Minister calls for “school sport revolution” – yet DfE to face £670m of cuts

Children’s minister Tim Loughton has called for a “school sports revolution” - yet the coalition is planning to cut £670 million from the schools budget.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton today said the government aimed to “spark a competitive school sport revolution”, and that it was “great to see that more pupils are taking part in school sports”. He described the numbers taking part, however, as “disappointingly low” – even though the number of schoolchildren regularly taking part in competitive sport rose from 28 per cent to 39 per cent this year alone.

The cuts to the education budget – £670 million – and the abolition of the Building Schools for the Future programme in particular, have the potential, however, to check Mr Loughton’s laudable aims, as do the £61 million of cuts to the Dept. for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

As Left Foot Forward reported in May, 3 per cent savings will have to be made from across the board, from public bodies and DCMS’s core budget; we reported that:

An example of what this may mean on the ground can be seen in the cuts that may have to be made to Sport Unlimited, a £36 million programme established in 2009 with the aim of attracting 900,000 extra young people into sport by 2011; a 3% cut could result in 27,000 fewer young people taking up sport, to the detriment of the nation’s sporting success and health and wellbeing.

While the impact of the coalition’s cuts on school sport will not be known for some time, it is worth reflecting on the record of the previous government in this field. The Department for Education’s “PE and Sport Survey 2009/10” reveals that, since 2003/04, the proportion of schools offering the following sports has risen markedly:

• Tennis: 70%-80%

• Cycling: 21%-55%

• Golf: 14%-44%

• Table tennis: 26%-36%

• Rugby league: 12%-35%

• Rowing: 2%-12%

The survey also reveals that the percentage of pupils participating in one or more community sports or other clubs with links to the school is up from 19 per cent in 2003/04 to 33 per cent in 2009/10, while the percentage as gifted and talented because of their sporting ability rose from 3 per cent to 8 per cent, and the percentage actively involved in sports volunteering and leadership rose from 9 per cent to 25 per cent.

It concludes by saying:

The 2008/09 survey laid down a new baseline for participation in three hours of PE and out of hours school sport – prior to that the research had looked at two hours. The latest results show there has been an increase of five percentage points on this baseline, with participation in three hours of PE and out of hours school sport now standing at 55% of pupils in maintained schools across England.

There is, however, still scope for improvement on this measure (participation in two hours of PE and out of hours school sport was first measured in 2003/04 at 62% and rose over a five year period to 90% in 2007/08) and it will be important to continue to monitor it in the future.

Again, whether the improvement is realised, especially with the eyes of the world upon us with the Olympic Games coming to town in 2012, it is too soon to say. In terms of quality and quantity of sports teaching and coaching both in schools and in communities, the full impact of the government’s cuts across the board won’t be known till subsequent surveys are carried out.

The signs, however, are ominous. As the Standard reported in May:

London’s schools face losing hundreds of millions of pounds earmarked for new classrooms, sports halls and canteens under government funding cuts… There are fears that boroughs such as Sutton, which was one of the last councils to enter the programme, could be among the first to be hit by cuts.

Vivien Jones, head of Carshalton High School for Girls, said: “It would be a disaster for us if the funding were to be lost at this stage. At the moment we have a lot of mobile classrooms and we are short of sports facilities, which means we can’t deliver a full PE curriculum. We have to use the local sports centre.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.