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What does U-turn mean for sporting legacy?

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David Bond | 10:27 UK time, Monday, 20 December 2010

Of all the difficult spending cuts announced by the coalition government back in October, Prime Minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne cannot have expected the scrapping of funding for school sports to have sparked such howls of protests.

Tuition fees, sure. Defence cuts, definitely. But a relatively small and little known network called School Sports Partnerships (SSPs)?

That was hardly likely to cause demonstrations, was it?

And yet on Monday Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, will announce a partial climbdown on the decision to axe the £162m scheme.

After a series of meetings with cabinet colleagues last week, including the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, I understand about £70m has been salvaged to ensure the network is maintained, although that too will eventually be phased out.

Some of that money will also be used to pay for the government's new Schools Olympics, which are designed to boost competitiveness in school sports.

No matter how Mr Gove and his fellow ministers spin it, this is a U-turn. He will argue he has saved funds by slashing half the money used to fund what he saw as an over bureaucratic and wasteful administration.

Crucially, says the sports lobby, he has retained the most essential part of the scheme - namely 450 SSPs covering many more schools.

But there is no doubt the backlash from head teachers and leading athletes caught the government by surprise. Even after Cameron had signalled he was having a rethink, school children, head teachers and leading athletes kept up the pressure.

So why did the government change its mind?

Cameron, in particular, recognised quite quickly that this was a bad moment to start jeopardising grassroots sport with the London Olympics hurtling down the track.

Since winning the right to stage the 2012 Games back in 2005, Lord Coe's grand vision of a sporting legacy for the country has not made much progress.

The Conservatives made it a manifesto pledge to deliver such a legacy but, with so little time and so little money, serious questions were being asked as to how that was going to be achieved.

In November, the government unveiled its main plan for delivering a grassroots legacy from the Games - a £135m initiative primarily for facilities and volunteers called People Places Play.

But if ministers had any doubts about the scale of the task facing them, a survey by Sport England published last week revealed that, despite a steady increase across sport generally, five of the seven leading sports, including football and swimming, actually saw a fall in participation.

Set against that background - and the prime minister's involvement in England's doomed 2018 World Cup bid - cutting a relatively modest amount of funding to a school sports scheme that teachers said was working was bad PR.

On Monday, Cameron will make great play of his government's commitment to sport when the floodlights at the London Olympic Stadium are turned on for the first time.

Organisers will again point to the rapid and impressive progress they are making along the road to 2012.

But despite the government's change of heart on school sports, doubts still linger over what will follow after.

Update 1500 GMT

Michael Gove's announcement promises more money for school sports than was perhaps expected.

Having announced he was scrapping the £162m annual funding for school sports next March, teachers and sports bodies will reflect that any money is a bonus.

In total, £136m of new funding appears to have been salvaged by the government from the Department of Education, the Department of Health and the National Lottery to save the SSP scheme until 2013 and to pay for the School Olympics.

This money is made up of:

* £47m to keep the existing SSP network in place until September next year. That is an additional six months for the exisiting programme, which was due to be scrapped in March

* £65m to be paid to each of the 3,500 secondary schools in England to allow one PE teacher to dedicate one day a week to organising and running school sport

* £24m to pay for the new School Olympics scheme from the Department of Health and National Lottery (£10m from the Lottery and £14m from Health).

This is being portrayed as an embarrassing U-turn for the government by Labour and a victory for the school sports lobby, who campaigned so hard against the cuts.

The Youth Sports Trust (YST), the charity that runs the SSP scheme, says the new funding will be sufficient to maintain a "basic network", although it does halve the number of days a week PE teachers are able to devote to organising school sports from two to one.

But had the original funding been maintained at previous levels, the 450 SSPs would have shared £324m up to 2013. If the YST is now saying it can run the programme on £188m less, it begs the question: what exactly was the rest of the money being spent on?

And that is the coalition's point. They argue the cash was being wasted on bureaucracy and not developing competitive school sports.

But while sport will welcome the change of heart from a government facing such difficult economic circumstances, the money allocated only lasts until the summer of 2013 - one year after the London Olympics.

And the big question remains: what happens after that?


  • Comment number 1.

    It's a disgrace that MP's should be even considering a reduction in sports funding. We consistently underperform in many sports on the international stage, we have very few top class facilities that are accessible for children across the board, and we have one of the worst rates of obesity amongst children and adults in the Western world. MP's are gambling (literally) with the nation's health. Shocking.

  • Comment number 2.

    This is not just about bad PR for a governemnt, this is about giving young people a sporting chance.

    Hopefully common sense has prevailed?

  • Comment number 3.

    Wait a minute...

    4,000 people to run courses in 450 schools?

    That is nearly 9 per school!

    I wonder what the hours per week per school are for the people on the ground doing the work with the kids? 100% efficient would equal around 265 hours (based on a 9am-3pm day).

    Whats the bets is nearer 26.5 hours? Sounds like they were half right - a useful scheme crippled by too much paperwork.

  • Comment number 4.

    It is 450 Partnerships - NOT schools (a partnership can have around 8 secondary and 60ish primary schools)

  • Comment number 5.

    Ah, I see the offending paragraph/sentence has been completely re-worded since I commented.

    Those numbers (4,000 people looking after ~ 30,000 schools) now look a little thin though, that is only roughly 4 hrs/week/school (at 100% efficient). I suppose it is enough time to train the teachers that take the kids; which does get the job done.

  • Comment number 6.

    Prince Paolo of course it is not a disgrace this country has far to many administrators, we have very a lot of top class facilities that are accessible for children across the board. The trouble with this country is the politically correct brigade who will interfere in the sports and past times arena.

    The partnerships were top heavy with admin people from the government via the agencies that administered it to it eventually reaching the school children. In other countries they let the children get on with it.

    We have an opportunity to bring competition and real sport back to the classroom instead of cup stacking, cat play? and the many other bizarre games they introduced in their festivals.

    When I was at school (before becoming a pe teacher) we played competitive sport from the age of 9 years of age against other schools. Oh how I wish we still had primary school district champs at a range of sports.

  • Comment number 7.

    I think that a much closer look was needed at the Government proposed cuts. People are making knee jerk reactions without understanding any of the facts. As an educationalist closely involved in school sport much of the work of School partnerships, partnership managers and school sport coordinators were minimal in the secondary sector although some good within the primary. The 700 Schools who do not offer competitive sport should take a good long hard look at themselves along with many Physical education teachers. Its completely ridiculous well known sports people shouting wolf when they have little idea of the actual work that goes on.
    The system ,in its current form is certainly a waste of money and of little real benefit. I am for keeping the money but a much better system needs to be in place than what is currently on offer. Participation,performance pathways for talented students,competition and Student health all need improving but the current system does not in any shape of from deliver that.

  • Comment number 8.


    "When I was at school (before becoming a pe teacher) we played competitive sport from the age of 9 years of age against other schools. Oh how I wish we still had primary school district champs at a range of sports."

    Don't know where you teach but I'm a PE teacher too and there's loads of events going on in my area (South East London)

    There has been some slack in the existing SSP and particularly poor provision for disabled sport in my area but "Places, people, play" (get it right - it makes more sense) sounds like a community based development so could work

  • Comment number 9.


    you must not be looking on the right areas then. As an SSCO for 2 schools I can guarantee that SSPs have had a huge impact on participation levels in secondary schools, especially those that would not usually play sport competitvley. In fact since 2005 it has increased 3 fold whilst offering B team competitions and extensive leadership programs both in sport and accross all subject areas.
    I doubt anyone would argue the money has been a waste. Yes there are always ways to improve but concntrating soley on competition, which the government wants, would single out the gifted and talented and decrease participation levels for all, thus making the future health of the nation even worse than it is.

    I would also like to raise the point that where will all the SSCos etc go when they lose their jobs? There are no teaching jobs available and limited jobs in sports development (more cuts made). making well respected, highly skilled coaches and specialists unemplyed will have adverse effects on the country and cause more people to claim benifits that are paid by the government, just as the givernment pays for SSPs. Wheres the logic there? I have a young family so where's this so called big society?

  • Comment number 10.

    What's interesting is Sam Allardyce's idea to play youth football in the summer!

    Have a read of Umbrellas for Goal Post

  • Comment number 11.

    Primary schools are the place where you need to get children engaged in sport & with primary school teachers receiving hardly any PE training at college these days, the training/advice SSPs provide is key.

    The so-called 'u-turn' means that Primary sports co-ordinators will no longer receive any release time. In my area, this'll mean many schools will not release staff to accompany school teams to events/tournaments & therefore it'll be pointless giving secondary colleagues time to organise these tournaments.

    Thw whole school 'Olympics' idea is a total joke - impractical, unworkable, unsuitable.

    Gove's attitude towards SSPs represents the worst approach to teaching there is - make the hard-working and successful ones suffer because of the inadequecies of the few lazy ones.

  • Comment number 12.

    Funding of sport for kids should never be threatened.

    "* £65m to be paid to each of the 3,500 secondary schools in England to allow one PE teacher to dedicate one day a week to organising and running school sport" Isn't that part of their job anyway??!!

    How about PE teachers working summer holidays to run sports schools for kids. They would still get twice as many holidays as everyone else.


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