A sporting row

Written by: HTU | Published:

The government has unveiled plans for competitive sport to be at the heart of the new primary PE curriculum. However, the announcement has been overshadowed by revelations about the sale of playing fields and a row over the prime minister’s attack on teac

Prime minister David Cameron has revealed that "promoting competitive team and individual sports" will be "at the heart" of the new primary curriculum when it is announced later this term.

Speaking during the London Olympics last month, Mr Cameron labelled the current curriculum "too long and prescriptive" and said that a new slimmer curriculum would "require every primary school child to take part in competitive team sport" (see below).

However, Mr Cameron drew the wrath of the profession after accusing some teachers of not pulling their weight when it came to providing opportunities for competitive school sport.

Speaking to LBC Radio, Mr Cameron called for a change in culture and for schools to embrace competitive sport. He said: “The problem has been too many schools not wanting to have competitive sport, some teachers not wanting to join in and play their part.”

Immediately teachers and leaders rounded on the prime minister, pointing out that it was his government which axed the £162 million funding for the 450 School Sport Partnerships (SSPs), many of which promoted competitive and inter-school sports.

When education minister Michael Gove cut the SSP funding he faced such a backlash that he was forced into a partial u-turn and agreed to fund SSPs until the end of the 2010/11 academic year.

The Department for Education (DfE) also provided money for secondary PE teachers to be able to spend a day a week encouraging competitive sport in primary schools and increasing inter-school competitions. However, this money will only last until next year.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said Mr Cameron’s comments were “foolhardy”. She added: “It’s not because of teachers that funding for the SSPs has been so drastically reduced. What we need is the support of government, not the shifting of blame.”

Earlier this year, the government, as part of its Olympic legacy plans, said it would also spend £1 billion over the next five years on youth sport, including upgrading 1,000 local sports venues and developing 6,000 links between sports clubs and schools.

However, Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that these kind of links were something that SSPs already provided, adding that SSPs were “probably the most successful school sports scheme ever”.

He continued: “The 450 SSPs were a national network of sports colleges that put specialist PE teachers to work with primary school pupils, linked schools with local sports clubs, brought high quality coaches into schools and promoted competitive matches. This scheme was devastated by the huge cut in its funding.”

Elsewhere, the government faced further criticism as revelations emerged about the number of playing fields which it has sold-off since coming to power.

Originally, Mr Gove said that 21 fields had been approved for sale, but was forced to admit that the actual number was 31. The oversight – revealed in the Daily Telegraph – led to the DfE issuing a public apology.

It also came to light that five of the sales were approved against the advice of the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel. Fields in Trust, one of the members of the Panel, is concerned by the “seeming inaccuracies” in the numbers of fields that have been sold-off.

Alison Moore-Gwyn, chief executive of the charity, explained: “We are aware that the government has overruled the decisions of the Advisory Panel on five occasions between February 2011 and June this year. Obviously this concerns us, and we would look for reasons to be given as to why our specialist advice has been ignored.”
The DfE statement added: “Each decision was made by a minister after careful consideration of the arguments.”

Campaigners are also worried that a change in legislation over school playing fields could lead to more sites becoming vulnerable to sale.

Currently, schools must have a certain number of square metres of outdoor space dependent on pupil numbers – such as at least 35,000 square metres for a school with more than 600 pupils. However, from October, the law will change to direct that schools must only provide “suitable” outdoor space.

Ms Moore-Gwyn is appealing to headteachers to use their professional judgement when deciding how much outdoor space they need. Fields in Trust is also looking to meet Mr Gove to discuss the issue.

Elsewhere, Mr Gove has also been attacked for his move to scrap the two hours of sport a week target.
A spokesperson for the DfE said the target was “an unenforceable aspiration”, but campaigners are worried that without it, some schools will not give pupils enough time for sport, instead focusing on league table targets.

The DfE statement added: “No more than two in five pupils took part in competitive sport when we told schools they no longer had to inform us of how much sport pupils were doing. The secretary of state made clear in his letter to Baroness Campbell in October 2010 that he would expect every school to want to maintain as a minimum the current levels of PE and sport each week for every pupil.”

The new PE curriculum

Due to be unveiled in draft form later this term, prime minister David Cameron said that the new PE curriculum will “enable pupils to be physically active for sustained periods of time”, develop competence in “a broad range” of activities, and provide opportunities for “competitive sports and activities”.

This will include competitive team sports such as football, netball and hockey and also “outdoor and adventurous” activities. Elsewhere, the curriculum will teach older children to compare performances and aim for “personal bests”, while the commitment to swimming lessons will remain.

Mr Cameron said: “I want to use the example of competitive sport at the Olympics to lead a revival of competitive sport in primary schools. We need to end the ‘all must have prizes’ culture and get children playing and enjoying competitive sports from a young age, linking them up with sports clubs so they can pursue their dreams.”

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