– in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 10th January 2023.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered sport in schools and communities.
I am really pleased to open this general debate on this important topic. We will all agree that sport has a vital role to play in all of our lives, through its power to be a force for good that brings communities together and as an important tool in improving the health of the nation. The topic of today’s debate brings together multiple areas of work from multiple Departments and arm’s length bodies, which is why I am so pleased to be joined by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools, who will be closing this debate. The work of both of our Departments, as well as many others, contributes to the overall Government mission to support everyone, especially children and young people, to be able to enjoy sport and be more active. As a Government, we are fully committed to supporting sport in schools and communities.
I wish to take a moment briefly to reflect on the power that sport has to bring us together. Last year, we again saw so many unforgettable moments that transcend beyond just the single match or competition, such as the fantastic success of our Lionesses winning at Euro 2022. That inspirational tournament was a truly ground-breaking moment for the sport and has supercharged interest in the women’s game.
We also hosted the Commonwealth games in Birmingham that saw more women’s medals awarded for the first time and truly showcased the fantastic region of Birmingham and the west midlands. We saw success at the men’s T20 world cup and at the rugby world cup. We also hosted a fantastic rugby league world cup tournament here in the UK, with victory for our fantastic wheelchair team. I was very lucky and fortunate enough to be there and see that fantastic victory in person.
The benefits of participating in sports and doing regular exercise are well known. Undertaking regular exercise helps mitigate a wide range of health conditions, both physical and mental, vitally easing the pressure on our NHS. For example, sport and physical activity directly prevents 150,000 cases of heart disease and stroke and 900,000 cases of diabetes per year.
I am delighted to see both my right hon. Friend and the Minister for Schools on the Front Bench. My only regret is that a relevant Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care is not here, as they also put money into the PE and sport premium. Can the Minister reassure us that the Department of Health and Social Care are as engaged in this agenda as are the Departments for Education and for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport?
Absolutely. I am happy to confirm that. One thing on which I am focused, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools agrees with me, is that we do work across Government, as there are benefits for all Departments in getting this area of work right.
The Minister opened this debate by recognising all the brilliant English and British sporting achievements in 2022. I am sure that he will join me in congratulating the four Lionesses who were honoured in the new year’s honours list, which was much deserved. I wish that it had been the whole squad, but we will leave it at that. He will recall that I led a Westminster Hall debate last November on girls and women’s participation in sport following the Lionesses’ success. He promised to work with the Department for Education on ensuring that every child gets at least two hours PE a week. I would welcome an update on those discussions. Perhaps the Minister might mention that in his wind-up.
I will certainly join the hon. Lady in congratulating those members of the team who were awarded honours in the new year’s honours list. Indeed, since that Westminster Hall debate, both the Secretary of State for Education and I have met with members of the Lionesses team and gone through further details. We hope to make more statements certainly by April of this year, because we recognise the importance of the suggestions that she has made.
The Minister has mentioned a number of great sporting moments over the past year. May I put it on record that one of the great sporting moments was the stance that he took over Qatar, and that many of us appreciated that stance?
My hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis mentioned the PE and sport premium for schools. I have seen the advantages that that brings to disadvantaged children in my community. Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether the Government intend to continue funding that project? If he cannot confirm that now, will he write to me, because that project really does make a difference to those in local communities in my constituency of Eastleigh.
I appreciate the kind words that my hon. Friend said at the start of his intervention. He is right to highlight the success of the PE and sport premium funding, which is exactly why the Government have doubled that funding. We are considering the arrangements at the moment for the academic year 2023-24, and I hope that we will be making an announcement as soon as possible.
Does the Minister agree that a good way of promoting sport within the public sector and in public facilities is a joint use of facilities between schools and the wider community, so that, with the right maintenance and support staff, those facilities can be used at weekends and during the holidays?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our Departments are working on that; it is going well in some areas, but we need to see it improve right across the country so that those great facilities are available to as many people as possible.
I will take one more intervention and then I really must crack on.
The Minister has made some excellent opening remarks and there have been some excellent interventions already. Less than half of all children currently meet the daily guidelines for sport and physical activity, but 54% of children would like to do more of it. I hope the Government will commit to giving PE and physical literacy the focus and time in the curriculum that it needs, with properly trained and resourced staff who can inspire pupils to embed sport and physical activity as lifelong habits and, in the long term, to save our NHS.
The hon. Lady is right to identify that the earlier we get people involved in sport, the longer they will hopefully continue to participate and live healthier lives. That is why we are working on developing the sport strategy, as part of which I will be working with my colleagues across Government to ensure we are maximising every possible opportunity to get people into sport and physical activity.
I will do once more, but I am conscious there is not much time for Back Benchers to speak.
The active lives survey published recently showed that in Bracknell only 41% of children are classed as being active. We are not entirely sure why that is; we are working with schools to try to remedy the issue, and with the fantastic sporting facilities in schools locally I am confident that we will do so. One issue raised by teachers is that the annual sports premium is only ever announced late in the financial year. Will Minister please make sure that we get early notification of that funding so that schools, teachers and clubs can plan ahead for the forthcoming year?
This is the moment where I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Schools Minister is sitting by my side, so he can hear those messages and take them back to his Department. To be fair, he is already aware of those issues and will consider them when future announcements are made.
Sport also has the power to bring communities closer together through fostering social cohesion. It gives young people essential leadership and teamwork skills and has the power to tackle loneliness, reduce inequality, increase youth engagement and tackle youth violence. It is an essential part of a healthy and happy life. Research commissioned by Sport England shows that for every £1 invested in community sport there is a return of £4 in wider social economic value. That is why as a Government we are so committed to ensuring that everyone across the country has access to high-quality provision.
The Minister is being very generous. I represent the most remote part of the UK mainland, and young people in Wick High School and Thurso High School find it very difficult to travel to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Perth to participate. It is tough on school finances and tough on family finances. I understand completely that sport is devolved, but I hope that the Government are going to look at some scheme to help parents and children in the most remote parts of England to access sport so that they are not disadvantaged because of inequality—and, since he mentioned cross-Government working, could he then share that best practice with the Scottish Government?
Always happy to give advice to the Scottish Government. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight those points and that is exactly what we will focus on in the sport strategy. There are hard-to-reach areas, more rural areas and areas of deprivation in other parts of the country too, so that will be a focus of the strategy that we are currently developing.
I am just going to carry on a bit, because I am conscious that we do not have much time and many Members want to take part.
We know that there are significant disparities across the country, from Southall to Sunderland, and we are committed to tackling them. I make clear that it is my personal priority to do so. Through our arm’s length body, Sport England, we invest more than £250 million of public and lottery funding annually. Over the past 12 months, 19.2% of Sport England’s local-level investment has been for projects in indices of multiple deprivation or IMD 1 areas, providing direct support to organisations and communities in the areas that need it most.
Having the right facilities of the right quality is fundamental to a strong sporting community. That is why we are acting to deliver the facilities that every community needs, right across the UK. We are investing a total of £230 million between 2022 and 2025 in all four home nations. That includes an existing £18 million annual commitment in England, delivered via the Football Foundation in partnership with the Football Association and the Premier League. We hope that that investment will build or improve up to 8,000 facilities across the country, especially in the most deprived areas, and not just for football—40% of our investment will deliver facilities that support multiple sports. We are also investing £30 million, together with the Lawn Tennis Association, to renovate and repair thousands of public park tennis courts.
We are also working to ensure that major events have a significant and lasting impact on the communities in which they are held. During the summer, I was fortunate enough to visit the new facilities at Leigh Miners Rangers, which benefited from £350,000 as part of the rugby league world cup social impact programme. It is a thriving community hub that was galvanised and reinvigorated by that tournament. We recognise that we need to maintain progress, and, as I say, we will publish this year a new sports strategy that will set out how we will continue to support people, no matter who they are or where they are from, to enjoy the benefits of participating in sport.
Will the Minister clarify whether the strategy he is referring to will be the updated school sport and activity action plan, which has been an area of concern, and whether there will be time for consultation before that plan is published so that voices can be heard as part of its development?
The sport strategy that I am referring to is the wider, cross-Government one, but there will be the other report that the hon. Lady refers to. The Minister of State, Department for Education, my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb will be able to give a bit more of an update about that in his closing remarks. Now that is dodging a question!
Ensuring that those from hard-to-reach communities get opportunities to play sport is really matters to me personally, and I look forward to working with Members across the House to make progress in this area.
I thank the Minister, who is being extremely generous with his time. He makes some valid points about community facilities. Yesterday, the Government announced changes to the energy bill relief scheme. I am really pleased that they are committed to providing additional support to organisations such as libraries and museums, but can the Minister tell the House why sport and leisure centres were not included on that list? Swimming pools in particular face incredibly high energy bills. Many are threatened with closure or have already closed, including Batley baths and recreation centre in my constituency, which is, sadly, temporarily closed. Those are hubs in the community, so this is not just about physical wellbeing but about mental wellbeing, social cohesion and lots of other things besides. Can he confirm whether that will be looked at and whether the Government will be able to provide such facilities with the support they need?
I am acutely aware of the concerns of many hon. Members about leisure centres and costs. Of course, the scheme that was announced initially has helped a great deal in that area, but to recognise the importance of the matter, I am holding a roundtable with some interested bodies in the coming weeks to look at it in more detail and see what else we can do.
As a Government, we are focused on how we can support our children and young people to become more active. Quite simply, sport and physical activity are a lifelong habit that needs to be carefully nurtured. We are committed to ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, has access to and benefits from quality sporting opportunities. Dealing with this challenge has never been more important than when we are coming out of the pandemic. Some 2.2 million children—or 30%—are not meeting the chief medical officer’s guidance on levels of activity. I was pleased to see in the latest active lives survey for children, which was released in December, that children’s activity levels have recovered to pre-pandemic levels. There were particularly significant increases in the activity levels of teenage girls. Although that positive progress should be applauded, we know that more work needs to be done to ensure that every child realises the benefits of being active and playing sport.
We are taking action to tackle that challenge. In partnership with colleagues from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education, we continue to invest £320 million per year in the PE and sport premium to provide dedicated funding to primary schools to deliver high-quality PE provision. We also continue to fund the school games programme as a vital tool to encourage children to compete in competitive sport.
I am grateful. I declare my interest as a trustee of the Sports Trust in Folkestone and Hythe, which delivers a lot of primary school sport activity. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in encouraging best practice, it is important to look not just at levels of activity in and out of school, but at the improvement in academic attainment in schools that do a lot of sport? It has much wider benefits than just physical health, including academic attainment.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The benefits of physical activity are widespread, as I mentioned at the beginning. He is right to highlight that point, and we will make sure to consider it as we develop the strategy.
Last year, we saw how sport has the power to inspire. The fantastic success of the Lionesses marked a step change for women’s sport in this country, and we are fully committed to ensuring that all girls have equal access to provision within schools and to looking at how PE can deliver that. As a Government, we are committed to publishing an update to the school sport and physical activity action plan this year, which will set out our ambitions and next steps to support more children to take part in sports.
In conclusion, I welcome this debate on such an important topic. As I have set out, we are already taking action, and as we look to publish our sports strategy later this year, and the updated school sport and physical activity action plan, we will set the blueprint for how the Government will continue to support more people to enjoy the benefits of sport and then take advantage of the many benefits that we know it brings for everybody.
Happy new year to everybody. It is the first time I have spoken in the House this year. It is a pleasure to be here on behalf of the Opposition. I agreed with much of what the Minister said. Sport and physical activity are essential elements of a modern, healthy, successful society, and keeping active is vital for personal physical health and mental health and for the social development and wellbeing of young people. We know that physically active children are happier and have higher levels of academic achievement than their less physically active peers.
Sport and exercise bring people together and have the power to build healthier, happier and more connected communities. Sport is not just about the benefit to individuals; it can be harnessed to tackle many of the important challenges we face as a society, whether it be loneliness, health inequalities or high rates of mental ill health. Getting people fit saves the NHS money and reduces pressure on public services. Sport can extend and save people’s lives. It is not just about taking part in sport; it is about sharing the joy of it. Watching sporting events together brings the nation together.
Today’s debate comes as we look back on a fantastic year for British sport. As we have heard, whether it was Wimbledon, the Commonwealth games, the rugby league world cup or the football World cup, we came together in support of our national sports stars. The Lionesses’ stunning success at the women’s Euros was a special highlight. We have given them our admiration and they give us inspiration. Our top athletes can be fantastic role models for our young people and ambassadors for their sports. With the right Government intervention and support, major events can help us build a lasting legacy and get more people involved in sport.
Today’s debate also comes two days after the Public Accounts Committee published its report, “Grassroots participation in sport and physical activity”. It found that the Government
“lacks a compelling vision for integrating physical activity into everyday life”.
The report confirms what the National Audit Office report told us last year. We were promised a golden age of British sport after the 2012 London Olympics, but the Government have squandered that legacy. Adult participation in sport fell in the first three years following the 2012 games. Ministers abandoned plans to track the legacy of the 2012 games in 2016, so we cannot make any judgments about any legacy delivered from the £8.8 billion that was spent on the games.
Labour urged the Government not to repeat the same mistakes with the Birmingham Commonwealth games, but again, according to the Public Accounts Committee, the Government
“has no mechanisms in place to monitor the long-term participation legacy from the Commonwealth Games.”
We cannot afford to keep making the same mistakes, so we look forward with eagerness to the publication of the Government’s new sports strategy, but I have to ask where it is. We were told last summer that it would be published in the summer, alongside all the other Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport papers that were promised and delayed last summer, including the media Bill, the gambling White Paper and the White Paper on football governance. If we want to protect the clubs that sustain our communities, we need to get on with the recommendations of the fan-led review of football.
The shadow Minister is making some excellent points. He is right that time is pressing. We need action now. We will all have fantastic community sports clubs in our constituencies that are struggling because of the cost of living and energy bills. Grassroots sports clubs are at the heart of our communities. Does he agree that the Government must commit to provide them with the funding and support that they desperately need at this time?
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend anticipates my remarks. We need to support those grassroots sports clubs through the cost of living crisis and get on with ensuring that the bigger professional football clubs have a framework that protects them and the communities that they support and thrive in.
Carol Shanahan, the co-owner of Port Vale football club, regularly raises with me how the funding model in a football pyramid works. If we moved to a model where 70% of the combined Premier League and English Football League TV rights went to the Premier League and 30% went to the rest, that would have a massively positive impact and enable grassroots clubs to see longer term investment. Does the shadow Minister agree that the Government should urge the EFL and the Premier League to do that?
I certainly agree that we need a better way of distributing finance down the pyramid. In her report, Tracey Crouch left it for the FA and the EFL to come up with a formula. That is the right thing to do at the moment, but they are taking their time. They need to come up with a formula that does what Jonathan Gullis says and get money down the pyramid.
We are told that the sport strategy is delayed because of ministerial changes. I very much like the Minister; I hope he maintains his job despite the current ministerial merry-go-round in the Tory party. But if that is the problem, given the chaos in Government, I wonder if we will see the sport strategy before the next election. Once again, Tory party chaos gets in the way of Government action.
We need action. Currently, over a quarter of adults are classed as inactive, along with almost a third of children and young people. There are stark divides in the level of physical activity between different demographics and communities. The covid pandemic has not helped. There are now 1.3 million more inactive adults than before the pandemic. Worryingly, the people who are less active are those living in deprived areas, women, young people, over-75s, disabled people, those with long-term health conditions, and people from black, Asian, and other minority ethnic backgrounds. In many of those groups, activity levels have fallen more sharply since the pandemic. Those disparities start early. Some 35% of children in the least affluent families do fewer than 30 minutes of activity a day, compared with 22% of children from the most affluent families.
How do we tackle this issue? We need schools and community sports clubs to be able to step up and narrow the gaps, but in the last 10 years, state secondary schools in England have lost over 36,000 hours of PE from the curriculum. The national curriculum states that every young person is entitled to experience high-quality PE, but over the last decade school accountability has been increasingly focused on core academic subjects. PE is often neglected in favour of other subjects.
As we have heard, funding for PE and school sport is too often made available only on a short-term basis, with decisions coming at the last minute, leaving schools unable to plan for the long term. We are losing PE teachers: there are 2,700 fewer in England now than in 2011. By ending tax breaks for private schools, the next Labour Government will recruit thousands of new teachers, create a new entitlement to ongoing teacher training and reform the narrow progress measures that deprioritise physical education in the curriculum.
Children and young people’s physical activity rates have now recovered to where they were before the pandemic, but that was not a great place. Fewer than half of children meet the chief medical officer’s guidelines to take part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day. There is a physical activity gender gap: girls start being less active than boys from the age of five.
Labour believes that the Lionesses’ victory last year should represent a turning point for women in sport, inspiring more girls to play football in particular and sport in general. According to Sport England, less than two thirds of all schools currently offer equal access to girls’ football in PE lessons. Labour will introduce an equal access guarantee for school sport, instead of the current situation where girls can be taught “comparable” sporting activities, which reinforces traditional barriers and stereotypes for girls and women. We have to let children and young people explore a range of sports from a young age.
It is excellent to hear Labour’s plans, but I go back to the point that we need action now. The Prime Minister said last year said that he
“would love to see all schools provide two hours of PE a week”, that he would “tighten accountability” around the primary school PE and sport premium, and that he would ensure Ofsted looked at sport. Ultimately, unless we have healthy children, it does not matter how good they are at maths, science or anything else. That is why we have to value PE on the curriculum more than we do. Will my hon. Friend join me in calling for the Minister to ensure that the Government view PE on the curriculum as a priority?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend is an expert on these issues, and I agree with every word she said.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hard-working volunteers and community organisations that kept sporting activities happening as best they could through the pandemic and who do a fantastic job week in, week out, keeping our local sports clubs going. I also pay tribute to local authorities, which provide much of our sporting infrastructure. Without local authority sports facilities, many people would struggle to access sport, but local government has been the hardest hit part of the public sector over the last 10 years, and it shows. I remember the pain of having to close local leisure centres because of Government cuts in 2011. A high proportion of our local sport and leisure facilities are at the end of or beyond their operational life and in desperate need of renovation. Councils do not have the resources for this, and we need to give councils the ability to keep sport alive in our towns and cities.
Grassroots sport in our communities is now under more threat from the cost of living crisis. Soaring energy bills are hitting gyms, leisure centres and especially swimming pools. Operators are facing bills that are up to 200% higher this year compared with the last normal operating year, 2019, and costs are set to increase by another 240%. Even before the energy crisis took hold, Swim England warned in 2021 that nearly 2,000 pools could be lost by the end of the decade. One in four councils has potential plans to close leisure facilities, and over 40% need to make cuts to physical activity services. The District Councils’ Network says that seven in 10 councils are considering scaling back their leisure services in response to these financial pressures.
I completely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the strain on council finances. Councils often run swimming pools, but Hampton pool in my constituency—recently voted one of the country’s top seven heated lidos—is totally community run, by a charitable trust. It is not run by the local authority, so it does not have that level of security, and given that it has been left out of the energy bills discount scheme update that was announced yesterday, it is under a lot of financial pressure. I welcome the fact that the Minister will hold a roundtable, but it is important to recognise that not all swimming pools are run by local authorities.
The hon. Lady makes a really important point. The announcement of the new energy bills discount scheme yesterday came as a massive disappointment to the sector. There is no mention of sport and leisure facilities, no acknowledgment in the scheme that certain services such as swimming pools are particularly energy-intensive—they are not on the list of energy-intensive sectors—and no offer of bespoke support. To quote Huw Edwards, the chief executive of ukactive, the new scheme
“will fail to give thousands of pools, leisure centres, and gyms the support they need to avoid further service restrictions, closures, and job losses.”
Ukactive says that 40% of council areas are at risk of losing their leisure centres or seeing a reduced service before the end of March this year, so the support that has been offered past that point will come too late for many.
I have to ask the Minister, what are the Government going to do to save these vital community assets? I look forward to the roundtable and hearing what he develops from that, but are they content to see pools and leisure centres close up and down the country? How does he plan to boost physical activity rates and sporting participation when the Government’s lack of support will lead to closures and price rises? It is not just councils that are feeling the pinch. Over a quarter of adults across the UK think they will need to cut back on their own sport and physical activity because of rising costs, so will the sports strategy, whenever we see it, contain plans to save our leisure facilities?
A decade on from the 2012 Olympics, despite the success of our brilliant athletes and the best efforts of our community volunteers, physical activity is flatlining, school sport is declining and facilities are under threat. The Government have failed to make the best of sport as a vital element to prevent ill health and boost the economy. Those failures will cost us all more in the long run, piling pressure on public services. The Government should use this debate as an opportunity to set out what they will do differently to promote PE in schools, address the inequalities in opportunity and participation, ensure we have the pools, gyms and leisure centres we need and to build a proper legacy for the money we have spent and the brilliance of the sporting heroes who inspire us. It is time for the Government to raise their game.
I refer the House to my various sport-related entries on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. When David Cameron rang me in May 2015 to ask me to be his Sports Minister, I asked if I could have school sport in the portfolio. When he said no, because he had already appointed that Minister—who, for the record, turned out to be an excellent Minister—I replied, “Well, I have already failed.” While I do not believe that I failed as Sports Minister, I was never going to succeed in getting the absolute best results in children’s activity because I did not have responsibility for the part that introduces children to sport and physical activity in the first place.
That remains the case for ministerial responsibilities today—we have two excellent Ministers on the Front Bench, so this is no criticism of them—as was noted in the Public Accounts Committee report published over the weekend. I will be honest: it was a tough read. I am very proud of the sports strategy, published in 2015, which aimed to rejuvenate flatlining participation. While it did do that to some extent, it was perhaps not to the level we would have all hoped. As the Committee notes, part of that is due to the lack of delivery in other Departments, not DCMS. It also notes that the one cross-departmental group that tried to ensure progress of delivery ceased after I left in 2018. I encourage the Government to revive these important checks as part of the new sports strategy, which I am sure will be a welcome refresher of the now seven-year old strategy.
School sport underpins long-term success in the nation’s physical and mental wellbeing. We need a bold and ambitious plan that starts at reception and builds appropriately and consistently throughout formal education. With a son in year 2, I have never had more insight into the challenges teachers face in delivering the curriculum along with the additional demands we in this place put on them. However, the needs of the curriculum and the benefits of physical exercise complement each other, not compete against each other. Schools with good PE outputs often have good educational attainment levels. Statistics show that physical health improves mental health, concentration levels, happiness, behaviour, confidence and resilience.
The challenge is, how does sport fit into the school day, and how is it funded? I hope the Minister can deal with the latter point today and pledge to confirm the funding for school sport for the next academic year at the earliest opportunity. If we want decent provision, it is essential that it is planned well in advance. Our children need activities that give them a thirst for movement. They want and need variety that is not always about competition. Planned expenditure is vital for this and, in turn, will enable school day planning. I share the Youth Sport Trust’s view that PE should be a core subject, but also that wraparound care could be more active. We often cite the difference between state and private provision. Facilities is obviously a point of difference, but so is the type of after-school offering. This has to be funded, so let us fund it. It is not misspent public money, for it will save the taxpayer in the long run by mitigating the poor physical and mental health that costs the NHS so much.
Although I have referenced the need to provide non-competitive sport, it would be remiss of me not to mention the success of the Lionesses and their subsequent letter to, as it turns out, both the former and current Prime Ministers about the delivery of football to girls. Currently, only 67% of schools offer football equally to girls and boys. Not every girl wants to play football—this girl did, although I was not allowed to—but how would they know if they were not even being offered it? Without an introduction in school, few will independently seek out clubs, so the pipeline of talent is blocked before it really starts.
The FA has three asks with which I totally agree: a minimum of two hours of PE a week, Ofsted inspections of school sport, and long-term funding for PE and school sport—Ministers have already heard interventions from hon. Members on that point. Without that, we will continue to see only a trickle of progress, rather than the flow that should follow such an almighty national team success. This point also applies to women’s rugby and cricket.
To turn briefly from education to health, we need to grip the social prescribing revolution and use physical activity more. There are excellent examples of link workers signposting people to physical activity, which does not have to be sweaty but could be walking or joining the local ramblers. It is good for people’s physical and mental health, and for tackling loneliness, for which the Sports Minister also has responsibility.
To give an example, a friend has just been diagnosed with early osteoarthritis. The doctor’s response was to suggest calcium, which she cannot take because of the post-breast cancer pills that she takes. No one has suggested that she should do strength training or low-impact exercise such as walking or tai chi, which are proven to support bone strength. I could speak about the social prescribing of physical activity for ages, but since neither Minister present is responsible for the public health through physical activity budget or policy, I may well put in for another debate. It is yet another example of the PAC’s point about disjointed policymaking on sport.
On community sport—I appreciate that I am rushing now—there is much to celebrate in our communities. Active Kent & Medway continues to fund sporting initiatives and projects across my constituency, as well as the rest of the county. Medway Council continues to fund free swimming for under-16s and over-60s. At the other end of the constituency, I recently had the pleasure of opening a brand new bike pump track in Snodland. We have many committed volunteers around the constituency who provide some form of activity, competitive or otherwise, for my constituents week in, week out.
All those facilities and initiatives will help to drive up participation across communities in Kent and Medway, and to improve physical and mental wellbeing, but they need more support, as well as that recognition and celebration. We need planning, however, to be more conscious of the need to integrate physical health and wellbeing into its thinking—something that I know the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care also believes in. We build large estates without giving any thought to integrating physical and mental health, or we build an estate next to a woodland and then put a road through the middle that makes it entirely inaccessible to people. We have to think more about that.
As other hon. Members have, I will briefly raise financial support for leisure trusts and facilities, such as swimming pools, although I appreciate that falls outside the remit of either Minister. Such community facilities use a significant amount of energy. Many are still feeling the after-effects of covid-19 and are now being affected by the rise in the cost of living. I would therefore be grateful if the Sports Minister could clarify what discussions he has had, and whether he can bring forward the roundtable that he suggested might happen in a couple of weeks. These are now urgent asks from those facilities.
I stand by my opening comments: the Sports Minister can do only so much to get the nation fit and healthy, because success is reliant on other Departments delivering better school and community sport. I accept that my sports strategy is outdated; it did what it needed to do at the time, but it certainly requires a bold, ambitious refresh. Given that I am sure it is being worked on at pace, I look forward to seeing it published soon and I hope that what it sets out will improve the physical health and wellbeing of the nation.
Before I call the next speaker, this debate needs to finish at 7 o’clock and I need to get the wind-ups in as well, so my advice is to speak for a maximum of six minutes. I would rather not set a time limit, so colleagues should be conscious of each other.
It is a pleasure to follow Tracey Crouch. I entirely agree with what she said about the problem of how many of the things covered by DCMS, as I know from sitting on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, also fall under other Departments and they therefore do not get the action they sometimes need. That is a problem for DCMS that the Government need to look at across the piece.
I am very pleased to be able to take part in today’s debate about the importance of access to sport in schools, and the importance of sport not just in already established communities, but in creating new communities. I am a big believer in the power of sport to bring people together, and also in the health benefits of regular exercise, both mental and physical. It is so important that children have access to sport in school—to a range of sport—and that that access is equitable and fair, whether for children who want to go on to compete at the highest level, to do such things in their spare time for fun or to do so as part of their school curriculum.
For a start, getting involved in sport and playing sport has incredible health benefits. That does not mean people going out and setting records; it means people going out on their own or with friends to keep fit. These regular sessions are so important in keeping people healthy. Whether it is the Saturday park run with family, Sunday netball or Monday night football, having such an opportunity and getting people out with friends or with clubs is so important.
Access to sports is also really positive not just in engaging local communities, but in creating them. It is such a good way for people to connect with others who have similar interests, in a supportive environment and where people can learn from each other, make friends and get to know others in their local community. They might have been dragged there by a friend who did not want to go on their own, or perhaps they were inspired by someone they saw doing sport on TV.
That brings me to my next point. As has been mentioned by a number of speakers, the Lionesses had an incredible win this summer, bringing football home. The feeling the country got from such a victory was not that it was a remarkable miracle, but that it was the result of the hard work of many people over years and years. It is the result of incredible leaders in the game such as Baroness Sue Campbell at the FA, Barbara Slater at the BBC and Alex Scott on TV. It is also the result of volunteer coaches up and down the country going out at weekends to give girls the chance to play, and having to fight for pitch space, resources and attention. We must not forget the huge commitment and sacrifices that family members make in supporting our young people. This was shown most recently so clearly by Sunderland’s own Jill Scott, who said in a recent visit back to her youth side of Boldon girls, near Sunderland, that she does not think she would actually have gone on to play for England without the support of her coach. It is people such as her coach, Paul—we must pay tribute to them—who do so much work to give opportunities to young people outside the school setting.
That brings me to two further points. First, so many leisure centres and sporting facilities that such teams rely on are under threat from rising energy costs, as many people have mentioned, and there are so many at risk of shutting. I would be interested to know what more the Government are going to do to support this vital sector. Secondly, there is still massive inequality in access to sports for boys and girls. According to the FA, only 67% of schools offer football equally to boys and girls, which is just up from the 63% when the letter was published in the summer, but this drops to around 41% in secondary school. I have to say that things have improved massively since I was at secondary school in the 1970s, when girls were not allowed to play football and when the sports we played depended on the likes and dislikes of the sports teacher. Things have improved, but not enough. How are we supposed to inspire the next generation of Lionesses if our girls simply do not have access to the same opportunities as boys? There is so much lost potential.
After their win in the Euros final, the Lionesses wrote to the current Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister, saying that
“we see this as only the beginning…We want every young girl in the nation to be able to play football at school…This is something that we all experienced growing up. We were often stopped from playing. So we made our own teams, we travelled across the country and despite the odds, we just kept playing football.”
They said they wanted their legacy to inspire a nation, and they have inspired a nation, but this is a big opportunity to make a huge difference. I want to echo their calls for change. I want to ask the Government what they are doing to heed these calls and properly invest in girls’ sport to level the playing field not just in football, but in all sports. It is what the Lionesses deserve, and it is what our young girls deserve.
It is a pleasure to follow Julie Elliott, who spoke about inspiration. I want to talk a bit about the value of PE and sport in schools, before turning to a few issues in my constituency.
There has been a change in culture. Like the hon. Lady, I recognise that there has been some improvement since I was at school. In the 1980s, sport seemed to be all about competition: those who could be brilliant at sport got the support, and those who could not, like me, did not get that support and were not that interested, and the sport teachers were not that interested in them. Indeed, my sports and PE teachers might be slightly horrified to see me speaking in this debate, but as schools Minister I saw how sport can inspire children in all sorts of schools and settings to achieve and engage, whether, in my constituency, at the Aspire alternative provision academy—where they have a fantastic partnership with our local professional rugby side, the Warriors, which I will of course mention—or at the amazing Perryfields pupil referral unit. I was delighted to see that the head of the unit very deservedly featured in the recent new year’s honours. At break times at the unit, all the teachers and staff go out and play football with all the pupils, helping them to engage and feel accepted.
We have seen some welcome improvements in recent years in terms of activity and sport, some from the Government, some from outside and from the teaching sector. The Daily Mile, for instance, is particularly popular in primary schools; it is great for young minds, getting people out and active and helping children to concentrate in class.
The Minister mentioned the doubling of the sports premium, which was of course very welcome, but I join in the many calls we have heard for more consistency, transparency and clarity in that funding. In a recent meeting of the Worcestershire Association of School Business Management, one of the burning issues they raised with me was the very short notice they had to implement the funding that comes for the PE premium. They said that if they had greater certainty they would be able to do so much more. The holiday activities and food programme has been a brilliant intervention to support both activity and healthy eating, but the demand I consistently heard from the sector, which I echo for my right hon. Friend the Minister—my predecessor and successor on the Front Bench—is for consistency and clarity in funding.
I held a meeting today, thanks to Seema Malhotra, in which the point was made that the problem is not necessarily the scale of funding for sport in schools, but rather the timing and certainty, to enable schools and the people who work on sport to make their plans. With that in mind, I urge the Minister to bring forward the school sport and activity action plan, which has been promised since 2019. I know from my time in the Department that it was a priority that my hon. Friend Will Quince was working on, and I hope the Minister can reassure us that it will be coming forward soon and he will set out plans for a multi-year funding settlement.
I want to touch on the importance of schools being able to work with local professional sports clubs. During my time at the Department we had a fantastic visit to Blackpool, where we saw the value of sports mentoring by Blackpool FC for children in alternative provision. We heard today from Alan Watkinson, the PE teacher who helped inspire Mo Farah—we may hear more on this from the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston—and his suggestion of a national network to drive forward the approach to sport is worth exploring.
Sports and PE activity can also make a contribution to attendance and children’s engagement in schools. It is no secret that my predecessor as Chair of the Select Committee, and now a Minister in the Department, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, was passionate about bringing back in the ghost children—making sure we can get children back into school. It is logical that children who might not perhaps be able to engage with academic subjects will engage better if they have the opportunities that come from sport. As my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch said, physical activity often complements academic performance. Used in the right way, sport can boost the confidence of children in school, and be an aid to concentration and an inspiration to those children.
I want to touch briefly on the situation in Worcester, where we are extremely fortunate to have a huge range in the community and professional sporting offer, with rugby union and cricket right at the top of that. There is, of course, football—we have the wonderful Worcester City FC—fantastic hockey, basketball and netball facilities and a university that is trying to put itself at the forefront of inclusive sport, looking at what we can do with wheelchair sport and so on, which can be a brilliant inspiration to children of all abilities and with all needs. We also have the headquarters of the Royal Life Saving Society. I join Kim Leadbeater in her call for more help for community swimming pools, because it is so important for children to have the opportunity to learn life-saving skills as well as basic swimming skills.
With the sports Minister in his place, I want to wrap up with a final plea—I cannot resist—on the plight of the Worcester Warriors, which I have addressed many times before. I will not detain the House for long about that, but I remind him to keep doing everything that he can to secure the future of professional rugby in Worcester at Sixways, because it does so much to support community sport and community inspiration for sport, including in our schools.
It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate and to follow Mr Walker and other colleagues. I think there will be a fair amount of consensus in this debate. Sport in our communities and in schools has had a renewed focus through the pandemic and after it, with sport and physical activity being so important for mental and physical wellbeing, which is critical to all of us and to our communities. I emphasise the point made in an intervention about the importance of health and of the Department of Health and Social Care team being actively and prominently part of the debate and strategy. It is disappointing that a Minister from the DHSC is not in the Chamber.
I thank organisations from my constituency, where there are a lot of grassroots sports and football clubs, including Bedfont Sports, the Eagles, CB Hounslow United and Hanworth Villa FC. I also thank our PE teachers. We do not always talk about the interface of confidence in physical activity in school building confidence to take part in physical activity outside school. Indeed, it can also work the other way around.
My own story is that when I was growing up I had friends at school involved in the local athletics club. Athletics and sport were not a big thing in my family; I suspect that is common in families who have not had a tradition of sport. However, I started going to Feltham athletics club, the same place where Mo Farah trained—I was there a number of years before him. The first time that I went to an athletics meeting, I did not realise that people were going to play sport and have a competition—I went to the first athletics meeting thinking that it would be a meeting and that we would all be sitting around. As it was, because nobody else had really turned up, I had to take part in everything for Hounslow. That was probably the only time in my life when I would have ever won—I did win—medals and trophies for taking part in javelin and shot put. It was one of those things where you do not know what you do not know until you have the confidence to take part and somebody walks through that journey with you.
My hon. Friend makes a really valid point, and I think that other hon. Members have said likewise. Can we all take this opportunity to pay tribute to key people within society, including the PE teachers and sports coaches who are working day in and day out? They can often be the only person a young person feels comfortable working with and speaking to, and they are often the inspiration that gets them through some difficult times.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. She has reminded me of the story of a young boy who was pretty much suicidal after the impact that the lockdown had had on his mental health, and of the support and camaraderie that his local football club gave him, including the coaches, who became in loco parentis. I also acknowledge the point made by the hon. Member for Worcester about the link between physical activity and wellbeing and educational attainment. That area really needs to be highlighted as well as the purpose for having a sports strategy at all.
I want to talk about the Schools Active Movement and its role in effectively utilising PE and sport to enhance the lives and development of young people. I thank the hon. Member for the meeting that we had today with Alan Watkinson, who was a co-founder of the Schools Active Movement and who also runs Sport Impact in Hounslow. There are a number of serious challenges that affect young people for which physical activity is part of the solution: childhood obesity, deteriorating mental health, deteriorating physical literacy—not a term we use enough—and the growing gap in children’s physical and mental wellbeing between affluent and deprived areas.
The Schools Active Movement, through school sports partnerships and their equivalents, has had huge success in supporting schools, but it faces significant challenges. It talks about the sector having different pots of funding. That is helpful and important, but the lack of an overall coherent strategy is having a significant impact on effectiveness in achieving the best outcomes for young people. Local organisations have to spend too much time and resource fighting to access funding, and ensuring it is spent strategically and effectively. Schools, and particularly those without an active school sports partnership, are struggling to know what, strategically, to spend the funding on.
The lack of a coherent strategy on infrastructure and the year-to-year funding announcement is seriously affecting the ability to attract trained staff and to plan ahead. I heard one example of somebody who was trained and playing a really important part in local school sports. They could not, with the cost of living crisis, cope with the lack of certainty and left their role to become a postman—a really sad result. On the impact that can be achieved locally, Sport Impact supports schools to take a strategic approach. Its training has built teachers’ confidence to teach sport. From almost 50% of teachers lacking the confidence to teach PE, more than 50% are now highly confident and none are lacking confidence.
Finally, to mention the asks that have been shared with me, one is the urgent need to maintain present infrastructure to protect the value of games organisers and the national network, and with confidence about funding. The second is to work together on planning for the future, consulting on the updated school sport and activity action plan, and a central role for a national network, like the Schools Active Movement, to play its part within an updated school sports strategy.
This is an area I am particularly passionate about. If, when I was younger, my ability had only matched my enthusiasm, I would have had a career in sport and would not be stood here now.
We are very fortunate to have two of our most effective and best Ministers here, who can make things happen, so to be helpful—the Whips know how helpful I am—I have a shopping list. Get your pens ready! At this stage, the Whips had probably better cover their ears, because my first ever rebellion was successful. It was on the sports premium.
The former Labour Government introduced the sports premium at the time when they had secured the Olympics. The £150 million a year funding was under very real threat. Before the Labour Government had introduced it, only two out of five school children were regularly active. By the end of the programme, it was still two out of five. It therefore seemed obvious that it had not moved the dial. What the Government had not appreciated, however, was the impact on the other three out of five children who had been doing absolutely nothing before. They were still not doing enough, but they were now certainly doing more than nothing. Rightly, the Government made a U-turn, not only securing the £150 million but doubling it to £300 million. That has now gone up to £320 million. I join everyone who is encouraging a long-term commitment to see that in place. It is important because we know that only 42.2% of young people are active for 60 minutes or more a day. It is frightening to think—heaven knows!—how little, if anything at all, 22.7% are doing.
For schools, part of the problem is a lack of PE teachers. The previous speaker, Seema Malhotra, highlighted a lack of confidence, so I welcome the changes to the initial teacher training. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools, because my hon. Friend Ben Bradley and I raised in a recent Westminster Hall debate an offer from the Professional Footballers’ Association, which supports thousands of ex-footballers—male and female—in looking at their next career. It is keen to encourage teaching as one route and is offering to support some of the associated costs. To the Minister’s credit, he met us very, very quickly and his team are working with the PFA. Hopefully, that will lead to an increase in people who have confidence and knowledge, in PE and in other areas of teaching.
I also want to see school facilities being opened up. That was my big ask when I raised the matter with the Prime Minister during the negotiations in our latest leadership “X Factor” contest last year. There are some fantastic sports facilities in all our communities, but some of them are under lock and key or, if they can be accessed, come at a huge cost that prices out volunteers willing to give up their time. When I was younger, people—or maybe it was just my parents—thought nothing of sending their children 16 miles away for the day without having them report back, but I am a parent now and people are understandably very conscientious about keeping sight of their children and making sure that they play in safe areas. Gardens are one third smaller than in the 1960s, so we need every last good, safe facility to be open.
Frankly, any group that can provide constructive activities, which predominantly means sport, should have access to school facilities. It should be free, because as taxpayers we have already paid for it. In planning new schools, we should look to integrate sports facilities that would benefit from dual use, particularly those that have specific design needs. It is very difficult for gymnastics clubs to find buildings with sufficient rooms and parking, and the same goes for athletics tracks and many other sports facilities.
We should encourage sports camps. In my constituency, the Draycott sports camp regularly attracts more than 250 children—slightly more girls than boys—during school holidays. It is incredibly popular, not just with children but with parents fretting about what on earth to do with their children during the holidays. Mark Draycott, who set the business up and is also a teacher, benefited from a favourable deal with the school that made it open and accessible, and from having the skillset to engage those who are not involved in competitive sport—it is a fun sports camp. He has helped to shape some of the early thinking around the holiday activities scheme, which I want to see continuing to be expanded. I pay tribute to St Andrews Parish Council and Haydon Wick Parish Council, which topped up the four hours provided through the Government scheme to ensure that all children on free school meals had a full day of access.
I turn to communities. I put on record my thanks, which I am sure all hon. Members will echo, to the thousands of volunteers and professional staff who provide the opportunities for people to get involved. We all know of them through social media. I know that we all believe everything that is on social media: yesterday I saw a picture of a drenched child and his parents, who were saying, “Thank you so much for making these opportunities in all weathers.” I pay personal tribute to Roy Heather, a long-standing and much-respected volunteer at Swindon Supermarine football club, who sadly we lost last year. He was a true gentleman and typified everything that is good about the voluntary sports sector.
I know that there is an appetite for more in the area. I host an annual summer activities fair in front of my office, where lots of different teams, clubs and organisations, but predominantly sports clubs, come forward and say to parents, “I know you have to entertain your children for six weeks—this is what we can do to help with that burden.” Hundreds of parents and children come along and sign up for different activities. I encourage all colleagues to do something similar.
I turn to planning. As my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch said, we need to ensure that there is sufficient usable space. In Swindon, where we have had loads of new housing developments, we make sure that that is a given. Green, usable lungs are incredibly popular.
We need to make sure that sports facilities promised are delivered. In Tadpole Garden Village, perhaps unsurprisingly, the developers are doing that last, not at the beginning. All play parks need to be accessible; as part of the disability commitments, we are going to make that happen. I pay tribute to Becky Maddern and Mums on a Mission for supporting me. As I say, let us look at sports with particular design needs and make sure that the right facilities are put in place. On leisure centres, I echo hon. Members’ comments about support with energy costs: it is really important that we do so and that we share best practice. There are lots of success stories where we are empowering sports groups and community groups to take ownership of facilities so that they can secure grants or charitable status and benefit from volunteers and their extra enthusiasm and motivation. We should champion that.
Finally, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford for pushing forward the fan-led review. We need to make sure that its recommendations happen and that we preserve what we are so good at in this country.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate. I thank my hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson for giving me a mention in his speech, and for the ideas that he contributed about engaging sportspeople in teaching. The premise on which our meeting with the Minister was based, for me, was the issue of male role models in teaching. I thank the Minister for his time, and I hope we can take that discussion forward.
I am pleased to be able to speak about the importance of schools. I am a self-confessed sports fanatic, or was until work and children got in the way of a life which, as a young person, I spent largely on a hockey pitch or in a gym. I therefore value the role that sport plays in people’s development, and their education in particular. I think it is too often undervalued by Governments of all stripes, given its benefits to health and wellbeing. My hon. Friend Damian Collins, who is no longer in the Chamber, mentioned the benefits to academic achievement, which are well researched and, I think, well understood.
Sport, particularly team games, encourages the social development of young people, and indeed teamwork is becoming more and more important in the workplace. All who have engaged in sport understand the highs and lows it can bring and the character, growth and resilience that come from that—the ability to deal with life. Sport builds discipline and determination, which is hugely important, and any funding that is spent on it is an investment in the development of independent, resilient, competitive young people who will be assets to our economy in the future. There are also massive health benefits, and I think the Department of Health and Social Care should spend much more time, energy and investment on sport as a preventive measure.
As we heard earlier from my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, this starts in our schools, which are the access point for so many young people. It is important to recognise that there is a great deal of work to be done. I want to focus some of my comments on the facilities mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon, behind school gates and so often locked away. Many communities do not have the basic sports facilities that they need. Research conducted by the Football Association has shown that 150,000 matches are called off every season because the pitches are not good enough to play on, and that the quality of one in three grassroots pitches is not high enough. I am pleased that the Government have sought to address that with funding for grassroots football facilities, and I look forward to the development of that project. In fact, there is significant funding for football, but sadly that is not true of other sports. I declare my interest as a hockey player.
The hon. Gentleman was right to make that important point about the huge benefits of sport in boosting the confidence and increasing the ambition of children and young people. As for the point that he has just made, does he agree that many grassroots football clubs are prevented from progressing because their pitches and other facilities are not good enough, although the young people and their teams may be excellent?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. Not just pitches but other facilities such as clubhouses provide a social space, and investment in them makes a great difference in leading people to come back every week to engage in sport, as well as attracting volunteers.
As a hockey player, I despair when I see AstroTurf pitches, in particular, fall into disrepair. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport needs to do some work on its understanding of what hockey pitches are publicly available and what their purpose is. When I asked, pre-covid, about the availability of hockey pitches in my constituency, the Department came back with a big list of 5G football pitches, on which hockey cannot be played—although that did not seem to be understood. In fact, no hockey pitches are available in my constituency, much to the frustration of North Notts hockey club, which is currently homeless. There does not seem to be the necessary understanding of the sport or the problem. Can the Department ensure that we have Football Foundation funding for multi-sport pitches that are genuinely multi-sport, and that some can be used for hockey as well?
One way in which to increase the number of sports facilities across the country would be ensuring that schools are able to open their facilities for public use. Nearly 45% of state-funded schools do not have that public access, which is a huge missed opportunity when it comes to grassroots sport. I know the Government are seeking to address the problem, but that seems to have been going on for a long time, and the situation has become worse post covid. I could give numerous examples, in Mansfield and across Nottinghamshire, of pressures on school budgets leading to the closure of sports facilities to the community.
As I said earlier, North Notts hockey club is currently homeless. In fact it has been homeless for 18 months, because the school pitch that it used to use is no longer available. I understand that schools want to prioritise education, given their limited funding, and cannot be expected to subsidise a leisure centre, and I think the community understands it as well—we all have sympathy for those schools—but the outcome is that football, basketball, hockey and other local classes and clubs are now without facilities. Those facilities are shut, just like 45% of other facilities, every night and every weekend. The nearest hockey pitch is 30-plus minutes away. For a club the size of North Notts, that is not viable, and it is really struggling. That cannot be good enough. I have tried to find solutions in recent months. I have even offered to fund things, and brokered discussions to no avail. The school will not act on this, although I am still trying, and the district council’s leisure trust will not run it. It remains shut, to the detriment of communities.
If we want to almost double the number of community sports facilities available nationally, the simplest way is surely not to build new ones but to ensure that the ones that already exist are open and available for use outside those hours. My right hon. Friend the sports Minister mentioned the strategy to fund and focus on hard-to-reach areas. This is a hard-to-reach area, and this is something that could be done.
I do not want to repeat what colleagues have said, as I am conscious of the time, but I reiterate the call for support for district council leisure centres, particularly swimming pools. That is a huge challenge, and I know that the Minister is committed to making some changes. I also stress the importance of the PE premium. An early, long-term decision on that would be hugely welcome, because an annual one-year settlement creates a hand-to-mouth existence for schools that do not know where they are going to be in September. We would not want or accept that for core school funding and we do not want or accept it for sport either, because sport should be part of the core curriculum. It can boost academic outcomes, and it can boost the Government’s overall aims in education. This should not be an either/or.
In conclusion, there is a huge amount to be gained from improving access, including equal access for girls, for those with disabilities—Mansfield is the home of powerchair football, a fantastic sport that is well worth going to watch—and particularly for disadvantaged communities, which often have the least access to high-quality provision and facilities. Sport provides a massive opportunity to learn and develop. It makes for more rounded, resilient and independent young people. It is an investment in our young people, but it is always undervalued. I hope that the Government will recognise some of the themes and challenges that have been raised today and act on them in the coming months.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Ben Bradley, and hugely reassuring to see two very competent Ministers on the Front Bench listening to every word we say. It is also a pleasure to follow all the other excellent speeches that have gone before.
I am delighted to be called to speak in this debate because throughout my school days sport was a crucial outlet for a young boy, then a teenager, who was dyslexic and found academic study truly onerous and at times terrifying. I was fortunate to be educated in the private sector, where time was both granted and available for sport. In addition, we had the sports fields and support staff to ensure that a range of activities could be provided. It is my view that where the private sector leads successfully, the public sector should follow or certainly learn. Sport must not be a privilege; it must be available to all.
On that note, what has always baffled me is why the school day in this country ends at 3 pm. Too often, children return to empty homes or roam the streets aimlessly until their parents get home. Surely this mid-afternoon gap could easily be taken up by sport, especially in spring and summer terms. It is regrettable that both political parties have been guilty of selling off their playing fields over the years. Thankfully, since November 2016 schools have had to seek the consent of the Secretary of State to do so, and there is rightly a strong presumption against any sale.
Sport at school, for every pupil, is a gift that keeps on giving. Away from the two modern scourges of social media and the mobile phone, friendships are cemented, working as a team is understood, youthful exuberance is channelled, discipline is instilled, skills are gained and courage is tested—for it does take courage to fall on a loose rugger ball with the opposition bearing down on you. Crucially, one learns to win magnanimously and to lose gracefully. These are building blocks for life, quite apart from keeping fit. It is extraordinary that while PE is compulsory in the national curriculum, the Education Act 2002 prohibits the Secretary of State from prescribing an amount of time to any sport, although Ofsted recommends a minimum of two hours a week. That is just over one football match a week. I do not think that is nearly enough, personally.
I commend the many parents who selflessly give of their time to take their children to out-of-school activities. Unfortunately, many children do not have that sort of support. All too often, they end up doing virtually no physical activity at all. It is regrettable, but inevitable, that obesity among the young has risen, leading to a serious lack of self-esteem and the risk of being bullied. Well organised sport in school helps to tackle obesity and to improve behaviour, attendance, mental health and, as we have heard, academic achievement.
I fully accept that extending the school day and supporting sports such as cricket, rugby and football, and more, would need more funding, and I appreciate that a range of financial initiatives have gone a long way towards achieving this, but sports education, though compulsory, is given only two hours a week, when it should be a core subject like maths, English and science.
I can think of no better investment in the young than teaching them so many of the basics of life. The disciplines required on the sports field, whatever the sport, are no different from those required off the sports field. I was fortunate to learn the significance of physical fitness and good health at school. Once adopted, it stays with us for life.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Whether it be football, cricket or rugby, sport has been a key driver of social and community development in Lancashire. We have fantastic grassroots clubs, boxing facilities and tennis courts in my constituency of Hyndburn and Haslingden, and I have been working closely with schools and community clubs since I was elected in 2019. There are a few general issues I believe we need to address to further help schools and communities provide sporting opportunities.
The first is space, and that applies both to schools and to grassroots clubs. In a 2019 Department for Education survey, half of educational establishments said that the key barrier to providing more physical activity is space and facilities. I see this in my constituency, with schools such as The Hollins in Baxenden needing dedicated sports hall provision so that they do not have to travel elsewhere. The Hollins is eagerly awaiting an announcement on the next round of funding for the school rebuilding programme, as it is currently having to hold GCSE exams in the sports hall, meaning that classes of children have to sit in the changing rooms because they are unable to do anything during that period.
If we are to tackle childhood obesity, surely it starts by instilling a love of sport at school. In an era in which more than 80% of 10 to 15-year-olds have their own smartphone and more than 40% have their own games console, we are fighting an uphill battle. We also need to ensure our community clubs are fit for purpose and have the facilities they need.
My hon. Friend is correct to highlight the importance of capital investment in new facilities. In Blackpool, we will benefit from a new £6.5 million sports facility at Revoe, thanks to Blackpool football club and the towns fund. Does she agree that this will not only deliver regeneration but help to achieve other levelling-up outcomes such as improved health and wellbeing?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I believe the Government’s focus on sport and grassroots clubs is key to the levelling-up agenda.
It is vital that we ensure local authorities are prioritising green spaces for grassroots sport, and it is equally vital that local authorities inform grassroots clubs of relevant grant funding pots for which they may be eligible. These clubs often rely on dedicated volunteers who simply do not have the time or resources to navigate the complicated system of grants, loans and awards.
Hyndburn is a shining example of how the Government, local leaders and communities can work together to improve the sports offering. To that end, we have seen a £1 million investment in Accrington Stanley Community Trust, which will provide pitches and facilities to grassroots clubs long into the future. We have also seen the community ownership fund allow for the reopening of Clayton community centre, which houses Clayton boxing club, fitness classes and dancing. There has been a £450,000 investment in Hyndburn Leisure to reduce health inequalities, as well as separate investment in our tennis courts.
I wish, briefly, to touch on professional sport, which is key. Hyndburn has a fantastic community club in Accrington Stanley FC, which competes in the third tier of English football. The club gives thousands of year 3 children free team shirts every year, instilling in children a love of their local club and of football. It also provides great joy to many supporters who go to the games week in, week out to socialise with their friends and watch sport. It is essential that we safeguard community assets such as Accrington Stanley.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear me plug the fan-led review. I believe that the measures it sets out will help to promote sustainability in the English football pyramid and that the review’s implementation would see more clubs such as Accrington Stanley orientating towards their fans and investing in their communities. I will leave my comments on the main point of the fan-led review, but let me say that I welcome the Minister’s engagement in that and his continued support throughout.
It is sad that sometimes these types of debates are not the ones that make the news headlines, as they should do; this debate shows great consensus across the House on the importance of this issue. I concur with a large amount of the comments that have been made, but let me add my two pennies’ worth.
In my brief time as the Minister for school standards, I was delighted to have the physical education and sports premium under my brief. One thing I instructed the officials that I worked with about was the importance of getting beyond the one-year funding settlement that always comes late in the academic year, meaning that teachers have already got curriculums planned and people recruited. It is essential that we not only announce such funding well before the Easter break—that is the very least we should do—but start to move towards a three-year to five-year funding agreement.
The Department for Education has done that extremely successfully with the holiday activities and food programme, which has been a real success in local areas such as Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, where we have the Hubb Foundation, led by the co-owner of Port Vale football club, Carol Shanahan, and one of its former professional footballers, Adam Yates. It has been serving more than 500,000 school meals to those on free school meals and providing thousands of opportunities each school holiday break to young people, particularly disadvantaged people. It engages with the schools to make sure that the young people on the pupil premium or on free school meals are the ones going to the clubs. It helps by using registers to find out what the engagement levels are.
I completely agree with my hon. Friends the Members for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) and for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) about school buildings sitting empty and idly by in our communities, despite being the beating heart of many of them. I was a teacher and I always found it shocking that a building that has the required safeguarding, security, kitchens and sporting facilities remains closed for six or seven weeks during the summer holiday—that is simply not right and we must do much more on this. Surely with small amounts of funding going into schools, we could make those facilities available at a cost whereby, working with volunteers, they can deliver or maintain things. There would be a hugely beneficial impact.
Let me give an example. The Government’s town deal funding for Kidsgrove of £17.6 million meant that we invested nearly £250,000 in the King’s Church of England Academy Kidsgrove, a secondary school, to put in FIFA-standard 3G Astro pitches. We had an agreement that the community would have access to those facilities in the evenings and at weekends. Not only is that generating income for the school; it has created a new job in the process, and it has meant that hundreds of people from across the local area are now descending on Kidsgrove, as the sporting facility sits right next door to Kidsgrove sports centre. As part of the town deal funding, it got nearly £4 million to reopen what is a vital community facility. That is creating a sports hub in an area where, sadly, childhood obesity is at about 28%, according to the latest figures I saw.
Those facilities are great for the local community and we are grateful for the Government funding. This is an example of how it can be spread across the local area. I want to thank Councillor Simon Tagg, the leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council; the Kidsgrove sports centre community group, which is ably led by Mark Clews and others, including Dave Rigby, Ray and Councillor Gill Burnett; and Councillor Paul Waring, who is now the leader of Kidsgrove Town Council and has put money from the town council budget into the sports centre to make sure that the facility thrives.
Of course, as the sports Minister has heard already, leisure centres, particularly those with swimming pools, have to be included in any support for energy usage. I do not want this fantastic community facility, which was refurbished and reopened at the end of last summer, to have to temporarily or, God forbid, permanently close because of energy prices that are not its fault. They are not anyone’s fault, other than Vladimir Putin and his vile campaign against the people of Ukraine. We need to make sure that we re-encompass those facilities, so I implore my right hon. Friend to speak with Ministers in the Treasury and in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to include those facilities in the support for energy usage. I will gladly work with any colleague across the House to continue that campaign and have our voices heard.
We are also looking at facilities within our local communities. I have mentioned the Kidsgrove Sports Centre and the 3G astroturf pitch at the King’s School, but the Kidsgrove town deal meant that we installed a pump track such as the one my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch mentioned. The pump track was a new concept to me, but it has been my biggest success to date. Funding of £100,000 has created one of the largest such tracks in the UK. It was built by local contractor Clark & Kent, which has professional BMX bikers and former Team GB Olympians such as Kyle Evans working for it. This facility, which is free for the community to use, is on an old abandoned site at Newchapel Rec, which had some mud tracks built by the local community. People from as far away as Scotland and Cornwall have been emailing me to say what a great facility it is. Again, that is great for our local community.
When the Levelling Up Parks Fund was announced by the Government, I thought that a mistake had been made because Stoke-on-Trent was not included. I have got used to hearing Stoke-on-Trent being announced as somewhere receiving funding from this Government. So I am going to let the sports Minister lobby his colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and tell them that they must have made a mistake, that we are going to have a round 2 and that Stoke-on-Trent is going to get, I hope, around half a million pounds. I want to have a pump track revolution across my local area to make sure that we install more in places such as Middleport Park, building on the work by the Middleport Matters Community Trust, led by Vicki Gwynne and her amazing team, and building a facility not only to get people physically active, but engaged in learning softer skills, which are so important. We need to ensure that the BMX track in Norton and Ball Green is brought back into use, which councillors Dave Evans, Carl Edwards and local community champion Jenny Taylor have been long calling for. These projects are very important.
I cannot end my remarks without mentioning Port Vale football club’s tremendous day out at Wembley, albeit at the expense of my hon. Friend Ben Bradley: we thrashed them at Wembley to get promoted to League One, thanks to Carol and Kevin Shanahan’s revolution of that football club. There is a massive engagement now in football. Stoke-on-Trent North is home to Stoke-on-Trent Ladies in Smallthorne, Port Vale Women and Milton United football club, which has ladies and girls teams as well. A revolution is taking place in Stoke-on-Trent to get young people, particularly girls, invested in sport.
I agree that PE must become a core compulsory part of the curriculum. Two hours is the bare minimum that should happen. We need to make sure that Ofsted is properly inspecting that and that we have the right people going in to teach it. Teachers in primary schools are overworked already. We need to give them the support that they need to focus on the curriculum and use the expertise of sports stars—retired and perhaps amateur. Perhaps we could get Phil “The Power” Taylor out and about in schools around Stoke-on-Trent, which is his home. Let us make sure that that can thrive. For me, sport was a life saver—quite literally. I have openly talked about my own mental health struggles, having attempted twice to take my own life. Having a sports team and a fantastic sports coach in Mr McCollin at Princethorpe College taught me discipline and structure. He brought me into a community, which was that team. He taught me those soft skills, although I accept that I do not display them very well in this Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker. My mother would like to see them more.
If we are to truly educate not just bright minds, but great people, sport has an important role to play and I hope that we can go further. I welcome the Minister’s announcement of an incoming sports strategy. I hope that the Minister for Schools will be announcing very shortly that PE and sports premium and working towards a multi-year settlement further on.
Madam Deputy Speaker, if by chance you had been at the Cricket Asylum at Sowerby Bridge at 2 pm on Sunday, you would have witnessed an epic quarter-final between the Northern Star Sixers and King Cross under-11s. I will not go into the result, but it benefited one of my children. What was heart-warming was the conversation that I had with the coaches of King Cross. King Cross is a cricket team based in the centre of Halifax. The HX1 postcode of Halifax had three teams going back over the 100 years. For various reasons, those three teams have disappeared. The centre of Halifax has a diverse population of people of different backgrounds and heritages, which is something to be celebrated, and a large south Asian population have made it their home. In 2018, Calderdale College began to run cricket lessons to see whether anybody there would be interested. Some young kids from the HX1 area, who had never played cricket before and never been offered the opportunity to get cricket coaching, went along.
Those cricket lessons continued at Calderdale College and enthused those young people, many from a disadvantaged background, with the idea that, “Yes, this is something we love.” Over time, the cricket club developed and in 2022 there was a public advertisement saying, “Please come to King Cross rugby club in the centre of Halifax, because we’re thinking about starting a cricket team.” Some 90 kids turned up from the HX1 postcode, from King Cross, and King Cross cricket club was born. That same cricket club plays in the indoor cricket league that my son plays in. It has five teams and young people who are a credit to their parents and to what the club is doing. It has devoted people from within the community, parents and families, there supporting those teams.
Those young kids have a purpose, they love their cricket and they are achieving something. Obviously, the starting point was Calderdale College, but that hub has thrived because of community. The three clubs that disappeared have been replaced by a new club that has taken over a facility, has not asked the state to be the answer to every prayer or asked for a huge handout, but has done it for itself. Cricket is now back and thriving in the centre of Halifax and those are the lessons we must learn.
I will confine my remarks in the time I have to community, rather than schools, which many of my colleagues have already talked about. We are utterly complacent in this debate about where we are with community sport. We often talk in generalities in this place, thanking everybody for what they do, and that is all very well, but we have a major problem with participatory sport in the community.
I will take football as an example. Anywhere in the country, I could go and find hundreds of under-10s, under-11s and under-12s teams; I would not be able to move for teams at that level, and people are committed to those teams. By the age of 14 or 15, participation has dropped off a cliff. In Huddersfield, where I was brought up—although I am the proud MP for Bury North—in the under-11 age group there are 90 cricket teams. For under-17s and under-18s there are only six. Something significant is happening and I still do not know what.
We can all say, “Oh, the kids have got lots of other things to do,” but they are not doing any other physical activity. In the old cliché, the old man that I am might say, “They are sitting in their bedrooms watching social media,” but something happens—[Interruption.] I am an old man. Something happens to the initial flames that were set, the things that were making young kids play sport at that age. For the sports I am talking about, it causes participation to jump off a cliff.
Another thing we should take from this debate is what it says about us as a society. I will give an example. Bradley Mills cricket club in Huddersfield was formed in 1875. It survived two world wars and the great depression, and thrived in a disadvantaged area. It was central to the community over 100 years. Somehow, in the 1990s, the society that 50 years earlier had seen that club as part of the heart of the community and of the links that bound people together disappeared, and people could not be bothered anymore. That club, which offered an outlet for young people in that area of Huddersfield, disappeared.
When I was young, my dad played football in the Huddersfield league. The best team in that league, every year, was Brackenhall. Brackenhall is a disadvantaged area of Huddersfield, and the club gave an outlet to young people who had challenges in their lives. There were no state hand-outs, just local people in that area supporting a club. That club has now come to an end.
I could point to numerous other examples, as I am sure other colleagues could, of clubs, especially in working-class areas, that are vanishing before our eyes. When we go to middle-class areas and see 100 or 150 young kids playing cricket on a Friday night, we kid ourselves that cricket is thriving. I nearly want to cry when I go and watch Radcliffe cricket club, which is in the Bury South constituency—[Interruption.] I will bring my remarks to an end, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I just want to make this point. Radcliffe cricket club was where the great Gary Sobers played. Looking back at pictures of Radcliffe cricket club from the 1940s and 1950s, it was a wonderful place at the heart of its community and encouraged community and physical participation. It now struggles to raise one team, let alone anything else. So as we congratulate ourselves and expect the state to suddenly put in a lot of money to make everything all right, there are some fundamental questions about why community sports that thrived over 100 years are now dying in many areas.
I thank Members from across the House for their powerful and impassioned contributions to this good-spirited debate. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to conclude the debate as shadow schools Minister knowing that sport has a key role to play in ensuring that every child in our country succeeds and thrives, no matter their background or where they are from.
Those on both Front Benches kicked off the debate by making powerful and insightful comments. The Minister with responsibility for sport, Stuart Andrew, spoke about the many health benefits of sport and rightly praised the success of the Lionesses last year as an inspiration to us all. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Jeff Smith, spoke about how sport can save lives, save the NHS and save public money. Yet the Government’s legacy on investing in sport has been limited, and the publication of relevant strategies remains long overdue.
Tracey Crouch brought her usual expertise and guidance on these issues. I put on the record my thanks to her for her tireless work on the fan-led review. I know that Pompey fans are grateful for her efforts and I very much look forward to working with her as she continues that work.
My hon. Friend Julie Elliott spoke about how sport brings people together, and about the importance of equal access to sports and local facilities in communities. My hon. Friend Seema Malhotra spoke about how confidence in sport leads to confidence in life.
As a number of Members have said, we do not have to look back any further than the Lionesses’ fantastic victory in the Euros last summer to see the massive impact that sport can have on our nation’s schools and communities. Not only can it boost the morale of the nation, but it can inspire millions to believe that they can achieve whatever they want if they put their minds to it. As we have heard, sport brings people and communities together, boosts mental health and physical wellbeing, provides employment and opportunities to many, and, for Britain, can be the means by which our nation’s traditions, culture and brilliance are broadcast to the world.
We should not forget the many grassroots organisations that do so much to boost sports participation across the country, as a number of Members have said. Last week, I visited Pompey in the Community, which does tremendous work using the power of football to bring people together, working alongside local schools to transform the lives of children in my city.
I suspect that a lot of Labour Front Benchers will be in Stoke-on-Trent ahead of the upcoming local elections and afterwards, so the hon. Gentleman should be aware that there is a great company called Bee Active in Tunstall. If he wishes to visit, I will happily visit alongside him, but if he wishes to avoid the Twitter trials of being caught and photographed with me, I would more than accept that. Bee Active is a fantastic contributor across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. It is a fine company that delivers the quality PE and sports premium that we urgently need.
I am actually in Stoke next week, so perhaps we could meet up and visit that project—I would be delighted to do so; perhaps for reasons other than what the hon. Gentleman might expect.
Last season across Portsmouth and the surrounding areas, more than 35,000 directly benefited from Pompey in the Community programmes providing sporting opportunities to many who would otherwise not receive them. Nor should we forget the fantastic efforts of PE teachers and school support staff, who go above and beyond to build up young people’s confidence and encourage them to get active. Unfortunately, as we have heard, many such schools, grassroots organisations and leisure facilities now face major challenges from the cost of living crisis. Energy costs are increasingly eating up budgets, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington said. With more and more people struggling to pay for services, such as gyms and swimming pools, we sadly have already seen some sporting facilities shutting down, as my hon. Friend Kim Leadbeater raised during the debate.
As has been pointed out by others in the debate, the 2012 London Olympics were meant to leave a legacy of increased sports involvement in schools and communities across the country, but according to a new report by the Public Accounts Committee, those promised benefits have failed to occur, with adult participation in sports actually falling in the first three years following the games. The report concludes that the Government
“lacks a compelling vision for integrating physical activity into everyday life”, and the problem is not just with adult participation. According to official Department for Education statistics, the number of PE teachers has fallen by 3,000 in the past decade, while the number of hours taught has fallen by more than 36,000. That equates to an 11% fall in the hours of PE taught. That is why a Labour Government would boost the number of PE hours taught by hiring 6,500 more teachers and reforming the Government’s narrow progress measures, which can lead to physical education being cut out of the curriculum.
I will make some progress. Labour would also capitalise on the momentum behind women’s sport following the Lionesses’ inspiring Euros victory and introduce an equal access guarantee for school sport, so that boys and girls have access to the same sports at school, rather than comparable sporting activities, which reinforces traditional access barriers for girls and women.
In conclusion, from Lewis Hamilton to Beth Mead, Andy Murray and many others, British athletes have delivered previously unthinkable success in recent years. These athletes are role models for our children and ambassadors for their professions, inspiring millions to take up sport and pursue their dreams. However, a decade on from the 2012 Olympics, the leadership of our athletes has been let down by the Conservative Government, with participation flatlining, sport in schools declining and school facilities forgotten. While our nation’s athletes continue to flourish, the Government’s performances increasingly flatter to deceive. Hopefully this debate provides the Government with a much-needed team talk to spark them into life to provide the vision for boosting sports participation across the country that we so desperately need.
This has been an excellent debate with some excellent speeches by my hon. Friends and by Opposition Members, including the hon. Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). May I start by paying tribute to the sports Minister, my right hon. Friend Stuart Andrew for the important stand that he took in Qatar during the World cup? My hon. Friend Paul Holmes made that point, too. I have to say that when I saw my right hon. Friend there, I found it extremely moving. I pay tribute, as the whole House does, to his courage in standing tall.
Sport has a vital role to play in all our lives, and there is an important role for schools to imbue a lifelong love of playing sport and taking part in regular physical exercise. It is clear from hearing Members from all parts of the House speak today that we share a commitment to ensuring that more children take part in PE and sport. I have to say to Stephen Morgan that we are exceeding our target for recruiting PE teachers. Last year, we exceeded that target by 143%. We recruited 1,521 teacher trainees in PE, far exceeding the target of 980 trainees. We have exceeded the target for PE teacher trainees for at least the past 10 years.
School is where many children and young people first have the chance to participate in sport. High-quality PE and sport in all schools is important to ensuring that every child and young person has the opportunity to take part in a range of sports. It can equip them to continue that engagement into their later lives, as a way of staying fit and active and enjoying the wider benefits that sport brings. That is why physical education is a compulsory subject within the national curriculum from key stage 1 to key stage 4. The PE national curriculum aims to ensure that all pupils develop the competence to excel in a broad range of sport and physical activities, exercise for sustained periods of time and engage in competitive sport and activities leading to healthy active lives.
My hon. Friend Ben Bradley highlighted the important link between competitive sport and young people’s confidence, resilience and determination. My hon. Friend Tracey Crouch—the former Sports Minister—made an excellent contribution, demonstrating her experience and passion for sport. She also made an important link between sport and wider cognitive benefits. She is right that sport supports other aspects of school life, including improved attainment, mental wellbeing and personal development.
My hon. Friend Damian Collins made the important point about the link between schools with high levels of sport and academic attainment. For example, at the Northampton School for Boys, which has high levels of academic achievement, as well as providing an excellent PE curriculum for key stages 3 and 4 that exceeds two hours per week, it has made PE compulsory for all sixth-form students. In its timetable, Northampton School for Boys offers a variety of sport in winter, including rugby, health and fitness, basketball, hockey and swimming. In the summer, students take part in athletics, cricket, tennis and softball.
In addition to the PE curriculum, the school provides impressive extracurricular sport where children can attend sports clubs before and after school, during lunchtime and at weekends. There are 76 clubs meeting every week during the winter and 54 during the summer. The school has inter-house competitions in addition to the PE curriculum and extracurricular sport. There are typically 50 competitions a year at that school, in which every year group and form class is included. The school ensures that 100% of its student body is represented in at least two competitions annually.
A number of Members raised the issue of two hours of sport a week. Schools are free to organise and deliver a PE curriculum that suits the needs of all their pupils. The Department does not set curriculum time requirements for any subject, but we know that many schools already provide a minimum of two hours of PE and sport to pupils each week. I will look at how to support all schools to do so, supplemented by a good range of extracurricular opportunities.
The DFE school workforce census data for the 2021-22 academic year indicates that PE and sport account for around 8% of all teaching hours in secondary state-funded schools. A rather old 2015 Youth Sport Trust survey found that the average number of minutes of PE per week in state secondary schools was just under two hours, at 118 minutes for key stage 3 and 114 minutes for key stage 4.
The Government continue to fund the primary PE and sport premium, referred to on a number of occasions during the debate. With an additional £320 million of funding to primary schools confirmed for the current academic year, that now totals over £2 billion since 2013. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey said, we doubled that figure from £160 million several years ago. The PE and sport premium supports primary schools, special schools and hospital schools to make additional and sustainable improvements to the quality of PE, school sport and physical activity that they provide. The Government are considering arrangements for the primary PE and sport premium for the 2023-24 academic year and beyond. That funding will be announced as soon as possible.
I note the exaltations from my hon. Friend Mr Walker for early notice to enable better planning. I also note the passionate advocacy for early notice by my predecessor—I should say my other predecessor—my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield raised the issue of the shortage of community facilities. The Government are seeking to address the lack of quality space for grassroots support through our multi-sport grassroots facilities programme. The Government have committed to delivering the facilities that every community needs. We are investing £205 million between 2022 and 2025 on top of an existing £18 million annual commitment in England as a step towards that ambition. A mixture of projects were selected for their ability to deliver improved facilities. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that £43 million has already been provided in 2021-22 to improve grass and artificial pitches, changing rooms and floodlights, to make a real difference to communities across the country.
I just want to make a brief point on community facilities. My frustration in the experience with Kidsgrove Sports Centre was that because we wanted to refurbish an existing building, Sport England was willing only to put in about £150,000. Had we tried to find a new site, we could have got £12 million for a brand-new facility; but we managed to build one for £7 million. Will the Minister engage with the sports Minister about how Sport England could be smarter in using taxpayers’ money more wisely to invest in community facilities and refurbish where we can, rather than spending more money by building new ones?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it has been noted by myself and the sports Minister.
The sports Minister outlined the £230 million to build or improve community sports facilities. Alongside those community facilities, facilities on school sites represent an important resource for pupils and their families. Schools use their playing fields and gyms to introduce pupils to a range of sports and physical activities through their PE lessons and a variety of structured extracurricular activities.
My hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson made an important point about the wider use of school facilities. The Department is building on the new funding for sports facilities by providing additional support to schools to open their sports facilities outside the core school day, at weekends and in holidays. Phase 3 of the opening school facilities programme aims to connect schools to national and local sporting organisations that can offer children and young people more opportunities to access extracurricular activities.
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s engagement on this subject recently with my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon and me. He mentions funding for opening up grassroots facilities, which is gratefully received and often important. In the case of North Notts Hockey Club, which I raised earlier, all that is needed is a padlock with a code on it so that they can let themselves in. It is outside, and they are insured. This is about getting schools to want to open up these facilities to communities. They can do it. Will he consider what direction he might be able to give to help that happen?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I was influenced by the meeting we had recently with my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon about how we can engage new people to teach PE in our schools. He also makes an important point about how we can use taxpayers’ money cost-effectively to widen the availability of community facilities.
The Government also support physical activity and sport outside the school term, through the £200 million-a-year holiday activities and food programme. All local authorities in England are delivering that programme. Taking place in schools and community venues across the country, the programme provides disadvantaged pupils and their families with enriching activities including sport, as well as with healthy food.
We have heard how the brilliant Lionesses are aiming to inspire a generation to take up football. We want all girls to participate in sport, and that is why the Department for Education is funding SLQ Sports Leaders to deliver the “Your Time” programme, which gives girls aged eight to 16 access to competitive sport and leadership opportunities. Almost 1,000 girls have already enrolled in the programme’s second year to train as sports leaders and lead events and competitions for their peers. They are supported in their online training by inspirational sportswomen including England netball player Layla Guscoth and World Triathlon Series winner and Commonwealth games champion Jodie Stimpson.
The latest annual data from the Active Lives Children and Young People survey, released in December, has been very encouraging. The data shows that the proportion of children who are active has increased by 2.6% compared with the last academic year, bringing activity levels back in line with those seen pre-pandemic. That will be due to the efforts of schools, families and communities. There is still further to go, and schools have a central role to play—in particular, in ensuring that pupils benefit from high-quality PE lessons taught by confident and knowledgeable teachers. I join the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston and the shadow sports Minister, Jeff Smith, in paying tribute to the work and commitment of PE teachers.
The Government published their cross-Government school sport and activity action plan in July 2019, and we have committed to publish an update to the plan this year, to align with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s new sport strategy. The update will provide details on further action to help all pupils play a wide range of sport, both in PE lessons and through extracurricular activity. This is a Government who are committed to sport in our schools, and I thank all Members for taking part in this important debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered sport in schools and communities.