David Geldart: Please talk, Mr Gove, and save the future of school sport

MICHAEL Gove, the Education Secretary, announced the scrapping of the highly successful School Sport Partnership network in the Comprehensive Spending Review, justifying the move with an outrageous misuse of statistics.

Following widespread dismay and opposition from headteachers, the Prime Minister ordered "a rethink". And, last week, that "rethink" – shortly before The Queen highlighted sport in her Christmas message – saw the Government scale back its plans.

However, there has been no real U-turn on this matter. School sport in this country will still be decimated as a result. Mr Gove may have lost the argument, but seems to have won his battle to dismantle the highly effective School Sport Partnership network.

If Mr Grove does succeed, the investment of the last 10 years will be wasted, fewer young people will be involved in sport and the very framework to deliver a genuine Olympic legacy will have been taken away.

All those interested in sport, health and the education of young people should give this matter further thought.

My own school, St Mary's, Menston, has been at the forefront of the School Sport Partnership initiative, being one of the first schools in the country to pilot the scheme in 2000.

The initiative was originally funded by the National Lottery and was so successful that the then Government wanted to spread this good practice to every school in the country. To facilitate this entitlement to all children, the Government agreed to fund the initiative centrally via the Department of Education.

Such partnerships have transformed PE and school sport in this country and have gained international acclaim. Indeed the St Mary's team have supported the South African government in establishing a similar system.

Despite what Mr Gove has said, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of young people in this country engaged in competitive sport.

St Mary's leads a partnership of 54 schools across North West Leeds. Within our partnership, the majority of our 17,600 pupils – 14,784 to be precise – compete in regular intra-school competition and 7,568 students compete in our wide range of structured, co-ordinated and quality inter-school competitions.

Furthermore, 57 per cent (10,032) of our pupils now participate in three hours of PE and school sport per week, in line with the national average, and 56 per cent (9,856) participate in a range of quality leadership and volunteering opportunities (the national average is 24 per cent).

All of this has been possible because we have invested in a network of high quality people: partnership development managers, school sport co-ordinators, primary link teachers competition managers and school sport coaches.

These wonderful people have made our Partnership work, they have brought schools together in genuine collaborative work for the sake of our young people. If it's not broke, why fix it, let alone get rid of it all together?

Mr Gove is proposing that his structure leaves a PE teacher to work on developing school sport for one day per week; school sport co-ordinators currently spend two days a week on this with a network of support that the partnerships offer. The PE teacher would be working in isolation and with no support network. They simply would not have the capacity to deliver what the Partnerships are currently achieving. This is unfair on the teachers and their students.

These partnerships have transformed PE and sport. A tremendous investment has been made in developing a highly effective infrastructure; perhaps one of the soundest investments made during the last decade.

As a nation, we told the International Olympic Committee about our commitment to young people and sport. The School Sport Partnership network gives us the ideal platform to develop a genuine legacy from the Olympic Games in 2012. To get rid of the partnership framework would be an act of state vandalism; it would take away the very foundation of sport in this country. To dramatically cut this funding would a betrayal of a generation of young people. For the sake of our young people the Government must think again on this important matter.

Can I suggest away forward that does not throw the baby out with the bath water? The country is in a financial mess, we simply do not have the money to all that we would like.

It may well be necessary to cut the existing School Sport Partnership budget by 20 per cent, but still maintain a basic delivery mechanism. Can I propose that Mr Gove consults with those that deliver and participate in school sport by establishing a working group of teachers and young people to advise on the best way forward for school sport in this country? This is far too important to be left to chance.

David Geldart, assistant headteacher at St Mary's, Menston, has gained national and international recognition for his work in physical education and sport.