Spending the Sport Premium effectively

Written by: Peter Henshaw | Published:
Photograph: MA Education

Government research suggests that the PE and Sport Premium funding is having a positive impact on primary school sports provision. Suzanne O’Connell finds out how some schools have been using the money.

The news that the Department for Education (DfE) was keen for school sports to become more competitive might have conjured up images of humiliation at the hands of over-zealous sports teachers. However, when the government announced in March 2013 that there would be new funding in primary schools, the prospects for school sport suddenly looked a lot better.

Primary headteachers were soon showing that they had no problem spending the money. Whereas the spending of Pupil Premium money had perhaps got off to a hesitant start, the Sport Premium funding was barely promised than it was off the shelves.

Since then, Ofsted has been reporting on how schools have been planning and spending it and now new research is aiming to give even greater insight into the impact this additional funding is having in our primary schools.

The research

The DfE-commissioned research paper, PE and Sport Premium: An investigation in primary schools, is the first instalment in a two-part report. The second part of the investigation into how schools are spending the money is due to take place in February/March 2015.

The researchers used a mixture of telephone and web surveys as well as a total of 586 interviews to find out how spending decisions were being made and what impact the money is having. They report that schools are using the funding to:

  • Up-skill and train existing staff (86 per cent).
  • Buy new equipment (76 per cent).
  • Provide extra-curricular activities (74 per cent).
  • Employ a new sports coach (67 per cent).

What is perhaps particularly promising is that schools have not just been using the money to shore up provision, but have been very conscious of the need to increase staff skills in the long term.

Investing in staff

We spoke to two schools who have both been commended for their use of the Sports Premium – Holy Trinity CE Primary School in Somerset and Newcroft Primary School in Shepshed both received an outstanding Ofsted judgement in September 2014.

Newcroft was commended for the level of pupil participation which “raises self-esteem and helps to support improvement in their academic performance”. Holy Trinity was praised for ensuring that “more pupils are participating in a wider range of sports than previously”.

Although both schools have chosen different routes to funding allocation, they have both been very mindful of the need to ensure that the money hasn’t just provided bolt-on solutions.

“When I first came to the school, sport was taught during PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) time,” explained Holy Trinity’s headteacher Teresa Wheeler. “I felt provision was too disjointed from everything else that was being delivered in the school.”

Ms Wheeler’s main aim was immediately to bring staff skills up-to-speed: “The challenge was to ensure that the teachers’ skill base was sufficient to take over if this kind of delivery was removed.”

In order to do this she set about equipping a specialist in each year group to lead the sports provision along with a specialist teaching assistant. The teaching assistant helps set up equipment in every PE lesson and leads during the lesson too. The development of these two roles has meant that each year group has a confidence in delivering PE that was missing when coaches were brought in to deliver provision before disappearing again.

Staff development has been a priority at Newcroft Primary too: “We have an excellent higher level teaching assistant,” explained headteacher Alex Smythe. “She is a sport fanatic and conveys real enthusiasm to the children.”

Mr Smythe was also keen to spread the message that good PE and sports is about active involvement: “There shouldn’t be time during a PE lesson when pupils are sat discussing the lesson objective. They need to be participating.”

Some outside expertise

Although the commitment has been to the skilling of staff within our two schools, there is also recognition of the value of external input. Holy Trinity has commissioned the services of Create Development to help them meet the challenge. Its sports programmes, such as Raising the Bar and Fundamental Movement Skills, have contributed to the whole-school approach.

Newcroft has benefited from the additional skills and enthusiasm of a sports apprentice employed from Loughborough College. After their

A levels young people at the college can apply and, if successful, the young person is placed in the school for a year and improves their skills while also contributing to the development of PE and sport provision.

“They already come in with a sports qualification,” Mr Smythe continued, “and by the spring term they are working with small groups of students and running their own additional activities and clubs.”

Investing in variety

The report found that schools have been very active in increasing the variety of sports available using the Sport Premium, with 67 per cent reporting offering a wider range of sports during curricular time and 77 per cent offering a greater availability during extra-curricular time.

Having more sports available means that more children can experience success. Mr Smythe said: “Our children can take part in badminton, orienteering, judo and tri-golf to name but a few. Children participate who wouldn’t necessarily be good at more traditional sports and team games like football.

“We have done particularly well with the tri-golf and it has brought success to some who wouldn’t have experienced it otherwise in sporting activities. Whatever is going on, we will join in – we want to participate in everything on offer.”

Inclusive

Sport Premium funding in the hands of primary heads was never going to be an exclusive resource for top performers. The research found that:

  • Eighty-four per cent of schools reported that there had been an increase in pupil engagement in PE during curricular time.
  • Seventy-nine per cent of responding teachers thought the premium had increased participation for all children, including the less engaged/least active (38 per cent), disadvantaged children (35 per cent), and children with SEN (30 per cent).

The results reflect a commitment to inclusion in the way schools are choosing to spend their money.

At Holy Trinity, the Fundamental Movement Skills course means that all pupils have chance to develop their core balance and movement skills during a 15-minute period each day. “This just helps to make up a little for the fact that many children don’t play out any more as they traditionally might have done,” explained Ms Wheeler. “They need chance to develop some of the basic skills that were perhaps taken for granted previously.”

Sports leaders from within the school are appointed at Newcroft to work with younger children and help structure their play. These roles are carefully allocated and pupils must apply for the position, along with others, at the school’s “Job centre”.

Mr Smythe explained: “We do put the children through the process of applying to try to ensure that every child is able to do something if they want to.”

Having an impact

The research suggests that headteachers are very positive about the perceived benefits of the funding. Around a third of schools felt that the Premium had had a positive impact on behaviour, specifically:

  • Confidence (35 per cent).
  • A healthier lifestyle (33 per cent).
  • Physical fitness (26 per cent).

The schools who perceived the greatest impact on pupils’ behaviour were those with the highest level of FSM eligibility. Provision of the Sport Premium appears to have had more impact in these schools. As the debate goes on about how best to bridge the gap, policy-makers should take note.

Ms Wheeler is convinced the benefits the children feel span all aspects of school life: “It’s about how you push yourself and knowing what to do next to improve. These are basic skills and attitudes that you need in every subject. Through our sports provision, children learn about keeping going and not giving up. They are resilient and prepared to try again. Very important attitudes if you are going to succeed in anything.”

At Newcroft Primary, Mr Smythe feels that the high attendance, of 97 per cent, is partly attributable to the enthusiasm the children have for their sports. He provides one example: “We have judo on a Tuesday morning. We do target some children for this and it really does mean that they arrive in school on time and leave the club with the right attitude to the school day.”

There have been the sceptics. When the Sport Premium was first announced, the Education Select Committee in the House of Commons voiced its concerns that this short-term funding would lead to short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions. However, continued investment in staff training and development as well as methods of involving outside help in long-term plans means schools are preparing for the future.

It would seem from the early stages of this research that schools are really benefiting from the Sport Premium top-up money. Further years’ funding would be well justified not only in relation to health and wellbeing, but attitudes to learning and academic attainment too. 

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and former primary school headteacher.

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