U-turn on school sport fails to silence the critics

THE GOVERNMENT'S partial U-turn on school sports funding does "nowhere near enough" to build on the progress made in the last 10 years, according to a group of Yorkshire schools who have pioneered partnership working.

Ministers had planned to scrap the 162m-a-year School Sports Partnerships programme (SSP) which provided cash for teachers at primaries and secondaries to work together to arrange competitions and increase the range of activities they provide.

However, Education Secretary Michael Gove was forced into a change of heart this week after schools and a series of high profile sports stars, including Dame Kelly Holmes, voiced concern at the cuts.

It was announced on Monday that SSPs would be funded until the end of this school year and another 47m would be provided over the next three years to allow PE teachers to spend a day-a-week organising inter-school contests.

The assistant head at one of the first schools in the region to develop an SSP has hit out at the Government for failing to do more.

David Geldart at St Mary's in Menston, which leads a partnership of more than 50 schools in Leeds, said: "Partnerships have worked because of the leadership they provide. Each partnership has its own manager and from our experience it is this leadership which has transformed sports in our schools.

"Without funding to ensure we can employ partnership managers then this is a wholly inadequate response to the groundswell of support that came out for SSPs and it does nowhere near enough. If schools are left to do there own thing then there is a risk that the progress we have made with SSPs will be lost."

He also pointed out that giving PE teachers funding for one day a week of organising events is half of what is currently provided for under SSP funding.

The Government had angered staff at St Mary's by claiming that SSPs had not worked. Before the U-turn David Cameron had told the House of Commons last month that the result of the last 10 years had been just two-in-five pupils playing competitive sports and just one-in-five taking part in competitions between schools.

The Prime Minister had said that by cutting sports grants the Government had allowed basic schools funding to increase, meaning teachers could run their own sporting activities rather than having to work in a national framework.

Richard Chattoe, the manager for the 54-school strong SSP led by St Mary's said: "It has been my privilege to be at the forefront of and to spearhead the revolutionary and inspirational change witnessed in physical education and school sport since 2000. In this time unprecedented increases have been seen in PE curriculum time, participation in after school sports clubs and community sport. In addition, huge numbers of pupils have developed as young leaders and coaches in sport, running after school clubs and sports competitions; a demonstration of the value and legacy PE and School Sport can have on shaping, influencing and developing citizens for the 21st century.I am absolutely dumfounded by the recent comments suggesting that only two-fifths of school pupils regularly compete in school sport. This massively undervalues the tremendous achievements and progress of PE and school sport over the last 10 years through the highly effective SSP programme."

Martin Green, faculty leader for PE and Sport at St Mary's said: "As a veteran with 25 years experience of teaching PE in schools across West Yorkshire, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that the best thing that has happened to PE and school sport in that time has been the work and structure of our SSP.

"As the faculty leader for PE and sport at St. Mary's, I have been able to collaborate with the partnership competition manager to develop existing sports competitions among local and regional secondary schools while also establishing new competitive opportunities for all St Mary's pupils, both within the school and against local secondary schools. We have developed inter-school competitions in rugby union, football, netball and hockey across Leeds, West and North Yorkshire. Many more pupils are playing these competitive sports than was the case ten years ago".

St Mary's leads the Leeds North West SSP, which is one of 44 across Yorkshire.

Team work is paying off

School Sports Partnerships were created in 2000 as a Lottery funded project but have since been rolled out nationally and become state-funded.

Groups of schools receive cash to employ a development manager and school co-ordinators to broaden the range of sports available to both primary and secondary students and to organise inter-school competitions. There are 450 groups of partnerships across the country which have received 162m a year funding. Under the new plans the Government will continue to fund the partnerships until the end of this year but will then provide 47m to last until 2013-14 to allow schools to continue to play sports together.