The government’s aim to “spark a competitive school sport revolution”, outlined only a month ago, looks set, alongside Nick Clegg’s pledge “to vote against any increase in fees”, to become yet another broken coalition promise and kick in the teeth for young people following the cuts to school sport outlined in the Comprehensive Spending Review this week and the subsequent axing of targets and strategies which have resulted in increases in participation in school sport and rises in the number of pupils playing competitive school sport.
The Department of Education is scrapping the £162 million PE and Sports Strategy; the target of five hours’ high-quality sport a week from age 5-16; the network of 450 school sports partnerships which forge sporting links between shools and local clubs; and ring fenced funding for the country’s 3,068 specialist schools – 400 of which are sports academies.
Baroness Sue Campbell, chair of the Youth Sport Trust, said the funding cuts would “decimate” the progress made in the past ten years, describing the decision as “incomprehensible” less than two years from London 2012, a “direct contradiction” of the promises Lord Coe made when bidding for the Olympic Games five years ago, when he said Britain would ‘bring sport to life for children at home and around the world’.
In his letter to Baroness Campbell explaining his decision, the education secretary Michael Gove insists the government “will encourage more competitive sport”, yet, as with children’s minister Tim Loughton last month, fails to explain how, specifically how it can be achieved with significantly less money. Mr Gove also writes that:
“… the fact remains that the proportion of pupils playing competitive sport regularly has remained disappointingly low. Only around two in every five pupils play competitive sport regularly within their own school, and only one in five plays regularly against other schools.”
Such a conclusion, however, take no account of the improvement in the number of pupils playing competitive sport regularly or at all, either intra- or inter-school, over recent years as a direct result of the PE and Sports Strategy and other targets and policies of the previous government. Looking solely at competitive sport, the DFE’s recent ‘PE and Sport Survey 2009/10‘ revealed:
• A “very large increase” in the proportion of pupils participating in intra-school competitive activities during the academic year – up from 69% (of Years 1 – 11) in 2008/09 to 78% in 2009/10 – an increase apparent in each and every year group, with the largest increase being in Year 1;
• 77% of boys participated in intra-school competition, compared to 73% of girls;
• Like participation in intra-school competition in general, regular participation has also increased substantially over the last year – up from 28% of Years 3–13 in 2008/09 to 39% in 2009/10;
• 99% of schools held at least one sports day or equivalent during the academic year;
• 49% of pupils in Years 1 – 11 participated in inter-school competition during the academic year, continues the upward trend – with a five
percentage point increase in the last year; and
• 21% of pupils across Years 3 – 13 regularly participated in inter-school competition during 2009/10, a small increase from 19% in 2008/09.
The survey also shows significant increases over recent years in participation in PE and school sport, curriculum time spent on PE, sports provision, club links, community sports and multi-skill clubs, gifted and talented pupils, sports volunteering and leadership and further education sport co-ordinators.
The increases in participation in competitive sport over the past few years are perhaps best illustrated by the following graphs. The first shows the percentage of pupils involved in intra-sport competitive activities up 30 percentage points from 58 per cent in 2006/07 to 78 per cent in 2009/10:
While the increase in participation in inter-sport competitive activities is 14 percentage points from 35 per cent in 2006/7 to 49 per cent in 2009/10:
Looking at Mr Gove’s favoured metric, the proportion of pupils playing competitive sport regularly, we see rises across all year groups and a rise of 11 percentage points from 2008/09 to 2009/10 in intra-school competition:
While in inter-school competition, the increase is more modest, up from 19 per cent in 2008/09 to 21 per cent in 2009/10:
The success or more likely failure of the coalition’s new approach may never be known, as Mr Gove is also removing the need for schools to ‘report termly to the Youth Sport Trust on various performance indicators’, and, more significantly, ‘collect information about every pupil for an annual survey’ – the survey of all schools in England, from which the stats above have been gleaned; in other words, it may prove impossible to hold the government to account on this.