Laura McAllister: Ex Sport Wales chief highlights 'crumbling facilities'

Laura McAllister is Professor of Public Policy at Cardiff University
Laura McAllister is Professor of Public Policy at Cardiff University

Former chair of Sport Wales Laura McAllister believes sport in the country continues to prosper despite problems like "crumbling facilities".

Prof McAllister used her speech at the Welsh Sport Hall of Fame dinner in Cardiff to highlight the challenges.

"Sport continues to thrive in difficult times, less volunteers, crumbling facilities, less funds," said McAllister.

"This means clubs, sport's lifeblood, are being squeezed and priced out."

She continued: "Without clubs, their coaches and volunteers, we are in danger of missing the next Nicole Cooke or the next Lauren Price or the next Daniel James."

Prof McAllister is also concerned about what she perceives as the lack of physical education in schools with the new draft curriculum, due to be introduced in 2022, not specifying a set amount of activity every week.

The curriculum leaves it open for individual schools to decide on PE lessons.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said in June 2019 she was concerned PE would disappear off the curriculum in some schools, causing potential problems for the NHS in 15 to 20 years' time due to people being unfit.

These concerns were echoed by a group of AMs, who recommended schools be required by law to provide at least two hours of PE every week.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee said the change was vital to tackle a public health crisis, with more than a quarter of four and five-year-olds starting school in Wales last year classed as obese or overweight.

Prof McAllister, a former Wales football international, called for the Welsh Government to drive school participation.

"It starts early, almost always in schools," said McAllister.

"It's a sobering and depressing fact most Welsh schools don't deliver two hours of PE, that's 120 minutes across a week.

"A recent Assembly committee report recommended this as a minimum statutory requirement with proper inspection by (education and training inspectorate) Estyn.

"So over to you Welsh Government. This is not that difficult you know.

"All of us know if PE and sport continue to be the Cinderella subjects in schools . . . we are condemning children to sedentary life styles, poor health and all the dreadful problems that accompany that."

In 2013, Baroness Grey-Thompson chaired a group which examined PE in Welsh schools. Its main recommendation - that PE be made a core subject with the same status as maths, English, Welsh and science - was not implemented.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson won 11 Paralympic gold medals
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson won 11 Paralympic gold medals

Education expert Prof Graham Donaldson was then commissioned by the Welsh Government to draw up a new curriculum.

That first draft was published in April 2019 after consultations with schools and is made up of six areas of learning and experience - including wellbeing, which incorporates physical activity alongside topics like sexuality, relationships and healthy eating.

Supporters of the new curriculum said it would lead to children being more active and healthy as, for the first time, the wellbeing of pupils would be placed at the heart of school life.

Sport Wales, the organisation responsible for promoting sport and physical activity in Wales, supports the new curriculum but its chief executive Sarah Powell said success would stand or fall on the training teachers receive.

Education minister Kirsty Williams agreed on the importance of solving the issue.

"We all want our children and young people to be healthy, active and confident," said Williams.

"It's integral we ensure all our children and young people get their daily physical activity.

"Pupil well-being is a priority and we're working with Sport Wales and others to embed physical literacy into the Health and Well-Being AoLE (area of learning and experience)."

Consultation on the new curriculum is open for feedback until 19 July.

"I welcome the dialogue and invite everyone to respond," added Williams.