My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Pendry on securing this debate. I think it is very timely, particularly because this week, for the first time in history, we have seen children demonstrating for the right to participate in sport. This is a fantastic thing to see.
I also declare an interest. My sister-in-law, Leslie Shepherd, is a school sports co-ordinator in the north-east, so I have a personal insight which I would like to bring to the debate today. I would like to register my concern about two key issues and ask the Minister two questions which I think are important.
First, I am deeply concerned about the process that the Government have adopted in deciding to cut support for the school sport partnerships. The school sport partnerships are populated by people who are literally the most solution-focused and dynamic I have come across. Therefore, can the Minister explain why the Youth Sport Trust and the school sport partnerships were not given the opportunity to develop proposals that would address the concerns expressed by the Secretary of State for Education in his now notorious letter of
The right honourable Andy Burnham, the shadow Secretary of State for Education in the other place, has recognised that if he were in government he would have had to have brought about cuts to school sports, but he has also been responsible and clear in saying that he would have worked hard to conserve the infrastructure and expertise that enable school sport networks and partnerships to be created and to thrive.
My second concern is the perhaps rather naive idea on the part of the Government that the enormous investment in and commitment to the school sports infrastructure could be replaced by the creation of a schools Olympiad. There has been for some time a national school sport competition, and I do not think that it is an either/or situation. It is the school sport partnerships that are bringing the Olympic message to schools throughout England, and it is they that have been working tirelessly to embed an Olympic legacy in the hearts, the minds and, yes, the healthy bodies of our young people.
I have been privileged to see at first hand the work undertaken by one such partnership and its school sports co-ordinator over the past 18 months to bring together her community to create the Redcar and Cleveland Olympics, culminating, it was hoped, in the national sports week in 2012. The plan was for all PE staff and the school sport partnership to run a programme of competitions after school, involving all the usual sports that the Secretary of State wanted to see-rugby, football, netball, hockey; you name it, they were going about making it happen. They wanted to have this programme of competitions over the whole academic year, and it was to be launched in September 2011 as the Redcar and Cleveland school Olympiad.
There was to be a proper pilot beforehand to iron out any glitches. Events would have been run in partnership with local clubs, something that we have all argued is a good thing, with the support of national governing bodies, which again is something that we have all been arguing is an important development to ensure that the transition from school to lifelong sport can be made. There would have been a strong sense of competition but an ethos of building participation too. The results of all the interschool matches were to be added to a medal table, and then in national school sports week there would be the big event. The year's activity would have culminated in a county-wide week-long Olympiad, starting with a torch procession running through the streets of Redcar and Cleveland, with an opening ceremony in each school and FE college and then a day of interschool competitions for each year, with each school providing a minimum of 50 pupils. Tees Valley Leisure facilities were to be provided, and all the venues were to be made available by the local authority. The extended schools programme was adding £10,000 of funding to cover all the transport, something that can be very difficult to co-ordinate, giving head teachers confidence that their investment of their teachers' time would be well spent. There was a real buzz about the idea of the Olympiad. There was interest from local business and, importantly, endorsement from the London 2012 Inspire programme, so that all those participating would know that the London Olympics was their Olympics too even though they lived in the north-east.
To make this Olympiad happen, though, there needed to be someone to drive it forward, with the know-how to catalyse a network of contacts in all the schools around the county as well as all the volunteers who run the clubs-remember, they do their day jobs too-and the sports development people in the local authority. There needed to be someone who could garner the support of national sporting bodies and local businesses and, of course, who could win the confidence of those important head teachers. That person was a school sports co-ordinator, working in a school sport partnership that is soon to become extinct. The whole project now hangs in the balance.
The Redcar and Cleveland school Olympiad might be symbolic of the future of school sport around the country. While the Government prevaricate about what to do about school sport, momentum is being lost. My second question is therefore: can the Minister explain what the Government will do to ensure that the work of school sports co-ordinators continues? These are the people on the front line who make the competitions-which the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, says are so important-happen.