Best practice: Spending the Sport Premium

Written by: Suzanne O’Connell | Published:
Image: MA Education

Making good use of the PE and Sport Premium is a key challenge for England’s primary schools – especially as it looks like the funding will be around for some years yet. Suzanne O’Connell looks at new research into the best practices that are emerging

PE and Sport Premium funding has been a government initiative that primary schools have embraced, and following Department for Education (DfE) announcements it looks as though it might be around until 2020.

A DfE-commissioned study into sports funding, The PE and Sport Premium: An investigation in primary schools, was intended to cast light on how primary schools in England were spending the money, what the decision-making process was, and what the impact had been. The final report overall presents a positive picture.

The conclusion from the headteachers surveyed was that the funding has made a difference. While debate continues about the effectiveness of the Pupil Premium, the ring-fenced money of the Sport Premium has enabled schools to pump up an area that was in danger of being neglected.

This neglect is not intentional. The vast majority of primary senior leaders recognise the importance of sport for their pupils. However, with pressure on time in the school week and lack of teacher expertise, there was sometimes reluctance to make it out onto the sports field. In smaller schools, in particular, the coordination of this subject might have been shared with several others and reluctantly.

The arrival of the funding in 2013 was a welcome surprise and perhaps even more so when it continued into 2014 and then 2015. The indications are now that the funding will be extended even longer, possible until 2020, and with this good news school should heed the messages that the report delivers.

Sports coaches

Since the funding was first announced schools have done their best to ensure that its use was sustainable. Although some short-term measures have been taken, overall schools have spent the money with an eye on the future. Lack of expertise has often meant them bringing in sports coaches who have worked alongside teachers in the school. The idea being that should the funding be withdrawn, its benefits won’t be lost to future generations.

The employment of sports coaches has been a major use of the money with 68 per cent of schools employing new sports coaches rather than employing new PE staff (15 per cent). Schools moved away from using class teachers to deliver PE towards the use of external sports coaches and specialist PE teachers.

However, the report raises concerns about the ways in which sports coaches are selected and this is also reflected in some headteacher comments, such as the following, included in the report: “As soon as it’s announced in the press that schools are receiving £9,000 extra funding for sport, ‘white van man’ appears with ... the bag of balls ... and the little bit of paper that says he’s got a level ‘whatever’ in football coaching. That’s not quality. That’s not sustainability. That’s somebody that’s making money out of schools where that money can be better spent.”

Only 38 per cent of schools were influenced by professional accreditation when employing the coaches whereas experience was rated by 78 per cent. Difficulties sourcing high-quality coaches was mentioned as one of the top three barriers to the Premium having an impact. The quality of coaches is a particular issue that the report flags up.

There is also some question over just how sustainable it is when sports coaches are used. Although teachers might work alongside them or even be trained by them, with high staff turnover this expertise can soon be lost.

Activities available and time spent

The report suggests that the money has not made a great deal of difference in terms of the amount of curriculum time dedicated to sport. In fact, during 2014/15 the amount of time overall fell from 124 minutes in 2013/14 to 118 minutes.

It seems that a packed timetable and the pressures of exams and accountability are still having a major impact on how much sport and PE schools are prepared to timetable into the school day. Although 25 per cent of schools reported spending money on increasing curricular time on PE this did not seem to be reflected on the overall amount of time recorded.

The time may not have increased significantly but the range of sports has, both in curricular PE (74 per cent) and extra-curricular sport (77 per cent). Sixty-nine per cent of schools reported using the Premium to provide more extra-curricular activities and many felt that this was a positive way of improving the relationship between school and parents.

Dance and multi-skills were popular new activities in both curricular PE (23 and 25 per cent respectively) and extra-curricular PE (29 and 25 per cent). When deciding which sports to choose schools usually either offered activities they thought that children wouldn’t experience otherwise, such as archery and angling, or ones that they would be able to continue later due to availability in the local area.

Taking the decisions

Headteachers in the report were still clearly wanting to have control over how the funding was being spent, with 96 per cent being involved in the decision-making.

However, they did not make the decision alone. Advice was taken from Schools Sports Partnerships (58 per cent in 2014/15), headteachers and staff in other schools (53 per cent) and the local authority (49 per cent).

The majority of schools did target groups of pupils to benefit from the funding and only 12 per cent reported no targeting of any kind. The most frequently targeted groups were the least active pupils (51 per cent) and disadvantaged pupils (51 per cent). These groups were encouraged to take part either through “direct” targeting and invitation-only clubs or “indirect” targeting with conditions created to encourage participation, such as lowering the cost to families.

A thumbs up for the Premium

Schools were positive about the impact of the Premium. Eighty-four per cent of schools reported an increase in pupil engagement in PE during curricular time. The Premium was said to have had a positive impact on:

  • Physical fitness (99 per cent).
  • Healthy lifestyles (99 per cent).
  • Skills (98 per cent).
  • Behaviour of pupils (96 per cent).

Eighty-seven per cent of schools reported that the quality of PE teaching had increased since the introduction of the Premium and that there were increased levels of engagement (79 per cent) across all children. The targeted group showing greatest improvement were the less engaged/active children (38 per cent).

Schools reported that following the use of the Premium, there had been better behaviour during PE lessons and that this had also had an impact on other areas of school life. The increased confidence, self-esteem, resilience, problem-solving and “can-do” attitude was anticipated to have an impact on academic standards too. This was particularly the case in relation to schools with more economically disadvantaged pupils.

Measuring impact

Schools were evidently aware of the need to measure the impact of the Sport Premium, although many had yet to start. Just under half of the schools said they were already measuring the impact (45 per cent), while a further 47 per cent said they were planning to do so.

Only eight per cent said they were not measuring the impact and had no intention of doing so. The report authors note in their conclusions that schools might need more help with this.

The main measurement method used was through recording levels of participation (46 per cent) followed by collecting feedback from pupils and parents (37 per cent). Only 11 per cent were assessing changes in pupil attainment in other curriculum subjects and there was acknowledgment among respondents that it was difficult to quantify some of the outcomes they were hoping for, such as increased self-esteem and confidence.

When schools were asked what their plans were for the future they looked very similar to what they had already been doing. The top three plans for spending in 2015/16 included up-skilling existing teachers (68 per cent), buying new equipment (63 per cent), and providing more extra-curricular activities (62 per cent).

Messages for the future

Although the report mostly confines itself to reporting on and summarising what the researchers found, there are some recommendations woven within it. One is that there should be some way of assisting schools in judging the quality of provision they contract when hiring sports coaches (“schools may need further support to robustly assess the quality of the provision available”).

The other area in which the researchers expressed surprise was in the lack of measurement of the impact of the Premium: “Schools may require further advice and guidance to support them to first assess impacts and then put in place strategies for continuing quality improvement.”

Some organisations are already providing help with this. The Youth Sport Trust has produced guidance and a template in conjunction with the Association for Physical Education to help schools in evidencing the impact of the Primary PE and Sport Premium.

However, schools may not welcome increased expectations on evidencing their spending of the money. For example, there are particular difficulties in finding tools to measure some of the softer skills. Improvements in self-confidence, being a team-player, perseverance and sportsmanship are hard, if not impossible to measure: “Schools reflected that many of the outcomes they were hoping to achieve (increased self-esteem, self-confidence, etc) would be hard to quantify and this made it very challenging to judge the effectiveness of the funds.”

The report is a positive reflection of the benefits of additional money focused on PE and sport. The messages about schools’ selection of coaches and need to evidence impact are clear. What isn’t so evident is exactly how schools can meaningfully address these gaps or the extent to which doing so would really improve what is on offer. 

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

Further information

  • The PE and Sport Premium: An investigation in primary schools, DfE, November 2015:
  • Evidencing the Impact of Primary PE & Sport Premium: Guidance and Template, Youth Sport Trust:

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