UK Politics

Cameron orders rethink on school sports cuts

Media captionDavid Cameron hinted at the U-turn at prime minister's questions

David Cameron has ordered a rethink on plans to cut funding for school sports in England after concern "at local level", Downing Street has said.

Mr Cameron's spokesman said the PM had asked Education Secretary Michael Gove to look again at the money available.

Mr Gove says the current system is mired in red tape and must change but Mr Cameron indicated a possible U-turn at prime minister's questions.

Labour said there had been a "grassroots revolt" against the plans.

In reply to a question from former sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe, Mr Cameron said he was "looking carefully" at the debate held in Parliament on Tuesday - where a host of Labour MPs raised concerns from constituents about the issue - and would make an announcement soon.

Downing Street said later the decision to cut school sports funding had been revisited because "there is some recognition this is being raised at local level".

When asked about a timescale for a change in the policy, the spokesman said "they are looking at it now". It is thought that any decision will not be taken until local government funding settlements are finalised later this month.

'Change in tone'

The No 10 spokesman said there was widespread recognition that the schools sports partnership system - set up in 2000 - was overly bureaucratic and needed reform: "We are withdrawing the funding, that's gone, but we are looking at how best to support competitive sport in schools."

The Department of Education said it would be "redeploying" existing resources for schools sport and would say how it intended to allocate the money "in due course".

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham welcomed what he said was "a huge change in tone" since Tuesday's debate about the future of the partnerships.

He and two other shadow cabinet ministers have written to Mr Gove to offer to work with him to help retain the existing structure of partnership managers, which co-ordinate efforts between schools, while accepting overall funding will have to be reduced given the tough financial climate.

Olympic legacy

"The response from so many credible voices from the world of sport speaks volumes about the great achievements of the partnerships," they wrote.

"We made a promise when we won the Olympics that we would inspire a generation of young people through sport. We believe this is a commitment beyond party politics and one that matters to parents and young people across every school in the country."

The rethink follows a growing backlash against the plans to end £162m in direct funding for the last government's sports and PE strategy.

This includes money for the 450 school sports partnership schemes - joint initiatives between primary, secondary and specialist state schools designed to increase sporting opportunities for children.

More than 70 top British athletes, including Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis and world diving champion Tom Daley, wrote to Mr Cameron saying the policy was "ill-conceived" and risked efforts to deliver a "genuine legacy" from the Olympics in terms of encouraging sports participation.

When first challenged on the issue last week, Mr Cameron suggested the partnerships had not succeeded in boosting participation in many sports, a comment Labour leader Ed Miliband said he would "live to regret".

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