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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:07 pm on 9th December 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Campbell of Loughborough Baroness Campbell of Loughborough Crossbench 1:07 pm, 9th December 2010

My Lords, I add my congratulations and thanks to my noble friend Lord Pendry on securing this debate and on his personal tribute, which was greatly appreciated. The timing of this debate is very important, given the release of the White Papers on public health and education.

I believe that sport is one of the most powerful tools we have to shape young people's lives. It is a cross-cutting tool that can deliver health improvements, educational achievement, community cohesion and great moments of sporting inspiration. Over recent weeks, school sport has been the subject of much debate. I will therefore focus my contribution on how the delivery of sport in schools is crucial if we are to impact on the health and well-being of our young people.

First, I must declare my interests. I am chair of the Youth Sport Trust, an independent charity established in 1994 by Sir John Beckwith with the support of Duncan Goodhew. Our mission: to build a brighter future for young people through physical education and sport and to return school sport to the heart of school life. With the support of the Youth Sport Trust, the first 11 specialist sports colleges were established in 1996 under the previous Conservative Administration. We now support 522 sports colleges and academies, including 40 special schools. The inclusion of all young people has been a central tenet of our work from the outset: something for everyone. Those 522 schools have become beacons of good practice, acting as important centres for research and innovation in health, physical education and school sport.

In 2000, the first school sport co-ordinators were funded. It was agreed to use sports colleges as the hubs and to appoint part-time school sport co-ordinators in the surrounding secondary schools. These families, developed by the Youth Sport Trust, became known as school sport partnerships, and government funding to establish and support those partnerships went directly to the hub school. None of this funding went through the Youth Sport Trust, and it was never administered by the trust then or now. There are now 450 school sport partnerships that include all primary, secondary and special schools in England. It is the only strategy of its kind to embrace every school in the country.

The context of my contribution today stems from the current debate on the future funding of school sport partnerships. Emotions are running very high, but that is because young people, head teachers, parents and sports men and women care so deeply about this issue and have seen the steady and remarkable progress made in the past 10 years. School sport partnerships are a unique nationwide delivery system providing national governing bodies of sport and commercial partners as well as government initiatives in health, Change 4 Life clubs, transport, Bikeability, education and sport with an efficient and cost-effective way of delivering their programmes to every school and child in the country. Each school sport partnership has been built around local needs and shaped by head teachers to drive whole-school improvement, to support young people to develop active lifestyles and to provide opportunities for young people to participate, perform, excel and lead in sport.

I am conscious that we have heard many statistics, but I make no apology for sharing again from the independent national PE and school sport survey some of the evidence that shows the impact of these partnerships on young people. Sports colleges are the fastest improving academically of all specialisms, which totally dismisses the notion of sport being a distraction from educational achievement. The work we have done with BSkyB on behaviour change has produced outstanding results, retrieving many young people from school exclusion and crime. Participation in two hours of physical education and sport a week has risen from an estimated 25 per cent in 2003 to over 90 per cent now, which is surely an enormous contribution to the future health of this nation. The range of sports available to young people has been expanded giving greater choice for all young people no matter what their ability, disability or interest. Three-quarters of a million young people have taken part in leadership and volunteering programmes enhancing their self-worth and self-esteem. Schools have doubled the number of links with sports clubs, which is an important part of linking school and community. We now have 49 per cent of 5 to 16 year-olds taking part in some form of inter-school sport competition and 78 per cent of them taking part in intra-school sport, or house sport as it is often known.

These increases in participation and competition have been achieved because of a collaborative network of outstanding sport professionals who share expertise and dedicate thousands of hours to their work. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to every single one of them. They have not only met every target set for them by government but have exceeded them all. They have made a life-changing difference for a whole generation of young people, and whatever happens now they should be proud of their legacy and we should loudly praise their efforts.

Talking of legacy, let us not forget that we made a promise to the world in Singapore. When we won the right to host the London Olympics, we said that we would inspire young people around the world to choose sport. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are nearly upon us and surely there can be no greater opportunity to inspire and motivate young people to take up an active lifestyle or to pursue their own dreams of one day becoming a champion than right now. However, for that to be possible, we need to retain a network of people dedicated to creating the right kind of opportunities. What will happen if we lose these people? There is no doubt that many secondary schools, with their specialist physical education teachers, will continue to provide a number of extracurricular opportunities, but the great range of options that we have heard about today will be more limited, time to recruit, train and deploy coaches will be reduced, school club links will become more random and the number of opportunities to compete will decline. However, the biggest impact will be felt in our primary and special needs schools where there are only a few specialist physical education teachers and where general classroom teachers have very limited training in physical education and sport. Without the energy, expertise and professionalism of the school sport co-ordinators, we will see a reversal of the progress made in the past 10 years. If we are truly going to affect the health and well-being of our young people, we must ensure that their first opportunity to play sport within a school environment is positive and that we develop physical literacy with the same zeal and vigour that we pursue academic literacy.

Finally, I want to make a point about international comparators. As well as being chair of the Youth Sport Trust, I am also chair of UK Sport, which is responsible for driving our high-performance system and for investing government and lottery money in our Olympic and Paralympic sports. This is a world where international comparison is the ultimate test. In the past few years, the Youth Sport Trust has been privileged enough to be invited to work with colleagues in Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, the 17 developing countries presently involved in International Inspiration-the London 2012 international legacy programme-and others. While there is no podium in PE and school sport, I suggest that if there were, we would, by common consent, be gold medallists.

I fully appreciate the present economic challenges that we are all facing, but I ask the Government to re-examine the independent data that unequivocally verify the incredible progress that has been made by schools across this country and to seek to preserve the very best of this world-leading system for the future health and well-being of our next generation.