Sports minister Hugh Robertson today denied any responsibility for the school sport cuts – yet claimed credit for the school games, which are very much part of the government’s school sport strategy, designed to increase participation in competitive sport.
In Culture, Media, Sport and Olympics Questions in the Commons this morning, following a question from Tracy Crouch (Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford) about the lack of media coverage of women’s sport (a subject covered by Left Foot Forward in January), shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman grilled him on the impact of the school sport cuts, describing school sport as “the bedrock of participation”, something that “should be a priority”.
“Why has his government cut spending on school sports by 64 per cent, isn’t that sending a message that school sport no longer matters?”
With Robertson replying:
“This department is not responsible for school sport, that is funded by the Department for Education, and actually what my Right Honourable Friend [Jeremy Hunt] has championed personally is a school games competition that absolutely is intended to drive up participation across both genders.”
Harman than asked:
“Well, he talks about driving up participation, but will he tell us how he’s going to monitor how much sport young people are doing in schools when he’s scrapped the school sports survey, when his government has cut school sports partnerships, it’s even more important we know the effect that this is having on participation in sport…
“Is it not remarkable that the ministers are sitting there saying it’s nothing to do with us, they really should be making an impact on other ministers in other government departments to make sure that they support school sport across the whole government.”
With Robertson again replying:
“The policy responsibility for school sport lies in the department for education…
“What this department is doing is playing its part by introducing a new school games competition, that has been extraordinarily successful, 11,000 schools now signed up, and we’re also going to produce a new measure for the age group 16-24, precisely when we do take responsibility for young people coming up where participation has been falling, year on year, for the last ten years.”
Watch the exchange, and keep an eye out for Robertson saying “I had nothing to do with that” at 2:04:
So Robertson’s message appears to be the DCMS is in charge of the School Games, with the DfE responsible for school sport, and by definition competitive school sport (which he and his department have an awful lot to say about), and to blame for the cuts - issues that were all raised later in the session.
On the point of departmental responsibility, former sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe (Labour, Bradford South) asked Robertson:
“What discussions has he had with the Department of Education about the cuts in school sports and the fact that school sports coordinators are being cut.”
To which the non-reply was, well, see for yourself:
Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, was asked about the cuts to School Sports Partnerships – cuts described by shadow education minister Toby Perkins as “idiocy” on these pages last year – with Julie Hilling (Labour, Bolton West) asking him, now SSPs are gone:
“How will he ensure that my constituents benefit from the Olympics.”
“Some school sports partnerships did an excellent job, but overall participation amongst young people fell under her government, it fell from 58 per cent to 54 per cent over the last four years, three of which were under the last government.”
And on the School Games, competitive sport, and the scrapping of the PE and Sport Survey, shadow sports minister Clive Efford asked Robertson:
“The person who launched School Games was the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, not the Department of Education, now they have been using a figure of one in five children involved in inter-school competitive sport and they will know that that figure comes from the PE Sports Survey carried out of schools every year and that that figure is measured on the basis of children taking part in nine competitive sport events against other schools in a school year.
“Now we know from the Under Secretary of State for Education in the Westminster Hall debate that he says that that’s not an ambitious target, so can the minister tell us how is he going to measure the increase, the impact of School Games, on increasing participation in competitive sport, and is the benchmark nine times in the school year, or is it more?”
With the sports minister replying:
“Answer in two part, by the number of schools that want to sign up, and I’m delighted to say we’ve got 11,000 schools signed up, which I’m sure he would welcome, and the part of the equation for which this department is responsible, which is the cadre of people from 16-25, where we wil be making the announcement in the New Year.”
So there, it looks like, we have it – the “cadre” of people for whom the DCMS is responsible for is those aged 16-25 (or 16-24 according to Robertson’s earlier answer to Harman), the department responsible for the School Games is apparently only responsible for sport for 16-25 year olds, and seemingly takes no responsibility for school sport, or for the scrapping of the PE and Sport Survey.
What, then, of the figures of falling participation Robertson and Hunt cite? For 16-25 year olds overall that may be so, but for school children, the same children and age groups at which the School Games are aimed, talk of falling participation under the last government is simply not backed up by the evidence of the soon-to-be-abolished PE and Sport Survey.
• 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.
From the survey, Figure 16 shows the percentage of pupils involved in intra-sport competitive activities rose 30 percentage points from 58 per cent in 2006/07 to 78 per cent in 2009/10:
While Figure 21 shows the percentage of pupils participating in inter-sport competitive activities increased 14 percentage points from 35 per cent in 2006/7 to 49 per cent in 2009/10:
With the table below showing an increasing number of schools from 2003/04 to 2009/10 offering a broader range of sports:
What Parliament witnessed today was disjointed government at its worst, the separation of powers over school sport, the passing of the buck on school sport cuts, ministers ducking responsibility, one department in charge of the School Games, another with departmental responsibility for school sport, the scaling back of programmes that were delivering more competitive school sport and increased participation, and, to compound these follies, the abolition of the PE and Sport survey.
As we said last year:
“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.”
• Priced out of the playground: Tory Wandsworth to charge kids to play – Shamik Das, May 12th 2011
• Why is there such little coverage of women’s sport? – Shamik Das, January 24th 2011
• 2018 may be lost, but PM can still deliver a brighter future for school sport – Shamik Das, December 2nd 2010
• The devastating effect of Gove’s desire to take an axe to school sport – Debbie Foote, November 29th 2010
• Miliband urges Cameron to “overrule” Gove’s school sport cuts – Shamik Das, November 24th 2010
• World finally wakes up to coalition’s assault on school sport – Shamik Das, November 22nd 2010
• Coalition’s aim for a “school sport revolution” in tatters after CSR – Shamik Das, October 24th 2010