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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:35 pm on 9th December 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Lords Spokesperson (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 1:35 pm, 9th December 2010

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for tabling a debate on this important subject, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, on a masterly winding-up speech from the Labour Benches. We have heard from a star-studded cast of speakers who have reflected both expertise and achievement in sport. We have had confirmation of the strong health benefits associated with children being active and playing more sport. These are widely accepted and relate to the physical and mental health benefits for those involved. As we know, sport reduces the risk of ill health and improves health-related quality of life; it improves life chances and focuses energy; it helps to tackle obesity and contributes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle; and, if we are being mercenary, it can generate substantial savings for the taxpayer in terms of avoiding health costs. We have heard tremendous arguments about these issues from all around the House.

In 2004, the Chief Medical Officer recommended that children and young people should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day to help realise these health benefits, and we wholeheartedly support that recommendation. This is highlighted through the Change4Life campaign and remains the standard that children and young people should strive to achieve, supported by schools and their parents.

It is right to say that school sport is not in a bad position in England. There have been significant increases in the amount of organised physical activity young people undertake in recent years, and we celebrate that. I give due credit to the previous Government for the role they played in encouraging increases in the levels of activity and sporting participation among children over the past decade. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Loughborough, whose dedication to and passion for sport through her stewardship of UK Sport and the Youth Sport Trust has brought many benefits to this country, in the form both of medals at the elite level and of participation in schools. She made a most valuable contribution to this debate.

Yet it is true to say that the proportion of young people taking part in wider physical activity and competitive sport, especially regular competition between schools, remains relatively low. Only one in five children participates at this level, which means that many progress through their school days lacking experience of the thrill of competition and the chance to develop their physical and social confidence through winning and losing. In short, to,

"meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same", by learning how to be a good winner and a good loser.

The coalition Government want to increase everyday physical activity and sport, with a particular focus on competitive sport for all. At the heart of our ambition is a traditional belief-that competitive sport, when well taught and appropriate to "age and stage", brings out the best in everyone, be they the Olympian or Paralympian of tomorrow, or the child who wants to keep fit and have fun learning new sports and games. Competitive sport has obvious physical benefits, but can also improve mental agility, develop team-working and co-ordination, build moral character and give a sense of personal development and achievement. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, say in opening the debate that sport should be fun, a thought that was picked up by my noble friend Lord Gardiner, my noble friend Lady Benjamin with her examples of diversity and creativity in providing sports that meet the needs and skills of all children, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who referred to the importance of variety in sport-it does not all have to be hockey or lacrosse-and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, as well as other noble Lords.

The previous Government's strategy for school sport relied on a centrally determined infrastructure within schools, and various national top-down programmes. We applaud the progress that was made under the last Government, but we are looking to do better by encouraging schools to put sport and competitive sport at the top of their agendas. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, put it so clearly, we want to preserve what is good. My noble friend Lord Younger also clarified where some funds could be better spent.

We are proposing removing central programmes and ring-fenced funding and national targets, and in their place providing freedom of choice and putting schools in charge. The overall schools budget will increase by £3.6 billion over this spending period, with head teachers able to take their own decisions about how to spend budgets. What is clear is that head teachers can continue to work in partnership with other schools, if they wish, and where school sport partnerships have been successful we see no need why they should not remain in place. However, we believe that school communities are most likely to be successful when they have certain elements of freedom to take ownership and responsibility for what they are doing.

The noble Lords, Lord Pendry and Lord Brookman, referred to the value of the school sports partnership. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, in his opening remarks described eloquently the many activities of the SSPs in Tameside and Manchester but, as the Secretary of State has confirmed, those partnerships can continue if that is locally determined.

We understand the concerns about removal of ring-fenced grant to schools. This is one of the difficult decisions the Government have needed to consider in managing their finances properly so that the deficit is reduced, school budgets are protected and the pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils is introduced. Of course, that pupil premium can extend to PE and to sport. Let me also be clear, however, that we fully recognise the efforts of schools, parents and coaches-including all those who worked in SSPs to increase participation-and I assure noble Lords that further discussions are ongoing on these issues. Again, I heard with great interest what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, was saying about the importance of the co-ordinators in these activities.

We very much hope that schools will choose to invest in sport. Among the incentives will be a voluntary new Olympic and Paralympic-style competition. We are working closely with Sport England and the Olympic family to develop that competition. What is 100 per cent clear is that this is not about an elitist agenda; we do not want to see competition simplistically confined or packaged for only the most talented or sporty children. We want there to be second teams, third teams, even fourth teams and more, so that every child has the opportunity to participate in physical activity and to experience regular competitive sport against other schools and be able to benefit from all that competitive sport can bring to a young person's development. We certainly wish to see the networks of volunteers continue to support that.

A package of locally determined events will ensure that annual school sports days are the culmination of regular competitive activity within schools; that more leagues are set up allowing regular competition between schools; that the most talented individuals and teams are given the platform to progress to county-level events; and that young elite performers have the chance to be selected to represent their schools at the first annual competition in the Olympic stadium in London 2012.

We recognise the need to attract those children not already engaged in sport, which is why over £5 million of funding is being used to set up over 3,000 after-school Change4Life sports clubs on school and further education college sites across the country, as already mentioned in this debate. These clubs will be in a range of seven Olympic and Paralympic sports, harnessing the inspiration of London 2012. This will pay for the equipment and qualified coaches helping to engage around 100,000 children aged between 13 and 19 who do not currently take part in sport, with a specific emphasis on using young volunteers to lead these sessions. All 3,000 clubs will be established by April 2011 and this complements other investment for youth sport which will strengthen links between schools and community clubs and increase the number of children participating in sport outside the curriculum and beyond the school gates, themes which have been picked up already.

We believe that the model of these clubs means that they will be sustained beyond 2011. By developing agreements and partnerships between schools, local authorities and community clubs we foresee these clubs becoming embedded within local areas, and I certainly pay tribute to the work of sportspeople who and organisations that support these. I shall briefly mention cricket later but I think also of the Lawn Tennis Association, which provides free equipment and training in schools; there are many other sports where the sportspeople and organisations voluntarily do this to encourage young people.

We need a mass shift in current activity levels, creating opportunities to change the physical and cultural landscapes to build an environment that supports people in more active lifestyles. Therefore, in addition to continuing the best elements of school sports provision and boosting competitive school sport we are enhancing the sporting infrastructure in communities across the country. As a result of our reforms to the National Lottery, for instance, we are investing £135 million in grass-roots sport through Places People Play. This was launched last month and will deliver a real legacy of sporting participation from London 2012. It includes £80 million for local and iconic facilities, with £10 million to protect playing fields, which are such key assets in this area, and £2 million for a new programme supported by the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association to recruit, train and deploy 40,000 sports leaders across the country by 2013.

As well as enhancing provision we are determined to support volunteers, practitioners and clubs-the lifeblood of grass-roots sports-by removing the barriers preventing them delivering more sporting opportunities, so that they can attract and retain more people into their sport, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Addington. It is why the Minister for Sport and the Olympics has tasked the Central Council of Physical Recreation with reviewing the red tape that prevents so much good activity, and this review will complement the coalition Government's reviews into the vetting and barring scheme, the criminal records regime and health and safety.

The public health White Paper, launched last week, set out our plans to ring-fence the public health budget so that it is used to tackle the key causes of preventable ill health, rather than being raided to solve NHS deficits, as happened once or twice under Labour. Physical inactivity is one of those preventable causes of ill health and the White Paper sets key ways of addressing this in children and young people, including updating guidelines on physical activity, the broadening of the Change4Life programme, and ongoing funding for Bikeability cycle training, which works towards every child being offered high-quality instruction on how to ride safely and confidently by the end of year 6 of school. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for his contribution and his support for cycling; we just need to take care that he avoids colliding with the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, as she is on her way back from the tennis courts.

At the national level we are working with all sections of society through our public health responsibility deal to drive improvements in healthy living, with a specific network to take forward new partnerships aimed at reducing inactivity. The Department for Education will shortly be in a position to announce what additional funding it will make available to support school sport in line with its new approach.

I would like to pick up some of the other points mentioned in this very wide-ranging debate. My noble friend Lord Gardiner made welcome comments on the positive impact of Fishing for Schools and the evidence that physical activity and sport can provide health benefits and engage hard-to-reach groups, including those with certain disabilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, asked why the Youth Sport Trust was not consulted in the decision to cut. Throughout this debate we have heard that there are effectively three government departments involved in this: the Department for Education, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health. In fact the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has met the Youth Sport Trust on many occasions and consults the Secretary of State for Education. I understand that a meeting is shortly to take place with the Secretary of State for Education.

The Government recognise the excellent continuing work done by the school sports co-ordinators and this should, in future, be a core part of school PE teachers' roles, so we hope it will be fundamentally incorporated within schools. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned the links with clubs and reducing red tape, which I have already referred to, and of course the role of the clubs has featured at various stages throughout this debate; their importance in generating enthusiasm and access for young people cannot be underestimated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, gave an inspirational speech; she is indeed a role model in this area and enhances greatly the debates in this House on these subjects. She mentioned a variety of subjects, including linking sport to the reductions in crime. That issue has not been picked up directly, although the increase in sociability and young people feeling that they can contribute actively to society has featured in a number of speeches today. I entirely agree with her that the increase in the number of sports available in schools is a positive development. As we develop our new Olympic/Paralympic-style competition in schools, we will ensure that it includes a wide variety of school sports formats to attract all young people.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the importance of ring-fencing the legacy from London 2012. The Government are firmly committed to delivering a real legacy from 2012; we are right behind that.

My noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie asked about the schools' transition to sport. We will consider what further support can be given to help schools manage the transition to the new schools-led approach and, indeed, develop new incentives for heads to prioritise sport. The fear that heads might decide not to use the money for sport will be monitored.

In the other aspect of his input on cycling, the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, referred to its positive benefits. Indeed, the Department of Health White Paper mentions the Bikeability cycle training scheme and the £560 million local sustainable transport fund, which includes active travel and will have an impact on cycling.

My noble friend Lady Benjamin spoke on the issue of high-quality PE and sport. We will consult on this and the role of PE will feature in the forthcoming curriculum review.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, asked whether Michael Gove had visited a school sport partnership. I am given to understand that he visited one prior to taking up his appointment in government; I am not aware that he has visited one since. However, I believe that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been in touch with such partnerships.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked whether the Education Secretary had consulted colleagues. Discussions between Ministers within all three departments took place in advance of the announcement and I understand that the government departments for health, education and sport are in further discussions even as we speak about what further support will be made available. We expect an announcement on the legacy later this month, and certainly before Christmas. I hope that gives some reassurance to noble Lords-and obviously I expect to come back to the Dispatch Box if it does not.

The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, referred to the progress made and to the risks of the cuts. We agree that significant progress was made under the previous Government. Of course, the decisions we have taken have been driven partly by the economic position and by our determination to put schools in charge of their own budgets.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned cricket and the Chance to Shine programme. Yes, it will receive £7.2 million of funding from government over 2009-13, and sport as a whole will benefit from the revisions to the lottery shares through investment into many national governing bodies of sport after the Olympics portion of the lottery budget comes to its completion in 2012.

I have a feeling that there are other points in the debate which I have not picked up. Pressure of time will not allow me to go into more detail but I shall certainly read the debate with great interest. It has been a valuable and thought-provoking debate containing some inspirational contributions. I hope noble Lords will find that the stubborn government mind has listening and problem-solving characteristics too. I know we share a common aim on all sides of the Chamber, and the coalition Government are committed to implementing the best policies to ensure the well-being of children and young people. Again, I thank most sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for securing the debate and all noble Lords who have taken part today.