-up thinking with health and the wider crisis of obesity, or an actual, observable strategy. And, of course, there is no admission that the SSPs should not have been destroyed in the first place.
The comparison between the £12bn it cost to host the Olympics and this £150m "legacy boost" needs no amplification.
The money is welcome, but as a plan to encourage an active and healthier generation, this has been a case study in how not to do it.