£150m investment in primary school sport is arriving too late to inspire a generation

Leading sports writer Laura Williamson welcomes the government’s £150m annual investment in primary school sport but says it is too little for such a vital task and too late to capitalise properly on the buzz of the Olympics. Williamson describes Michael Gove’s scrapping of School Sports Partnerships as ‘disgraceful’. This is from the Daily Mail…

It rather grated seeing David Cameron chucking a rugby ball around with kids in Millwall, east London, this weekend — and not only because the track-suited Prime Minister so desperately wanted to beat Lord Coe in a relay race.

No, it jarred because it was an event to mark the Government’s £150m annual investment in primary school sport; an announcement we are all supposed to applaud. It turns out it matters, this getting children to enjoy and embrace sport and PE before they reach secondary school lark.

Well I never.

Saturday’s announcement was a step in the right direction, of course, but it still represents a cut in the £162m of ring-fenced cash for School Sport Partnerships (SSPs) that Education Minister Michael Gove so disgracefully slashed in 2010 before partially restoring them in fragmented form.

It is also at least seven months too late, coming long after the buzz of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and therefore missing the ideal time to ‘capitalise on the inspiration’, as Mr Cameron put it.

The symbolism of this investment — delayed, though it is — in primary school sport is important because it shows what  anyone with a brain knew anyway, that sport matters, but it is naive to try and dress it up as a truly effective way of delivering an Olympic legacy.

With three different government departments contributing cash, the scheme feels haphazard; a disjointed response to the fact  ordinary people — parents, teachers, volunteers — were determined not to let this one go.

They did not argue for the five-star sports facilities of the private sector in their state schools, but they had seen the success of SSPs. They knew that, if you do not capture a child’s enthusiasm for running around by the time they leave primary school, you have probably lost them to the PlayStation forever.

At the end of 2010, 90 per cent of pupils were doing PE for at least two hours a week and 78 per cent were taking part in competitive sport.

An Ofsted report said the partnerships had left a ‘notable legacy’ — no thanks, of course, to Mr Gove.

The new initiative will provide £9,250 a year for a primary school with 250 pupils to spend on sport; enough to pay for a specialist PE teacher or coach to work two days a week, for example.

SSPs were organised by the Youth Sport Trust but private firms will now surely be queuing up to provide the personnel. Some will be brilliant, talented and inspirational, but for others it will just be a way to pay for their gap years, or their kids’ gap years.

It feels like it will be luck of the draw, as so often with the way sport is delivered in this country.

An interesting sideline, though, is a pilot scheme to train more primary school teachers to teach PE.

I’m sure we all have memories of being dumped on a field while Mr Matthews demonstrated his cover drive or regaled us with tales of how he could have played for  Manchester United. Or PE ‘lessons’ where the class spent 30 minutes getting changed and then you spent so long standing still that it was hardly worth the bother.

As Baroness Sue Campbell, chair of  the YST pointed out, children’s experience of school sport has  long been ‘delivered by teachers who lack the confidence and in some cases the competence to deliver PE well’.

That needs to change. It did once, with the introduction of SSPs, and, hopefully, it will do again.

But please save us the baloney that this investment will ‘benefit a whole generation of children for many years to come’. It is a welcome move forward, but it remains a disgrace an Olympic host nation had to go two steps backwards to get there.

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