Cameron and Miliband clash over school sports funding

Prime Minister David Cameron was repeatedly asked about funding for school sports

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David Cameron and Ed Miliband have clashed over plans for the future funding for schools sports in England.

Labour's leader called proposed changes "daft" given that the number of children doing more than two hours of sport a week had risen from about 25% to more than 90%.

He accused Education Secretary Michael Gove of being "high-handed and unfair".

But Mr Cameron said participation levels in competitive sports was poor and Labour's record was "terrible".

The two leaders clashed over the proposed changes at Prime Minister's Questions on the day the government outlined proposed legislation on schools reform.

'Red tape'

Instead of ringfencing the current £162m budget for schools sports and physical education projects, the prime minister suggested this and funding for other individual projects would, in future, be wrapped into the core schools budget. This budget, he said, would rise by £3.6bn over the next four years.

But Labour said funding was being cut entirely and Mr Cameron was "either unaware of the scale of the decimation facing school sport or deliberately misleading people about its impact".

The prime minister told MPs that the current system was too bureaucratic and the changes would enable head teachers to decide where the money would be best spent.

Start Quote

This is frankly a daft decision which he should U-turn on as soon as possible”

End Quote Ed Miliband

He said the number of schools offering sports such as rugby, hockey and gymnastics had actually fallen since 1997, evidence of Labour's "terrible record" on the issue.

Only two out of five children were currently playing any competitive sport, Mr Cameron told MPs.

"Over the last decade we saw a lot of money put into school sport but we did not see a lot of progress," he said. "This approach did not work and it is time for a new one."

Critics say decisions taken in last month's Spending Review mean money for school sports partnerships is being cut rather than subsumed within the core schools budget.

Mr Miliband said the government would "live to regret" its approach given the progress in participation in recent years.

'Damaging'

More than a million more children were taking part in competitive sports between schools now than in 1997, he said, supported by a network of 200,000 volunteers.

"This is frankly a daft decision which he should U-turn on as soon as possible," he told Mr Cameron.

"I am afraid it sums up this education secretary - high-handed, incompetent and unfair."

Outlining the government's White Paper on schools reform later in the Commons, Mr Gove faced calls from Labour MPs to rethink the proposed changes.

"Your decision to axe funding will be extremely damaging to the fitness and health and attainment of our young people," former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said, arguing that it had contributed to a "renaissance" in schools sport in recent years.

Mr Gove said he wanted to work with all parties to "ensure the additional resources that we are putting into education and the additional emphasis on competitive team sport means that every school has the support it needs to give every child the physical education they deserve".

Despite scrapping what they said equated to a "national blueprint" for schools sport, ministers say they expect all schools to continue offering their pupils at least two hours of sport or PE every week.

But the Youth Sports Trust, a charity which seeks to advance childrens' development through sport, said it was worried by the impact the changes would have.

"We believe school sports is a priority and should be supported by direct funding rather than cut," a spokesman said.

It said the number of children aged between five and 16 participating in competitive sports within schools had risen from 69% to 78% over the past year.

It said the fall in the number of pupils taking part in sports such as netball and hockey was a result of schools offering a greater range of activities and the increasing popularity of sports such as golf, canoeing, cycling and tennis.

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