Are the government’s claims that it’s saved funding for school sport a sham?

21 December 2010
Local Schools Network
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Yesterday, David Cameron announced that the government has backtracked on slashing the funding for Specialist Sports’ Partnerships (SSP) in schools and has ear-marked £65 million to continue the programme. Yet speaking to a Partnership Development Manager (PDM) of a SSP today makes realise that this amazing programme will be more or less dismantled and only a very rudimentary version of it will run in schools — if at all. The problem is that the money won’t be “ring-fenced” and will, in all probability, be given to headteachers to spend as they wish. Many teachers are sceptical that the programme will run at all because the money will be swallowed up filling the big holes in school budgets that the spending review has left. It seems that the Youth Sports’ Trust (YST), which organises SSPs, still has a fight on its hands; the PDM I interviewed today was very worried that the government would wriggle out of its commitments once the furore has died down. If you want to show your continuing support for the campaign then log onto this FaceBook campaign, which has been instrumental in salvaging some funding.

My interview with the PDM — who wished to be anonymous — was fascinating and revealed the amazing work that he and his team have been doing throughout his local area. He is a good person to interview because his work is carried out by a number of PDMs throughout the country; he embodies the work being done throughout the nation.

Here’s the interview in full:

What does being a Partnership Development Manager for the Specialist Sports’ Trust involve?

I manage a government funded project which enhances physical education and sporting opportunities within school. The project has ten strands which essentially include things like: helping disabled children play sport; assisting primary and secondary children to become leaders generally; to help schools set up and run competitive sport; to organise mini-family festivals to partnership wide festivals and competitive sport.

We’re at the heart of a hub which includes eight secondary schools, and around them their feeder primary schools. My team actually touches upon the lives of 18,000 children. We are a small core team of dedicated professionals, eight teachers in total, who spread the gospel of high quality PE. (I suppose as a PDM I am speaking for all the teachers in my team so I feel it’s more appropriate to use the first person plural)

What difference does the SSP make?

It enhances and facilitates PE provision a great deal in schools. This means not only helping teachers deliver PE but also means training teachers and cascading good practice to numerous other teachers. The SSP links in with clubs and gives the children chances to play sport outside the school environment. The Partnership significantly raises aspirations.

We work with schools across the whole social spectrum; collaborating with schools in difficult estates to schools in better off areas. The point is, though, is that opportunity is there for all children, regardless of their backgrounds.

There’s also “talent spotting” going on, the like of which hasn’t been around in state schools before. The SSP is able to signpost and flag up talented sports people and give them exit routes to clubs. For example, our Young Ambassadors programme is a Youth Sports’ Trust enhanced programme which uses the Olympic values to help children learn about the bigger picture connected with sport.

It seems that the government sees Physical Education as an inessential subject since it has slashed its funding and not included it in the English Baccalaureate. Could you talk about the benefits of promoting sports in schools?

It’s very short sighted to see sport as an inessential part of the school curriculum; it should be at its heart because it promotes healthy living, scientific thinking and promotes literacy and numeracy skills in lots of ways.

Recently, we did a “needs-analysis” of local schools and the findings were very interesting. There were three main areas that headteachers and other staff valued about the SSP:

1. Delivery of competitive sports and sports festivals.

2. Professional training for teachers and support staff about sports.

3. Giving children opportunities to become leaders and gain leadership awards which were externally verified.

We’ve helped a lot of schools by empowering mid-day assistants to supervise and manage safer playtimes: we’ve helped them make sure the children are engaged in safe practice, are not bullying each other, and are leading activities which are inclusive for all the children. You can’t under-estimate the educational value of this: we are teaching essential life-skills that these children will probably use in their lives more than academic training in some instances.

We’ve developed a real trust in our services since we were set up in 2002. Schools know we offer a quality service in physical education. We are actually at the forefront of helping the next generation to be healthy, to play competitive sports and to be the leaders of the future.

Our scope is very wide. As well as the traditional sports such as football and rugby, we encourage the following non-traditional sports: golf, cricket, dance, badminton, tennis, netball, indoor athletics, indoor rowing, sports’ hall athletics, disability sports. We’ve increased participation in sports amongst children who have Special Educational Needs. We hold swimming galas and lead the way with intra and inter competition amongst schools; it’s a virtual competition where schools compete internally and the results are collected and correlated centrally.

Parents consistently say how pleased they are with the programme.

What is the future for sports in schools do you think?

When we learnt that the money for SSP was being axed we were in a state of total disbelief. The statistics given by the government had been cherry-picked to present the programme as ineffective. Gove and Cameron highlighted one statistic about competitive sport which did not reflect the reality of the programme; they said only two out of five were doing the traditional competitive sports. The truth is that the breadth of sports that the SSP offers is massive and diverse. It was travesty of what actually was the truth about the programme. Furthermore, the Youth Sport Trust were presented in a very negative and unfair light; the government claimed that they were a waste of money because they were not good at delivering competitive sports in schools. This was clearly not true; the YST do a great job at spreading good practice throughout schools and providing good training and other various forms of support through the state system.

It was the pupils who actually mounted the campaign to save the SSP in the first place. Debbie Foote, a National Young Ambassador and sixth former, set up a FaceBook page which soon gathered thousands of followers and drove a petition of 650,000 signatures supporting the continuation of sporting provision in schools. There was a debate in the Commons about the issue; the national press all reported positively about the SSP despite their political persuasion and top sportspeople leant their support; numerous teachers, parents and pupils spoke out against the cuts. The headteachers wrote to the Prime Minister and the press about the issue. We heard nothing of substance, except rumours for six weeks; the announcement was made in mid-October, it’s now 21st December. It was only yesterday that the Prime Minister announced that £65 million will be set aside for the SSP to continue in a skeletal form. Nationally, we’ve been given back £47 million to the end of year to see us through to August 2011; then we’ve allegedly been given £65 million over two years for one day a week teacher-release to supervise PE. We still haven’t received any notification about this.

We doubt Michael Gove’s commitment to SSP; we have no evidence that he’s visited a single SSP. He claims to have talked to some people involved at a high level, but this is not the same as seeing the great work that our teachers and children are doing on the ground. In the meantime, Sports’ Partnerships are breaking up and left in limbo.

Jeremy Hunt is offering 10 million for an Olympic style competition amongst schools. It’s being piloted by nine different authorities but as yet we know nothing about it.

We wait with bated breath to see what this format is going to be. The problem is that the government is keen getting rid of ring-fenced and devolving all money to headteachers to do as they wish. This puts a heavy weight on the headteacher who may have crumbling buildings and staff to retain; it’s no guarantee that they will buy into the SSP, even though they should. In the past, it’s been Partnership Development Managers (PDM) who have had the money to spend; I haven’t heard whether I will be retained or receive a budget to spend. It’s still a time of great anxiety for the future of the programme and physical education in our schools.

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