UK Politics

A guide to schools sport funding row

David Cameron playing football during a visit to a London school in 2009
Image caption Not enough children are playing competitive sport, David Cameron says

The funding of competitive sports in schools has risen up the political agenda amid uncertainty over the future of school sports partnerships.

The government announced plans to end direct funding for the initiative, a move which has led to an outcry from the opposition and many of the country's leading athletes.

No 10 has now said it is reviewing the position.

What are schools sports partnerships?

Set up in 2000, the partnerships are designed to increase sports and physical education opportunities for schoolchildren.

There are 450 partnership in England, involving every primary, secondary and special school, as well as dedicated sports college, in the state sector.

Each partnership is co-ordinated by a full time manager at a "hub school" who works with dedicated organisers at secondary and primary schools in their area to encourage increased participation.

How successful have they been?

All sides agree the partnerships - part of the last government's £162m annual sports and physical education strategy - have had a positive impact, encouraging collaboration and best practice between schools and raising the profile of school sport.

However, there is disagreement about how successful the initiative, and others undertaken by the last government, have been in boosting participation in terms of the money spent.

Labour says their success is highlighted by the fact the number of children doing more than two hours a week of high quality competitive sport or PE has risen from 25% to 90% since 2004.

This equates to an additional four million young people since 2006.

Recent surveys suggest the number of children taking part in competitive sport, of any kind, between schools has risen from 33% to 49% since 2004 while the number doing the same within their own schools is also rising.

But the government says only one in five pupils between the ages of five and 16 are regularly taking part in inter-school sport while only two out of five pupils are doing the same within their schools.

Given the £2.4bn spent by Labour on its sports and PE strategy, David Cameron has described this record as "woeful" and "terrible".

What impact have they had on individual sports?

Sceptics say the record in established sports has been patchy.

They point to the fact that, last year, 66% of schools offered their pupils the chance to play rugby compared with 67% in 2004.

The number of schools offering hockey has fallen from 77% to 73% over the period, surveys suggest while netball provision is down from 84% to 79% and gymnastics down from 94% to 91%.

But supporters say this ignores the fact that nearly 20 new sports have been made available to schools since the partnerships came into place and the choice on offer has expanded hugely.

Recent survey suggest the number of schools offering cycling has risen from 21% to 55%, golf is up from 14% to 44% and tennis up from 70% to 80%.

What changes did the government propose?

In October, ministers said they planned to end direct annual funding for the partnerships in March 2011, saying the programme was "no longer affordable" nor the best use of resources for encouraging competitive sport in schools.

While the partnerships would remain in place, ministers said schools would have to pay for staff out of their core budgets and funding would no longer be ring fenced.

Ministers are concerned the existing system is too bureaucratic, with too much duplication between organisers, and too prescriptive in the targets it was setting schools.

They argue headteachers should be allowed to decide where their budgets are spent while still expecting schools to provide each pupil a minimum of two hours a week of sport or PE.

What has the reaction been?

The backlash against the proposals has gathered pace in the past 10 days.

Labour have accused the government of ripping up a "world class system", which they say channelled money directly to schools to fund quality coaching and improved planning.

While acknowledging the system could be improved - shadow ministers want all children to be able to have five hours of sport a week - they say the changes amount to a "senseless act of vandalism".

Pressure on ministers grew after 75 top British athletes wrote to Mr Cameron to argue the changes were "ill-conceived" and put the fight against childhood obesity and other illnesses at risk.

Denise Lewis, Tessa Sanderson, Tom Daley and Jason Queally are among those to have expressed their concerns about the plans, saying they endangered the prospects of a "genuine legacy" from the 2012 Olympics in terms of widening sports participation and encouraging greater physical exercise.

The Youth Sports Trust charity says school partnerships work because they provide a single point of contact for all schools, reduce the cost of employing coaches and provide training for non-specialist teachers with an enthusiasm for sport.

If schools are forced to fund the partnerships out of existing budgets, it says there is a risk the networks may be disbanded while many schools will choose to fund academic subjects instead.

What is happening now?

David Cameron has asked Education Secretary Michael Gove and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to look again the plans following "local concerns".

He says he is passionate about securing the best possible provision of school sports while ensuring that money spent is done prudently and provides maximum value. A Downing Street spokesman says the direct funding of the sports partnership has been withdrawn and "we are now looking at how best to support competitive sport in schools".

The spokesman would not say whether or not there would be any ring-fenced funding. The result of the review is likely before Christmas.

What else is the government doing for sport?

Ministers have set aside £10m to establish an annual "schools Olympics", which they say will help contribute to the legacy from the 2012 Games.

The government also says it is putting in place extra protection to prevent the sale of playing fields which it argues previous administrations failed to act upon.