Sport: Health and Well-being of Children and Young People — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:28 pm on 9th December 2010.

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Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Conservative 12:28 pm, 9th December 2010

My Lords, the subject of sport in schools is currently an emotive one and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for initiating this debate, which is important for every pupil who aspires to sports of any kind. We are at a crossroads.

It is not just desirable but vital that sport flourishes in schools where it prevails, and is developed where little or none exists. The arguments in favour of the additional benefits of sport, beyond nurturing sporting skills, have been well rehearsed; sport encourages healthy competition and promotes teamwork and camaraderie as a life skill. There are, of course, strong links to health-from increasing pupil self-esteem to decreasing obesity rates-with the potential for a reduction in demand over the long term for the NHS.

I start with the reality-the premise that I support the Government in their necessary strategy to dig deep to repay the huge debts inherited from the previous Government. Let us not forget that the CSR highlighted the protection of the schools budget, which will increase in real terms at a rate of 0.1 per cent per year. The network of school sport partnerships, led by the Youth Sport Trust, has been achieved-but at a substantial cost. The infrastructure includes 450 partnership development managers, 225 competition managers, 11 regional development managers and three national development managers, who work alongside the members of the governing body for each sport. There is undoubtedly some bureaucracy here, as exemplified in the school sport partnerships' "self-review tool", which contains 115 boxes to tick. This is clipboard management, as opposed to time spent on coaching, training and inspiring sport on the pitch or track, or in the pool.

This may explain why £2.4 billion was spent on school sports between 2003 and 2010, but there was only a 20 per cent take-up on average in competitive sports. There has been considerable variation around the country, as the statistics demonstrate. There are 1,280 secondary schools-one-third of the total-in which no pupils take part in regular competitive sport within the school, let alone with other schools, yet there are 320 schools where all pupils regularly take part. There has to be improvement, better value for money and greater consistency. However, it is less wise to cancel the budget over such a short timescale. I hope to hear that the Government will have a rethink. It is unrealistic to expect all schools to source funds for school sport out of the protected schools budget. The only guarantee is that the 6 million pupils who currently play no competitive sport will continue not to do so.

Where there are successful partnerships, it is unwise at best, and foolhardy at worst, to endanger the infrastructures that have been set up with up to 200,000 volunteers. Some may wither and die. Many people are dedicated to improving sport in schools, and they should be applauded. Where there has been a 100 per cent take-up, there is no doubt that it has been the result of extraordinary efforts by the schools and their teachers, and the communities, including parents.

Maximum continuing encouragement must be given to all primary and secondary schools to play sport, especially in poor areas where facilities are minimal and obesity rates are high. Surely it is better to argue that funding will be withdrawn or substantially reduced, if necessary over an agreed timescale and with a three-year time limit, to take account of different local sports infrastructures and funding, in order to allow time for schools and communities to review their partnership structures and finances. As outlined by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education, this process should be led by the heads of schools: but what if they are unwilling to prioritise this, or they say that they are not able or are not going to allocate funds? What steps are being taken to advise and incentivise head teachers, to ensure that in future they commence, maintain or improve school sports activities? For example, should the Government adopt a fund matching scheme, with every pound found for sport by a school outside its budget being matched by government-or perhaps with a different ratio.

In agreeing with the granting of greater autonomy to head teachers, I believe that there will be a requirement actively to manage them through the process to approach philanthropists and local businesses to support school sports. The role of parents in sport should not be underestimated as an obvious source of practical help, both in helping to supervise sports where their own children are involved and in effecting introductions for help in schools through their work or communities. I am aware that in the poorest areas this is much less likely to happen, and schools may be reduced to receiving help sourced only from local businesses or benefactors. There is also the question of whether there are playing fields in the first place.

Schools in which sport is prevalent are more likely to attract high-quality teachers. Sport is known to improve behaviour in the classroom, with teachers in these schools seeking involvement in sports coaching. Funding for sports may have to continue well beyond the spring of 2011 in areas where there is a danger of networks of volunteers built up over the past decade ceasing to exist.

There has been much debate, in particular resulting from the CSR, about legacies left to our children and grandchildren. We would have much to answer for if the "Interests" section of the CVs of our young read "going to the cinema" or "seeing my friends" rather than "cricket", "rugby", "football", "captained my team" or, even better, "represented my country at the Olympics". We must do more.