It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss an important issue that I feel passionately about.
It has been more than a year since the Government first announced their intention to dismantle the sports infrastructure put in place by the previous Labour Government to deliver our commitment to increase participation in sport and physical activity. It had a clear structure—the Youth Sport Trust was set up to deal with school and youth sport; Sport England was set up to deal with community sport through national governing bodies; and UK Sport was set up to deal with the elite level—and it was renowned around the world. It has also been more than a year since the Government announced that they were ending funding for school sports partnerships and scrapping ring-fenced funding for specialist sports colleges. Next Tuesday will be the first anniversary of the partial U-turn on school sport, when the Government were forced to introduce a hastily cobbled together package of funding.
Why did I call this debate? Twelve months on, the threat to the future of school sport has not dissipated. In fact, the cuts announced last year will devastate the national sport structure that was the envy of the world, and new threats have emerged within the past 12 months that have the potential to create a perfect storm for school sports.
The army of volunteers within our schools and sports clubs are getting on with making the best of a bad deal. We take that army for granted, but on their shoulders rests much of our country’s sporting life. Those volunteers might not be the type to march on Whitehall, but they are still angry, confused and frustrated by the Government’s seeming indifference to their work. Their voice deserves to be heard.
If we do not hold the Government to account at every step, we risk losing the massive strides forward that we have made over the past decade. There has been a fog of misleading statistics, reviews and cross-departmental hand-wringing. If we do not question and challenge the Government every step of the way, we will wake up one day to find that we have abandoned a generation of young people to substandard sport and physical education.
Why does it matter if our kids do not play sport or do PE at school? Children who play sports do not only benefit physically, because research shows that involvement in sport helps general educational attainment. Sport helps young people to develop self-discipline and to learn how to get along with others. Involvement in sport can help tackle antisocial behaviour and youth crime and overcome psychological problems and loneliness. It can also help to tackle problems of bullying in school and help youngsters with disabilities enjoy sport with other children. Furthermore, children get those benefits whether or not they excel at sport. They do not need to be part of the sporting elite, because merely participating makes children healthier, happier and better pupils. The present Government’s policies threaten young people’s chances to take advantage in school of the enormous benefits offered by participation in sport and PE.
We cannot have a debate about any aspect of sport, particularly sport and young people, without mentioning the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. In Singapore six years ago, when London was awarded the games, we made a solemn commitment to the international community and to the people of this country that we would use the games to inspire a generation of young people through sport. It was a crucial element of London’s bid and set us apart from our main rivals, Paris and Madrid. How can we be serious about that commitment if we dismantle the structures that will help us deliver it and send a message to our young people and our army of sporting volunteers that we do not value sport and are downgrading our commitment to sport in schools?
London 2012 has given us an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a lasting sporting legacy, not of stadiums and facilities, important though they are, but of a new generation of young people for whom sport and physical activity are an integral part of their lives. The Government should not have decided to drop the commitment to involving 2 million more people in sport and physical activity. However, it is not too late. The situation is not irretrievable, but the threats to school sport are so great and serious that Ministers must ask themselves how they intend to meet the commitments to ensure an Olympic legacy if they maintain their current course.
I was proud to serve as Sports Minister from 2007 to 2010. It was one of those jobs in government to covet. I was proud of what we achieved in those three years, but I was even prouder that we made sport a cross-departmental policy priority during our 13 years in government, and made massive progress in putting sport at the heart of Government thinking, especially through our investment in school sport and PE.
Let me remind Members of what we inherited when we were first elected in 1997. It is no exaggeration to say that school sport was in a dire situation. PE and competitive sport were often seen as optional extras, and many schools had substandard sports facilities, if any. What sport took place in schools relied almost exclusively on the good will of dedicated teachers, parents and volunteers. Only one in four schoolchildren took part in two hours of quality PE per week. Playing fields were too often seen by local authorities as development opportunities. An astonishing statistic and a damning indictment of the previous Tory Government’s policy on education and sport is that between 1979 and 1997, 10,000 playing fields were sold for development. That is more than 10 every week for 18 years, which is shocking.
The new Labour Government acted quickly to rectify the situation. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 introduced the toughest ever protection for school playing fields. Further legislation in 2004 made the sale of playing fields an option of last resort, and local authorities were compelled to use the receipts from any sales to improve existing sports facilities. In contrast to the 10,000 playing fields lost between 1979 and 1997, just 192 were lost between 1997 and 2008, and in the majority of those cases, although the playing field was sold, the site benefited from increased sports provision.
Our physical education and sports strategy, which was supported by £1.5 billion in funding between 2003 and 2008 and by further £755 million from 2008, enabled us to put in place a network of 450 school sport partnerships. Partnerships were centred on specialist sports colleges, which were linked to local secondary and primary schools and sports clubs. By 2010, thanks to the work of the SSPs, 90% of pupils in partnership schools were receiving two or more hours of high quality school sport.
We hear much from coalition Ministers about competitive sport and how Labour supposedly did not prioritise it. I am sure that we will hear the Minister repeat misleading statistics on competitive sport and participation—I hope we do not, but I think that we might. The lead academic evaluator on SSPs criticised the Prime Minister for a
“selective use of statistics that ignore the tremendous improvement over the past decade”.
Competitive sport was increasing under Labour. The number of children taking part in competitive sport, not just between schools but in schools, increased from 58% in 2006-07 to 78% in 2009-10.
Labour did not emphasise sports participation and physical activity because we were a Government of sports fanatics, although there are a few of us about. Sport was a cornerstone in tackling numerous key policy issues, such as obesity and related health issues, antisocial behaviour, educational attainment and citizenship. It was a genuinely cross-departmental priority. Interestingly, there was general cross-party consensus that Labour got it broadly right on school sport, and certainly cross-party support for school sport partnerships. There was no indication that Opposition parties had an alternative agenda.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for focusing on a very important issue for local schools. Although sport and education are a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, the same principles apply. Does he feel that school sports should be twinned with the issue of diet control, obesity and eating habits? Does he feel that the issue is not just about getting fit, but about weight control, too?
Very much so. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He will know about the statistics on obesity in young people and about the health risks. He is right that sport is an integral part of life skills. Not everybody can be a champion, and not everybody can be elite, but we can be the best that we can be. I do not look like a healthy specimen, but my own involvement in sport through the parliamentary football team, school sport, the friends that we make through sport and the life skills that it gives us, all show that sport is an integral part of what we should be trying to achieve.
Of course, we all agree about the benefit of sport, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is about a bit more than that? It is also about getting kids out of classrooms—not necessarily on to a sports field—and into different areas of the great outdoors, which relates to the benefits that he has mentioned. That has been held up as a result of extreme regulation and red tape. Does he accept that the Government have made some progress in stripping away that red tape to get children from the classroom to the outdoors?
I am grateful for that intervention. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s premise in terms of getting youngsters outside. School sport was fairly stereotypical in that girls played netball and hockey, boys played football, rugby and cricket, and basically that was it. The previous Government were proud—the Government’s misleading statistics come into play—of being able to widen the range of sports on offer. Mountaineering, canoeing, sailing, cycling and so on get people out into different environments. People who are not good at ball skills can get into cycling and other sports. We worked with those sports’ governing bodies to develop this framework. I am sad that that seems to be being reversed. I do not think that that is irreversible, and it can be put right.
There was a cross-party consensus to see that delivered and developed. It was only after the election in 2010 that that consensus seemed to disappear. Labour’s record was rubbished by Ministers as a justification for implementing a scorched earth policy promoted by the Secretary of State for Education, who is known to be hostile to the very concept of organised sport. The school sports partnership network, the cornerstone of school sports policy, was decimated to the astonishment of experts around the world all to save £162 million. The vast majority of that money had been spent on pupils in schools. It was seen as a world-class model and the shock throughout the sporting world was genuine. The director of community sport at the Australian Sports Commission, said:
“I am absolutely devastated to hear of the cuts to the School Sport Partnership models. I am astounded that such an amazing and world-leading initiative has been lost to the communities they serviced.”
Labour’s then shadow spokesman for Education, my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, begged the Secretary of State not to dismantle the SSP network. He even offered Labour support for a reduction in funding to SSPs, as long as the infrastructure was kept in place. I am afraid that his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Within weeks, the Government were forced into a partial U-turn because of an unprecedented backlash against their proposals—a backlash lead not just by politicians, but by Olympians, sports bodies, sports journalists and the grass roots volunteer army. What we got was a cobbled together set of announcements that still leave the future of school sport in jeopardy. SSPs and school sports organisers have been told not to expect funding beyond August 2013. Those cuts will effectively mean an end to the infrastructure that supports the school sport network at the very time that we should be seeking to increase activity in the run-up to next year’s Olympic games and Paralympic games. What makes matters worse is that the Secretary of State has removed the need for schools to collect data on pupils’ progress. That will make it almost impossible effectively to monitor future participation rates and the effect of those cuts.
The much heralded school games, the new flagship Government policy, in actual fact already existed in the guise of the UK school games, which were supported by Sainsbury’s. The funding for the school games represents a massive 60% annual cut for school sport, which is well above the average for departmental cuts imposed as part of the austerity measures. Are we really saying that an annual competition, which is most likely to be of real value only for children at the elite end of their sport, is a replacement for a whole school sport network that improves the life chances of all children? This cobbled together funding has left school sport in disarray and left school organisers, clubs and volunteers with no idea about what will happen after 2013.
There is nothing wrong with competitive sport in schools. I speak as someone who spent a large part of my childhood, and indeed early adulthood, playing competitive sport. I completely understand the benefits of competitive sport, but competitive sport alone does not constitute a holistic Government policy towards PE in our education system. I will tell the Chamber why that is, and it goes to the heart of the problem. There is a fundamental lack of understanding about sport at the most senior levels of Government policy making. The Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport simply do not comprehend that successful participation in competitive sport can be achieved only by first mastering the basics of sport and PE. As the Youth Sport Trust has said, high quality physical education is essential for developing the necessary skills and confidence to participate effectively in competitive sport. Simply throwing all pupils into competitive sport, without first building what the Youth Sport Trust refers to as “physical literacy”, is both unfair and unrealistic, particularly in larger schools. Current Government policy, with its fixation on competitive sport at the expense of all else, is building our sporting future on sand.
What of that future? Talk to people involved in grass-roots sport—in schools, clubs, community sports networks and the national governing bodies—and they will tell you that there is deep concern and confusion. I thank the national governing bodies that have been in contact with me—rugby league, rugby union, tennis and other sports—to talk about how their sports are helping the wider environment. Our sporting volunteer army and our dedicated PE and sports staff in schools are an innovative lot. They will be looking at ways of maintaining the networks that we created over the past decade to ensure that the enormous progress that we made is not lost. In many places, they will succeed. If they do, it will be because of the enormous dedication and passion of those involved. If they succeed, it will be despite Government policy, not because of it. However, I fear that in some schools and communities, school sport will cease to be a priority. As if they did not have enough to contend with, there are threats on the near horizon that could create a perfect storm for school and youth sport.
In January 2011, the Government announced a comprehensive review of the national curriculum. The review is likely to see a slimmed down curriculum for sport in schools. Although PE is likely to be retained as a compulsory national curriculum subject, there is no guarantee that the two-hour offer, never mind the five-hour offer, will be retained. A recent review of global policy in schools showed that all the countries it looked at provided PE time targets, following this country’s lead. How sad and ironic will it be if, after leading the world on increasing children’s participation in school sport, we abandon one of the key mechanisms by which that was achieved?
The national curriculum review will not be completed until September 2012. That creates more uncertainty for all those involved in school sport. Steve Grainger, the then chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, in response to the review, said:
“The quality and quantity of PE and school sport that is now being offered in schools has improved vastly in recent years. Ensuring it remains a vital part of the national curriculum will allow young people to continue to enjoy the many benefits that sport and physical education can bring.”
I appreciate that the review is ongoing, but will the Minister outline current coalition thinking about exactly what a “slimmed down” sports and PE curriculum would look like? What assurances can the Minister give that the slimming down of the sports and PE curriculum will not lead to the Government abandoning the two-hour commitment?
The coalition Government’s national planning policy framework will undo the protections for playing fields that the previous Labour Government put into place in 1998 and 2004. The Football Association stated, in its written evidence to the NPPF, that the proposals put
“playing fields and facilities at great risk”.
Are we going to see a return to the ’80s and ’90s, where playing fields were seen merely as development opportunities to be sold to the highest bidder? Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that measures contained in the NPPF and the Localism Act 2011 will not relax the restrictions on decommissioning school playing fields introduced by the previous Labour Government? Will he give an absolute assurance that the sale of school playing fields will be allowed only as an option of last resort?
What of the Government’s free schools policy? How will the Government meet the sports and PE offer for pupils attending free schools? How can the Government remain committed to sport and PE, if they are willing to allow free schools to open in buildings where there is no space for outdoor recreation? Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that free schools will not be exempt from providing sport and PE as part of their curriculum?
As hon. Members can gather, it is a source of great personal sadness to me to see much of the work on school sport that we did in government undone in such a brutal and senseless fashion. That has been sanctioned by people at the top of Government, who have little or no understanding of the power of sport to change lives. What has happened particularly saddens me because, during my time as Minister for Sport, there was a general cross-party consensus about sport and school sport in particular. I worked closely with the then shadow Ministers—Mr Foster and Hugh Robertson, who was my successor as Minister for Sport—to ensure that sport was not used as a political football, if hon. Members will pardon the pun. Despite their public pronouncements, I cannot imagine that either of those hon. Members is personally happy with the Government’s direction on school sport.
Next year, London will host the largest sporting event ever held in Britain. That should be a catalyst for embedding participation, commitment and aspiration into a generation of young people. However, we risk losing that opportunity because we are sending out a mixed message to young people. We tell them, “Get involved and participate,” but we are taking funding away from them and from the networks that facilitate their participation. The year before we host the Olympic and Paralympic games, we have ended the ring-fencing of sports funding for specialist sports colleges. Yet, last week, I was amazed to hear that an extra £40 million could be found for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic games, which is one quarter of the budget for school sports partnerships. What message does the Minister think that that sends out to the hundreds of SSP staff losing their jobs, to the volunteers who give their time and money, and to the pupils hoping to emulate their Olympic heroes?
As I have said, playing sport was a major part of my childhood and early adulthood, and I made many friends through sport. With the decade of sport that we have in this country—the Olympic and Paralympic games next year, the rugby league world cup in 2013, the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014 and the world athletic championships in 2017—we have a wonderful opportunity. These should be inspirational times for our young people, but they will not be if we cannot develop school sport in the way that we were.
I hope that it is not too late and that Ministers will listen. I do not expect the Minister to give in completely to me this morning, but I certainly hope that he will acknowledge some of the points I have raised, that he will have discussions with his colleague, the Minister for Sport, that he will look at what is happening and that he will listen to those parents, teachers and people involved in school sports partnerships who were getting to the primary schools that, in many cases, did not have the facilities for sport. I also hope that he will listen to the young sports leaders whom I met as Minister for Sport who were going into primary schools and helping PE teachers. There is a great opportunity here. I hope that it is not lost, that the Minister listens and that we can have a sensible debate on the way forward.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess, and to follow Mr Sutcliffe, who is an exceptionally well respected former Minister for Sport. I certainly agree with the spirit of many of the things raised in his speech, although I will perhaps tweak one or two points in my contribution.
I speak very passionately on this subject because I benefited from sport. I went to a very challenging school. We were bottom of the league tables and, as I mentioned in last week’s debate in this Chamber on sport and tackling youth crime, two of my friends spent time at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Sport kept me active and by the end of the day, I was too tired to cause any trouble—although some people might say that as I am now a Member of Parliament, I took an even worse path.
I was a councillor for 10 years prior to becoming an MP, during which time I spent four years as the lead member for leisure. I therefore have a lot of first-hand experience of dealing with these sorts of issues in the community. As we know, sport can play a very positive role. It helps to promote a healthy and active lifestyle, which is important in tackling the increasing concern about obesity. Sport channels young people’s energy, boosts self-esteem and provides enjoyment, friendship and personal fulfilment. It can have significant benefits for focusing good behaviour and as I said, that was something I saw at first hand when I was growing up.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is a strong supporter of school sport both from his past record as a councillor and since he has been a Member of Parliament. He made a point about prisons. I was the Minister responsible for prisons. What is the busiest place in a prison in terms of people getting involved in sport and physical activity? The gym. Such things made me think as I do about what sport can do for people.
I absolutely agree, and I will come to that point in a bit more detail later.
I will touch on three points: first, the school sports partnerships; secondly, what is physically going on in schools as we speak; and, thirdly, wider community access to schools. I shall then put my personal requests to the Minister.
On school sports partnerships, I raised a number of concerns in debate that led to the Government changing their position. I support the principle of the school sports partnership, but a premise that attracted a lot of criticism of the scheme is that it did not necessarily drive up levels of competitive sport. That was a flawed assessment because, generally, if someone is very good at sport, it is probably because their parents are that way inclined and encouraged sport from an early age by providing access to sports clubs.
School sports partnerships were good for people who were not naturally inclined to sport or gifted at it, because they offered a wider breadth of sporting opportunities. For example, I remember that we played football pretty much every week at my school, which suited me because I liked football. However, some people were not necessarily enthused by the opportunities that football presented. The main driver behind the school sports partnership was that it brought in other sporting opportunities and showed people that there was something out there for everyone. There were encouraging signs that it was making a difference to the majority of children who are not necessarily naturally gifted at sport.
The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I think I just heard him say that school sports partnerships did not drive up participation in competitive sport. Can he tell me the figures he bases that statement on?
The point behind my remark was that when the Government were making their judgment about whether the school sports partnerships were delivering value for money, they looked only crudely at the number of children taking part in competitive sport, which was two in five children. That figure did not change. However, what did change significantly was the number of children who were not doing any sport at all who then took up sport. They might not have been playing in regular leagues outside school, but they were at least being active—whether that was just for the two hours a week or whether it led to other opportunities.
For example, when I was touring my constituency, we saw encouraging signs; people were doing things such as cheerleading and street dancing, which were incredibly popular but because they were not strictly sports in the traditional competitive sense, they were not included in those crude statistics on competitive sport. However, those people were being active. When I was the lead member for leisure, I did not care what people were doing, as long as they were doing something that increased their heart rate. I also say that with my hat on as vice-chair of the all-party group on heart disease. We are keen to encourage such activities.
The change in position allowed nine months for the school sports partnerships to, in effect, go to schools and secure funding. I do not recognise the point about cuts to the funding; it is just that the funding is no longer ring-fenced. The challenge that remains for school sports partnerships is that not every school necessarily identifies sport as a priority. The Swindon school sports partnership has managed to ensure that around 20 schools have signed up to carry on in pretty much the same format as before. However, a number of schools have decided that there are other priorities for that money and, by removing ring-fencing from the funding, they are free to make that choice. I think that such a choice is wrong for those schools and when I meet those who work in them, I regularly push the benefits of providing sport. We must deal with that challenge. It comes down to individual heads; it is fair to say that if a head has a personal interest in sport, it is certainly pushed to the forefront.
Does the hon. Gentleman consider that there is a role for private investment and partnership with schools as a way of getting more money for the programme? Is that something he has considered and, if so, how does he think it will work?
I absolutely do, and I will come to that point shortly.
There are some advantages to the changes that have been introduced, but we need to work out a way to ensure that schools continue to see sport as a priority. There was another reason why we had to look again at how the school sports partnerships worked. In my constituency, it was a very good partnership, but we heard in the debates on the subject that in other constituencies people who work in schools were saying, “They aren’t delivering very much. I am very passionate about sport as a head teacher. I would like to employ my own choice of sports coach directly.” To a certain extent, therefore, some schools now have better provision, because they have gone directly to the person they think can provide sporting provision in the areas where they had gaps.
It is also fair to say that the school sports partnerships that are still in existence, including my own in Swindon, have had to step up their performance, because that cheque is no longer guaranteed. They have to go to schools and make a pitch about how they will deliver additional benefits to them. There is still a role to play, however, in helping those SSPs to be in a position to deliver improvements, because, by and large, they are sports enthusiasts and are particularly good at organising sports events. They are not necessarily geared up to be a semi-business—a not-for-profit business—so there should be a role to provide additional help in that way.
In response to the intervention, I would like to see SSPs identify additional partnership opportunities, not just through the private sector, but through working with local authorities, the local NHS and sports forums and local sports clubs. To give a good example, if a school offered only football every week and wanted the SSP to bring in street dance, it should bring in not a one-off coach, but representations from street dance clubs, so that children who enjoy a taster session in school then have the opportunity to join a club and take up the activity on a regular basis. Local authorities can play an important role in that regard. The equivalents of the lead members for leisure and the key officers should sit down with the SSP organisations and say, “You can bring the following people to the table and we’ll help co-ordinate that,” so when the SSP then pitches to individual schools, it will be able say that it will not only provide two hours of street dance, but will bring in supporting clubs and give advice on nutrition and on how to do a variety of other beneficial tasks above and beyond the obvious reasons for it to go into the school. That is about asking what more we can do to make SSPs seem much more attractive to schools and to keep sport as a priority.
On what is happening in schools at the moment, I would like to see changes in relation to two particular challenges. The first is the cost of insurance, which is an issue that I have raised in a number of debates. The majority of teachers are relatively young, and young people are very expensive to insure. We need to be able to bus pupils around in order to promote school games and take them to learn outside the traditional school environment. Many teachers are young and new recruits are getting younger, so the cost for schools—it is a burden—is incredibly expensive. I keep urging the Government to consider a national deal; schools throughout the country purchase things, so surely, as a collective with huge economies of scale, we should be able to get a better deal from the insurance industry. I encourage that.
I have been told by an inspirational local physical education teacher, Julie Lewis, about a second element in relation to insurance. In order to drive a minibus, the driver needs a certain D-class element on their licence. Julie already had that—she is of a similar age to me—so it was a relatively simple process. She just had to go to the local authority and carry out a simple test. She passed and was then able to drive the minibus. The younger teachers now have to do three days of training, which costs about £2,000, so that is another burden that the school has to weigh up: when budgets are tight, is it worth releasing teachers for three days? All too many schools like the idea of doing it, but they cannot afford it, either because of the cash or because they do not have the time to release teachers. We need to look at that.
PE teachers also face a dichotomy in relation to their priorities. Julie told me that she is extremely keen to provide after-school clubs. The children love them and embrace them, and really want to take them up. If she could offer as many sessions as she would like, they would all be full. However, she has to plan them at the same time as she should be planning her lessons, and planning her lessons to make sure that they are delivered in the correct manner is what is judged by Ofsted to determine whether she is a good PE teacher and whether the school is a good school. There is a clash; one area is being judged and rewarded, but it is as if she has to magic up a way of providing the after-school classes that might be of most benefit to the children.
I have talked to other teachers. A friend of mine worked in a challenging school in Oxford. During his first year as a qualified teacher, he was full of enthusiasm and provided a huge range of after-school sports clubs. They helped with behaviour and with tackling crime in the local area, because the children were not hanging around street corners straight after school. They were doing something constructive and positive. My friend then had the opportunity to do one-on-one tuition, for which he was paid. He could not be in two places at once. His heart said that he wanted to do his bit for the children he was there to inspire and for whom he played a positive role, but his brain said that he wanted to go on holiday and that he needed to buy a new laptop. In the end, the financial reward prevailed.
Is there not an opportunity for national governing bodies to get coaches to help teachers do such things? One of the things that we looked at was the possibility of coaches from a wide range of different sports running after-school clubs, paid for by national governing bodies.
I absolutely agree and I will build on that point shortly.
Schools have some opportunities at present. The school Olympics principle, for example, is fuelled by next year’s Olympics, which will give us a wonderful opportunity to drive up participation, particularly because they will advertise on the television a huge variety of new sports for people to try. When I was growing up, we very much followed the television. We played football predominantly, but out came the cricket bats when the cricket was on and out came the bikes during the Tour de France, and when Wimbledon was on, the tennis rackets would come out for the three days that the British participants lasted.
I have a slight plea on this issue. It is not just about getting people to be healthy and active, although that has to be the priority. There is a chronic shortage in this country of coaches and—this is often overlooked—of volunteers. When I talk to sports clubs, they tell me that they can normally find somebody to organise things, but that they cannot find a club secretary or treasurer, or someone to sort out all the insurance.
As a former parent governor of my local school, Tavernspite, and a keen volunteer cricket coach at it, one of the obstacles that I came up against was the Criminal Records Bureau checks. There was one CRB check to be a parent governor and another to be a cricket coach. For all but the very determined, it was difficult to volunteer.
That is a valid point and I know that the Minister is championing the cause to change that situation. I would like to hear more about it.
To return to the issue of coaches as volunteers, when school games are being organised, the best athletes are selected to represent the school. Incidentally, my school always came last in everything; we were so short of people that I ended up having to do four events in one day and got progressively worse. The key is that we should also identify those who have not been selected to participate and ask one of them to act as the coach on the day, another to organise the promotional posters, and another to be the treasurer and organise payment for the minibus. There are all sorts of other roles, so later, as they grow up, those people could fill the massive gaps in community sport. That is something that we should champion.
I welcome the decision to fast-track troops into teaching. When I talk to school head teachers, particularly in primary schools, they tell me that one of their biggest challenges is that not enough teachers are enthusiastic or confident enough to be able to carry out a wide breadth of PE. It is often the case that the last person to leave the staff room suddenly finds themselves delivering the lesson. One would hope that troops would be sports-minded—they are certainly well attuned to physical activity—which could help to fill a major skills gap.
On the issue of sport helping behaviour, I have visited schools with challenging behaviour problems and, time and again, have seen them use sport as a reward incentive to maintain behaviour in the school. It is amazing that when a child misbehaves and is told that they cannot go to the after-school football or street dance session, that is not only the first time that they misbehave, but the last time, because such sessions are the hook for a lot of children.
Turning to the community, I hear the points about the loss of playing fields and I fully support the call to protect them. There is, however, a further challenge. The vast majority of schools that were built post-1997, which is true of pretty much all, bar one or two, of the schools where I was a ward councillor in a high-density, new-build housing estate, were private finance initiative schools, so they had wonderful playing fields, but after 4 o’clock, a huge amount of money had to be paid to use them. Even enthusiastic PE teachers could not use them, because they were not the school’s property after 4 o’clock, and the local community would have to raise money. They looked wonderful and the turf was great, but they could only be seen through the fence. That is something that we need to look at in future school building. Sports facilities need to be accessible both to the school itself—it is a crime that an enthusiastic PE teacher who wishes to provide after-school sports opportunities cannot do so because it is not the school’s facility—and to the community through sports clubs.
Opening up those facilities should be an absolute priority not only for sports clubs but for youth clubs. I have spoken in other debates about how in the old days, sports clubs dealt with competitive sport and youth clubs were at the other end of the spectrum, but they should be one and the same. Street dance is the classic example; it is not technically an ultra-competitive sport but is something in which young people wish to engage. We can use sport as the hook in the school facilities, and youth workers can come along to where children are being active and can provide the advocacy that youth clubs are normally good at.
I get frustrated when local authorities make mistakes with opportunities. As I mentioned in last week’s debate, Stratton parish council identified £4,000 to provide extra activities for young people. Rather than consulting those young people and asking them what they want to do, the council will spend the £4,000 on providing mobile graffiti walls—nothing more than a training ground for more graffiti artists to wreak havoc in local communities. What the council should have done, to build on an earlier intervention, was to say, “Right, we’re going to open up our schools or community centres on Friday and Saturday evenings and pay for coaches”—it could be a football coach or a street dance coach—“who can then come into our community, and we will only charge the children 50p.” Something—a nominal fee—needs to be charged so that the children take ownership, but without pricing them out, and they can come along and participate for a couple of hours. We would then see children being active and positively engaged in something constructive, and we can build on that. Remarkably, when I go to schools and ask, “What do you want?”, they say they want organised sports provision and opportunities, not silly bits of plywood that they can spray some paint on. That frustrates me. Local authorities and Government are always hard-pressed for money so whenever we have an opportunity to spend relatively limited amounts of money, let us ensure that it is on engagement. Everything should be judged on the maximum number of people participating in whatever it is that gets them active. As I have said on a number of occasions, I do not care which sport it is, as long as something is going on.
Another opportunity that we need to look at is when schools close, as populations shift. In my town, schools are closing in the older housing estates and opening in the new estates, as young families shift across the town, and we need to insure against the loss of not only the playing fields but the buildings. We had a fantastic success story in Swindon involving a successful gymnastics club, with 450 people a week participating. The club was so successful that its landlord served it an eviction notice because the neighbours were annoyed at all the parents turning up after school and taking all the car parking spaces. They got together and said, “Either it moves or we all move”, so the landlord said to the club, “You are very good at paying your rent but I’m afraid you are off.”
To find a new gymnastics facility in any town is a challenge, because high walls and lots of parking are needed. Through the Swindon sports forum we identified a £4 million sports hall that was only a couple of years old and about to be bulldozed; a school was being knocked down because a brand-new £25 million school was being built a few miles down the road, so the sports hall would have been lost. To cut a long story short, we managed to arrange for the gymnastics club to take on that sports hall, paying a commercial rent for the facility, and the old school was bulldozed around it. The club took on the sports hall, which was bigger than needed, so the facility also has the Kirsty Farrow dance academy and the Leadership martial arts club. Now, instead of 450 children a week being active, we have 2,000, with parents dropping children off, one for Esprit gymnastics, one for martial arts and one for the dance academy. We were so close to bulldozing that facility, and 1,550 children —on top of the initial 450—would have missed out. Instead, some joined-up thinking was driven through our sports forum, in which 60 different sports clubs sit together with the council officers. We married together the collective thinking—“This is our challenge, we need a facility”—and the opportunity, not only to the benefit of the gymnastics club but of the other clubs that have piggybacked on it. We should do that wherever buildings or facilities might be lost.
I conclude with my pleas. Collectively, we need to sort out the challenges of insurance, whether the basic cost of insuring people or the cost of being able to drive a minibus, as well as the time. We need to support school sports partnerships to remain a priority for schools, if they are good enough to justify that, and, if so, to give them help and support with business plans and building up their partnerships so that they can offer not only two hours of street dance but additional benefits. We must never forget the need for volunteers and coaches, as well as for getting people to be active in one form or another. We need to make facilities accessible, affordable and open and, wherever possible, not to lose them as populations change.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Sutcliffe on securing the debate and on his contribution to sport in this country as a former Minister. He is still highly regarded in the sporting industry and fraternity. As he has demonstrated, he has a real depth of knowledge, and we are grateful to him for the opportunity of a debate. It is a pleasure also to follow Justin Tomlinson, who clearly has a depth of knowledge. I agree with many things that he said, particularly about maximising participation.
What is school sport about? Why sport? Why do we want to encourage participation? What is the role of schools in sport? If we do not understand what we are trying to achieve, we will get things horribly wrong. As the previous speakers have said, school sport must be about providing a broad experience not only of sports themselves but of things associated with sport. One intervention mentioned experience of outdoors and various other forms of recreation. Dance has been mentioned, which can be associated with sport through the sporting activities that engage young women in particular, but not only young women; I have seen community sports activities involving dance that include young boys, so it is not only about young women, but about that broad experience of sport.
By providing that broad experience, we hope that the understanding of what sport can deliver and the experience of what it can achieve throughout someone’s life will lead to people having a lifetime’s engagement. Whether it is the joy of participating in a team sport or individual competitive sport, or simply physical recreation, such as going to a gymnasium or jogging, such activity improves a person’s health and well-being.
By providing regularly in schools, from an early age, the opportunity for young people to participate in sport of all kinds, to experiment with sport and to understand sport, we may encourage them to participate in those physical activities throughout their lives, with all the benefits for people’s improved health, and perhaps engage them in community sports, so that they do not become involved in antisocial behaviour and things like that. All that flows from what we achieve in broadening experience in school. I have to say that the Government do not get that, which is a real problem.
One of the starkest examples is the slashing, without any consultation, of the money for school sports; £162 million was cut without any discussion beforehand with the school sport partnerships. No one asked what infrastructure we could retain to keep school sport partnerships going and to build on their success, and the Government believed that they were successful, because in March 2010, before the general election, the then shadow Sports Minister, now the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, said in a Five Live debate that it would be wrong to dismantle “13 years of work” and that his party “would build on them”. In April 2010, during the general election campaign, he said:
“There has never been a more important time for school sport, and the Olympic legacy must have school sport at its heart”.
Only a few months later, we had an announcement from the Secretary of State for Education that school sport partnerships were of no value whatever and were to be cut. It was not until the hue and cry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South described that the Secretary of State was forced into an embarrassing U-turn and announced that money would be made available over the following two years to cobble together something to replace the funding that was previously available for school sport. We ended up with £32.5 million for this financial year and the following one for PE teacher release, £11 million for the next five years from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, £11 million for the next two years from the Department for Education, and £4 million over the next five years from the national lottery.
We have seen a 64% cut in investment in sport in schools. Not a single Department has had to suffer such a cut. The Minister will probably say that the Government have removed the ring fence, are not acting in a top-down way and will allow schools the freedom to invest where they choose, but what message is that sending about the Government’s priority for sport in schools when direct funding is cut in that way? A 64% cut is not acceptable. So what do we get then? We get an announcement that we will have school games and an amazing statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, who said:
“I can sum up our sports policy in three words: more competitive sport.
By banishing once and for all the left-wing orthodoxy that promotes ‘prizes for all’ and derides competition we allow sport to do what it does best of all: teach children to learn about how to cope with both success and failure—and most importantly learn to pick yourself up when things don’t go according to plan.”
What a home-spun homily that is. My God, in this modern day and age, what a load of nonsense.
Let us return to where we started. In 1997, participation in sport in schools was one in four in years 1 to 11. After investing in school sport partnerships and so on, that rose in 2003-04 to 62%, and in 2009-10, it was more than 90%. In fact, we had virtually stopped measuring it because we had started to measure participation rates in three hours a week. Our target for the Olympic legacy was to achieve 60% of children in schools doing five hours a week during the curriculum period and after school, and to make sport available at that level. We did that through work with the Youth Sport Trust, and I pay tribute to the trust’s work and what it achieved for participation in our schools, and particularly to the leadership of Baroness Campbell. The Youth Sport Trust has come under attack from a number of people, and there was a ridiculous outburst from Lord Moynihan, chair of the British Olympic Association, who claimed that participation in school sport had not risen significantly.
Let us look at the statistics, the focus on competitive sport and the suggestion that something acts against participation in competitive sport if sport for everyone is encouraged, which is what the hon. Member for North Swindon eloquently suggested is the right thing to do. We did not start to measure the figures for who took part in intra-school competitive activities—competitive sport within a school—until quite late in the process, because obviously we inherited very low participation in 1997. In 2006-07, 58% of those in years 1 to 11 took part in intra-school competitive sport, and by 2010 that had risen to 78%—that was 79% for boys and 77% for girls. That was a very high figure indeed. Regular participation in intra-school sport then fell to 39% for years 3 to 11 in 2010. But let us look at the figures for interschool sport—sport between schools in a local area. In 2004, that was 33%, and by 2010 it had risen to 48%.
The issue is regular sport. The Government have said that only one in five children participate in competitive sport. That is correct; it was about 21% in 2010. But that is based on key stage 2 young people participating in interschool competitive sport three times in a year. At key stages 3 and 4, in secondary school when children have gone to another school, the requirement to be recorded is the number taking part in regular school sport nine times a year. If we are to see a significant increase in teachers regularly taking pupils out of school to qualify under those statistics, which the Government used to justify their determination to increase competitive sport, we must see an increase in the number of pupils who are taken out of school nine times every year to compete in competitive sport. That is a significant demand on resources.
I would be interested to hear what research the Department has done and what consideration it has given to that. It is okay to provide money for PE teacher release, but that is targeted mainly at organising school games and co-ordinating local primary schools in competitive sport; it is not intended to free up PE teachers to ferry about the competitive teams and sports people who will be involved. The Government’s policy is confusing. If secondary pupils are to play sport nine times every year to increase the figure from one in five, I would like to know where the resources will come from, where the planning is and what discussions the Government have had.
We have been told that competitive sport will lead to the national games as though that is something new. The national games have taken place for a number of years, and are extremely successful. Some 1,600 pupils took part in the national school games this year. In fact, records were broken when Jessica Applegate broke the
50 metres freestyle swimming world record for her age group. There was also a 100 metres running championship best and a 1,500 metres running championship best. Competitive sport has not suffered as a consequence of the previous Government’s work with the Youth Sport Trust and in our schools. The suggestion that the Government invented the national games network and that that is a triumph is frankly ridiculous.
The Government have now stopped collecting statistics. The Minister answered a couple of my questions on that very subject. He said:
“The annual PE and Sport Survey collected data on pupils’ participation in PE and sport. While participation rates increased in areas targeted by the previous Government”— that was virtually everywhere—
“the proportion of pupils playing competitive sport regularly remained disappointingly low... We have removed from schools the burden of having to fill in long, time-consuming and cumbersome sport survey returns, which was a requirement under the previous Government.”—[Hansard, 21 November 2011; Vol. 732, c. 86W.]
So there we have it. The 21% figure for the one in five pupils who are playing regular competitive sport is worthy of using to take money away from the school sport partnerships and focus on competitive sport, but it is not a figure that is worth continuing to collect. If the baseline is 21% participation in competitive sport, how will we ever know whether the Government have improved their performance? They are doing away with that measure, although it is used to justify their case and to do away with the data in the first place. The Government’s policy is very confused indeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South mentioned the sale of playing fields. Fields in Trust, the Football Association and many others have expressed concerns about the relaxing of restrictions and the requirement to consult before school playing fields are decommissioned and sold off. The Government are like a burglar released from prison after 13 years who immediately goes back to their old ways. Between 1979 and 1997, the Government sold 10,000 school playing fields. We introduced the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, and between 1998 and 2010, we sold 230. Almost half were in schools that were closed. Many were in schools that used the sale to improve their sports facilities in the remaining parts of the grounds. A very small number of the others were sold for development outside education. There is a great deal of concern about the Government’s approach to sport in general and how they are straight away starting to relax restrictions on the sale of school playing fields.
From day one, the message sent loud and clear from the Government is that they do not value sport. The active people survey shows that active participation has gone down for the first year since the bid for the 2012 Olympics was won—small wonder with the messages going out from the Government.
Consider the elite end of sport, from the merger of UK Sport and Sport England to distinctive bodies that perform very different roles. One brings our athletes at the top of their game to the podium, so that we perform well at events such as the Olympics. Sport England improves facilities and works within our communities. Consider school sport partnerships, where we saw all the money taken away at a stroke with no consultation whatever, with something having to be cobbled together, including £11 million for two years from the Department of Health. The Department is investing in competitive sport specifically, and I have asked what it is about competitive sport that improves people’s health that general participation in sport does not. I have not yet had an answer, but I am interested in the research that shows competitive sport improves health the most.
Abolishing the collection of statistics is evidence that the Government do not want us to find out what they are doing. Whether it is participation in general sporting activity or in competitive sport, we need to know what is going on in our schools. All those things show that the Government lack any serious commitment to long-term investment in schools. If we look ahead, we know that the Department for Education has told school sports organisers to expect no funding beyond August 2013. The whole thing falls off a precipice in the next 18 months. We are concerned that the people involved in those organisations will already be starting to look elsewhere. Just when we should be increasing participation on the back of the Olympic games, the whole thing falls apart.
We are concerned about the implications of making it clear that funding will end. There is a lack of planning for sport as we go towards Rio, even though there is the Olympic legacy to consider and the interest that will be generated around the Olympic games. There appears to be no concept coming from the Department for Education or from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about how they will harness that interest and take it forward. It is all dumped on the sports governing bodies as though the Government have no role to play whatever.
Can the Minister tell us how participation will be measured in future? He has told us that he is doing away with the annual PE and sport survey, so how will he measure participation so that we know what is going on? It would be helpful if we knew that the Government had a plan. Will sport be protected within the national curriculum and given the status that it deserves? How will we measure participation in competitive sports? We have a measure that has been used as a baseline, which is one in five. I have set out how that is measured, but how will it be measured in future? What is the Minister doing to protect our playing fields? What is he doing about the national policy planning framework? Will he ensure that sports bodies are consulted as part of the decommissioning of education’s playing fields? Will he ensure that the safeguards put in place by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 will still stand and protect places? If we do not protect them, young people will not be able to play sport in future. If we are to have sport in our schools, it is essential to have quality playing fields in which to participate in sport.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to today’s debate on behalf of the Opposition, Mr Amess. I wholeheartedly congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Sutcliffe on securing this important debate. I also congratulate him on his work as the Minister with responsibility for sport in the previous Government, when he worked tirelessly to extend opportunities for engagement in sport to children and young people.
Given the contributions made during the debate today, it is clear that this matter needs to be far from a political game in this House. There have been positive contributions, and I am pleased that there still seems to be cross-party agreement on the importance of sport for children. The previous Labour Government and the coalition have focused on the Olympics in school sport. That emphasis is correct, given our commitment to host the Olympics next year. However, I want to use this debate to urge the Secretary of State for Education, through the Minister responding today, to rethink the Government’s decision to make such drastic and damaging cuts to support for school sport—I concur with my hon. Friend Clive Efford that the support has been cut—not just to ensure that we deliver on our Olympic promise, but to ensure that young people today get the sporting opportunities that can transform their educational outcomes and their lives.
School sport partnerships were at the forefront of ensuring that the second key Olympic pledge—to transform a generation of young people through sport—was met. Sadly, and regrettably, the coalition Government do not seem to have recognised the value of SSPs, despite their international acclaim. They were one of the reasons—notwithstanding the hard work of teachers, sports leaders and volunteers around the UK—why between 2002 and 2010 the number of young people doing at least two hours or more of sport a week rose from 25% to 90%. There has been a marked drop since the figures for 2010 were released, which is extremely worrying.
All the evidence suggests that cutting funding for school sports results in fewer young people accessing high quality sport opportunities. Some reduction in funding was expected, but to announce a cut to the entire £162 million grant so close to the Olympics, and when childhood obesity is such a key public health concern, was clearly wrong and sends out alarming signals.
The Secretary of State’s justification for the cuts is that the Government want to focus on encouraging more children to play competitive sports through the school games project which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham explained, is funded by multiple bodies including the Departments for Education, for Culture, Media and Sport and for Health, as well as the national lottery. There are, however, serious concerns about whether that funding will go any way to meet the requirement for sustainable funding that the school sport partnerships initiative offered our young people, and I seek clarity from the Minister about what consideration his Department has given to school sport post 2013.
Now is not the time to put our children’s sport at risk. One simple reason for that is because the cost of the sporting activities taken up by a young person, regardless of their ability, will negate the potential cost to the Exchequer of treating obesity and health-related problems later in that person’s life. In my constituency, about 25% of pupils in year 6—10-year-olds—are defined as clinically obese. They are not just overweight; they are obese. If the Government do not make a commitment now to provide sustainable funding for school sports, there is a genuine risk, both in Newcastle and around the country, that that percentage will increase, as will the cost of providing obesity-related health care.
We have not yet mentioned the benefits to educational standards that derive from participation in sport. Research from Sport England, and around the world, has shown that young people who participate in sport are higher educational achievers. I do not doubt the Government’s sincerity in wishing to raise educational standards, but I wonder whether they genuinely appreciate the support that schools require to increase levels of participation in sport, and the lost opportunities for academic attainment that will result from cutting that support.
We warmly welcome the funding that has been committed to school sport by the Department for Education and will provide £32.5 million per year for PE teacher release funding over the next two years. There is, however, still great uncertainty about the future of that money and the extent to which it will be ring-fenced and protected. In allocating that money, the Government have deliberately placed a focus on competitive sport. That is important if we are to encourage the talented sportsmen and women of the future, and so that children and young people have the opportunity to engage in competitive sport and enjoy the challenges and benefits that it brings. None the less, competitive sport and non-competitive sport are not mutually exclusive, and we should encourage young people to participate in sport regardless of whether it is competitive. There are clear advantages for the health and general well-being of an individual if they engage in sport and exercise, in whatever form.
The Department for Education must accept that sport plays a key role in encouraging all children to be the best they can, both academically and in the lifestyle choices that they make and the relationships that they form with their peers and others. Sport plays a vital role in that development process, and the results achieved by school sport partnerships in reversing the trend of youth inactivity were clear and—as my hon. Friends have noted—internationally acclaimed.
A huge concern has been raised about the Government’s ability to measure their success or failure with regard to school sport. The school sport survey was conducted annually from 2003-04 until 2009-10, and those data have been invaluable for measuring the success of policies and highlighting opportunities for improvement. When defending their actions on school sport, the Government routinely respond with the claim that only 21% of children regularly took part in inter-school competitive sport. I reiterate the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South who called on the Minister to avoid reeling off misleading statistics when he responds to the debate.
Although arguments about the use of the school sport survey as a measure of success have been well rehearsed, my point is that the Government relied on that survey to make their case for cutting some support for schools, and to increase funding in other areas. That survey has now been scrapped in the name of reducing red tape, and it will make it difficult—I would hate to think that this is intentional—to measure the success or failure of the Government’s policies on school sport, and in particular the level of participation in sport and the effects of the cuts to school sport partnerships. Data from the active people survey show that adult participation in sport has—unsurprisingly—fallen in 19 sports over the past year, and increased in only four. That is the first fall in levels of participation in sport among people aged 16 and over since we won the Olympic bid in 2005.
Although the Government have definite ideas about deficit reduction, it is crucial that short-term savings are not made at a greater expense to the public purse in later years. Participation in sport at school plays a vital role in combating inactivity among young people, which can contribute to ill health, obesity and lower educational attainment.
I welcome some of the constructive comments made by Justin Tomlinson about areas in which the Government could invest and improve participation in sport for young people. He made a constructive suggestion about a national insurance deal to aid sports leaders, volunteers and teachers in encouraging out-of-school activities for young people. He also made useful comments about the way that school sport is judged by Ofsted, and whether encouraging sports teachers and rewarding them for their hard work could provide an incentive and help achieve higher levels of participation in sport. Sports teachers contribute many hours to running clubs for young people or sports centres, and that work often goes unrewarded and unnoticed. I am conscious of the number of sports facilities in this country that fall within the remit of the Department for Education. The vast majority of sports facilities in this country are found in schools, and it is vital that those facilities are made available to all young people.
School sport partnerships undeniably played a major role in increasing and supporting wider participation in sport. The Government have not only put those partnerships at risk, but dismantled the means by which the impact of the funding changes can be measured. The health and well-being of our nation is greatly enhanced and enriched through participation in sport—all sport, whether competitive sport or that aimed at increasing a person’s fitness levels or mental agility—and I am sure that all hon. Members share that vision. Will the Minister reassure hon. Members, as well as our young people, their parents and teachers and the army of sports teachers and volunteers up and down the country, that we will deliver not only on our Olympic promise, but on our commitment to helping our nation’s children develop into healthy and active achievers of the future?
I congratulate Mr Sutcliffe, a distinguished former Sports Minister, on raising this subject. It is an issue to which he is dedicated, and we all appreciate that. I also thank other hon. Members for their well informed contributions. A lot of questions have been raised, and hon. Members seem to have anticipated what I am about to say. Therefore, in order to confuse those pundits, I will not give the speech that I had planned, even though it does not say a lot of the things that people anticipated that I would say.
Several statistics have been used, in particular by Catherine McKinnell, who cited a recent survey that shows a downturn in sports participation by over-16s and adults. That, however, is the problem, because after the £2.4 billion spent on the previous Government’s programme since 2003, the idea that sport is a good thing has clearly not embedded itself in the ideas of people moving through school and college and into adulthood. It is not just something that young people do because they have to turn out for an hour or two hours a week on a school games pitch. It is something that they have to do because it is good for them and fun; it is a socialising activity; and it is about teamwork and team building. Young people would want to carry that on into adulthood, so why do the statistics clearly show that it has not been embedded? Despite the best of intentions, spending an awful lot of money has not had the desired effect of ensuring that young people in school want to do sport and carry on doing it into adulthood as something that one naturally does.
While I am talking about the use of statistics, I have to say that all the statistics that are used by the Department and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—despite an awful lot of accusations, he is in no way opposed to organised sport; he is a big fan of it—are from the previous Government and have been endorsed by the chief statistician as well.
Perhaps I can take up a few of the points in-between the hyperbole used by the hon. Member for Bradford South. I absolutely endorse his comments about the army of volunteers, who are the backbone of sport in the community and sports clubs in our towns and constituencies. We want them to work more with schools, so it is not just a case of sport that people do in school and sport that people do over the weekend at the local football club. We need much more interaction between the two. I am the president of a very successful local football club that typically on a Saturday sees 300 or 400 kids out on the local sports pitches. That is achieved largely through volunteers. The children range in age from five upwards, and both girls and boys are involved. We want to see more of that type of activity. That is one reason why we have given additional funding, through the school games additional funding network to fund further volunteering. I am talking about county sports partnerships recruiting more volunteers to help with the school games and beyond both at level 2, between schools, and at level 1, within schools.
I absolutely endorse the comments from the hon. Gentleman to which I have referred, but he did also make a comment about the school games, which seemed to come under quite a lot of attack. I think that most people agree that the school games will be a good thing as an extra tool to encourage more schools and more schoolchildren to become involved in competitive sport as a matter of routine. More than 11,000 schools have already signed up in the past few months, which is remarkable. We encourage all schools to do that.
I point out to the Minister that the school games did not come under attack. We were merely pointing out that they already exist. To present the school games as some new creation on the back of the emphasis on competitive sport is just misleading people.
The school games, which were launched last summer, involved more than 10,000 children in the summer pilots. I launched the version in the north-west. They have a particular focus on disability sports, which is something that has very much been missing. They will have a programme of endorsements and accreditations of the schools taking part. That builds on the success of the games that have gone before—sponsored by Sainsbury’s,
I think—but is taking it to a whole new level. Surely that should be welcomed, but there seems to be a mindset against competitive sport. I find that extraordinary.
Clive Efford referred to a quote about learning to “pick yourself up”. Sport is not just about physical fitness, important though that is. It is about life experiences, socialising, working together as a team, and winning and losing and moving on. That is what competitive sport is designed to achieve. The hon. Gentleman’s contribution seemed rather confused. He used the statistic about only 21% of children doing regular competitive sport and talked about wanting to move towards children participating in such activity at least nine times a year. Is it really ambitious to want our kids to be involved in competitive sport nine times a year, particularly after so much money has been spent on trying to embed a culture of sport as a good thing that everyone wants to do on a regular basis in schools?
I had better move on or I will not answer any of the hon. Gentleman’s points, but I think that there is a real poverty of ambition.
Let me return to the issue of disabled sport and the charge about the elite nature of the school games. The opportunity to take part in competitive sport is not elite; it is at four levels. It is within schools, where we want every pupil to be able to take part; it is between schools; it is at county level; and it is at national level, with the showcase of the first national championships taking place next May in the Olympic stadium, before it is even used for the Olympics. Within that, I want to see opportunities for disabled pupils. I think that the former Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for Bradford South, would probably admit that we have done very badly on encouraging disability sports in schools. If someone happens to have a disability, PE time is when they go to the library or do something else like that, which is entirely unacceptable. We are far more ambitious than that. Part of the programme for the school games is about encouraging able-bodied pupils to help to set up tournaments and to engage with children who have disabilities, so that they feel every bit as involved at every stage. There needs to be recognition of the various challenges that they will have, but those are surmountable.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; I know that he has only a small amount of time left. I welcome what he is saying about disability sport. He is right about that, and I welcome his personal commitment to it, but the transport costs for disability sport outweigh the costs for able-bodied people. Has he considered those transport costs and what he needs to do to help people to get around to the different venues?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. That is why, again within the school games, we have made specific money available for promoting disability sport, resourcing the national governing bodies of sports to develop a clear competitive pathway for young disabled people, ensuring the availability of follow-on activity linked to level 3 festivals and resourcing a network of schools to develop and deliver school-centred continuing professional development for teachers as well, and to take into account all those practical difficulties.
My hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson, in a well informed contribution, raised a number of important and practical points about embedding sport as a way of turning round poor behaviour. We all agree with that. I do not think that there is any disagreement between us about the many-faceted contribution that sport can make. I set up in my constituency a midnight football tournament. On a Saturday evening, between 10 pm and 12 midnight, when there is not usually sporting activity, we took over a local leisure centre. I worked with the police on this. We had mostly young boys, aged 13 to 17, who otherwise would have been on the streets, getting up to no good. Instead, they were playing football against one another and against the police as well. It was a whole new dynamic. There are so many creative ways in which we can use sport to help with the problems of poor behaviour.
My hon. Friend made good, practical points about insurance and minibuses. I will certainly take those away and consider them further. I am glad that he mentioned the Troops to Teachers scheme. Those teachers will provide a different perspective. We hope that for kids who are more difficult to engage in some of the academic subjects, they will provide the role model and authority figure that is so often lacking.
My hon. Friend Simon Hart mentioned CRB checks. Again, that is something that is standing in the way of ordinary decent people who want to come forward, volunteer and give their time. There is an issue about multiple CRB checks, which the Protection of Freedoms Bill will deal with. We want a common-sense level of health and safety. Things have been regulated out of sight, and we have to get back to where we should be.
We heard the comments of the hon. Member for Eltham. Again, we had the whole business about selling off school playing fields. Let us just remind ourselves that the present Government do not and the previous Governments did not sell off playing fields, because local authorities sell off playing fields. I seem to remember that in the 1990s, when these charges were flying around most of all, Conservatives ran just one council. Rather a lot of those councils were run by the Labour party, which was responsible for overseeing selling off playing fields, so people need to take their share of the responsibility.
On the question of what the Localism Act 2011 will change, there are no intentions to change the level of protection for school playing fields. That may be provided in different ways, but certainly there is no intention to reduce the level of protection as a result of the localism legislation and the planning changes.
An awful lot of red herrings have been thrown about, but the Government are absolutely committed to promoting competitive school sport and embedding it within schools, rather than just assuming that because there is additional money or there are additional co-ordinators, it will automatically happen. Clearly, according to the statistics that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North cited herself, it has not been embedded. That is a problem that we now have to pick up. We hope that the school games will be a flagship way of ensuring that more people want to become involved in sport not just at school but outside the school gates, and that they will want to carry it on into adulthood as well. That is the most important thing that we need to achieve, for all the reasons that we have already mentioned.
The new Government’s approach to school sports has three important characteristics: decentralising power, incentivising—