Saturday, August 18, 2012

An unwanted legacy

Waterloo may have been won on the playing fields of Eton, but those self same playing fields may also prove to be the downfall of sport for those pupils not sufficiently prepared to have been born to exceptionally wealthy parents.

Last week, Cameron tried to push Boris from the moving bandwagon with a media offensive, but only succeeded in making himself look even more incompetent and out of touch. Aside from the picture, there was his illogical comment that targetting schools to provide two hours of school a week was pointless because some schools were using that time to teach Indian dancing rather than competitive sports. Even if you accept that this isn't a good use of time, quite why that negates the idea of a national target isn't clear. In any case, sport is surely one area which is target focussed.

What I think that does illustrate is both the narrowness of Cameron's life experience, his inability to see beyond that and also the utter confusion in policy at the top of government.

For sixteen days, this country sat at the centre of world sport, showing off just how well we could deliver a magnificent, spectacular and friendly games, an event marked by the level of public sector involvement and private sector failure. This was an event that had at its heart a promise to inspire the next generation, but the government aren't helping to deliver that and Cameron traduced the legacy of Labour in an attempt to justify his government's savaging of our sporting future:

"Every school has to deliver sport. What the last government did, which is not right, is if you just sit there in Whitehall and set a target but don't actually do anything to help schools to meet it, you are not really solving the problem. In fact, by just saying: 'I want you to do this number of hours a week,' some schools think: 'right, as soon as I have met that minimum target, I can tick a box and give up"

The first point I would make is that if you don't have to tick a box, you give up a lot sooner. With tightening budgets, organisations are focussing on what they have to deliver, not what they want to do. The other point is that Labour did do a great deal to help schools meet their target and where the help was properly applied, it proved highly effective.Under Labour, the proportion of pupils doing two hours or more of sport a week rose from 25% to 90%, with 55% doing three or more hours a week - no evidence there that schools stopped as soon as the minimum target was reached.

The reality is that the success of Team GB has been built on more than fifteen years of proper funding through the Lottery  which allowed the professionalisation of coaching and support. Labour took the next step by creating School Sports Partnerships at a cost of £162 million a year to fund a proper structure of co-ordinators and organisers, as well as teachers in every school tasked to deliver an improved PE curriculum and one that was joined up to other schools in the partnership across the primary, secondary and special sectors. All this was directly linked to the plans to develop a legacy from the Olympic games. But they weren't just about sport - they had an impact in terms of academic performance and allowed young people to develop into coaches in the community. Don't rely on my word, let's ask OFSTED who surveyed 12 programs shortly before the scheme ended:

  •  In the vast majority of SSPs, pupils participate in an ever-increasing range of PE and sports activities. Better coordination of what pupils are learning in PE lessons and the activities provided for them after school and in local clubs is promoting continuity and reinforcing learning.
  •  SSPs can contribute to improvements made in other subjects and aid pupils’ transition from primary and secondary school. The values of the 2012 Olympics are being used to stimulate pupils’ interest in learning and motivation to boost their academic achievement.
  •  Growing numbers of pupils of all ages train to become young leaders and are helping to run clubs and competitions for others. SSPs provide a wealth of opportunities for young leaders to organise, officiate and support in sport which is having a beneficial impact on their personal organisation, attitudes and behaviour towards others.
  • SSPs strengthen the pathways from school into community sports clubs. Where these do not exist, SSPs help to create them by liaising with personnel from sports clubs on behalf of schools and by providing resources to employ specialist coaches to complement existing provision in schools and to enable more pupils to participate and compete. Activities are designed to include pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities or are at risk of disengaging from PE and sport.

Essentially, the School Sports Partnership worked. If Cameron were serious about the Big Society, rather than just using it as a crutch to help him make cuts, this is a great model - children move through the school system and some will develop into community coaches, able to deliver low cost projects and mentor the next generation, providing diversionary sport which helps to reduce social exclusion, crime and obesity. Frankly, that £162 million a year looks like a bargain. This from West Essex SSP, demonstrating the myth that state schools don't support competitive sport

In the autumn term 2010, sports coaches coordinated by the SSP delivered over 70 projects, mainly 10-week breakfast or after-school clubs in schools. Over 800 hours of coaching in a diverse range of activities, such as basketball, gymnastics, orienteering, tri-golf, tag-rugby, gymnastics, orienteering, table tennis, cheerleading, squash, handball, fencing and kick-boxing, helped to complement the range of established clubs and teams organised by teaching staff, and significantly enhanced opportunities for those pupils not always selected for school teams. 

Don't tell Dave, but even dance had a part to play in the Hamble SSP.

An after-school dance club led by a dance specialist and a local community youth worker combined teaching secondary school pupils about the dangers of smoking, alcohol and drugs with working as a team to choreograph, produce and perform a dance routine. It was popular with pupils and several schools entered their performances in an annual dance event.

Regular participation in dance generated teamwork and pride among pupils and had a positive impact on their attitudes towards health and their well-being.
A group of older girls who did not regularly participate in PE was invited to join a ‘dance into fitness’ after-school club. They were given a work book to record their weight loss, their feelings about themselves and the changes in their lifestyle during the project. This helped to restore their confidence and self-esteem, and increased their participation in PE lessons.

Street dance was used to re-engage a group of boys at risk of underachieving. Regular participation in a weekly after-school dance club improved their self-esteem and gave them the confidence to present their routines in a public performance. This led to improvements in their commitment, attitudes and attendance at school. 

This is where Cameron's lack of vision or wider knowledge of the country he is supposed to lead comes into the mix. He doesn't actually grasp what should be the purpose of school sport - not just about developing future gold medal athletes, but improving the general health of the nation. He doesn't understand what the policies are supposed to deliver, beyond another chance to bask in the golden reflected glory of Olympic champions. We saw athletes win gold this year who did not rely on the private school playing fields, but had their first opportunities in comprehensive schools and the system is probably resilient enough to ensure that 2016 will provide a new crop, but there needs to be a strategy beyond even that. As in so much that this government decides, it is the disadvantaged that suffer the most - Chris Dunne, the head of Langdon Park comprehensive in Tower Hamlets, put it well back in 2010,
It will especially hit children in deprived areas like this, where there aren't middle-class parents taking their kids around after school at weekends to tennis lessons and the like. In this borough, some of our staff drive pupils to cricket, hockey and golf clubs in other parts of London as part of their work, because there aren't any locally. They take the place of parents a lot of the time.
And then there's Gove. There's always Gove. He's still having problems with basic maths, just as he did with the BSF program. Has he approved 25 school playing fields for sell off? 30? 31? Who knows - he apparently doesn't. He scrapped Building Schools for the Future, so forcing an increasing number of crumbling schools to look to realise some value from their assets (not that they will necessarily get best value, given the depressed state of the housing market). In fact, that depressed housing market probably accounts for the number of fields that Gove has decided to release. He's even overruled his independent advisory panel on five occasions - more than Labour did in nine years - and we now find out that academies will be able to sell off their playing fields without scrutiny from the independent panel, just on a ministerial signature. To put the cap on it, he's also decided that another target has to go to help more free schools to pop up as part of the Govian plan to marketise education prior to privatisation for profit - they will no longer have to provide play areas of a certain size, just 'suitable' outdoor space. On past form, that will be extended to existing schools before long.

In fact, a free school was recently rejected by Birmingham planners that included no outdoor space at all - the pupils were expected to walk through a shopping centre, across a large carpark, cross a busy main road to get to public playing fields. The planning committee felt so strongly about the unsuitability of this site - for other reasons as well - that they have rejected the application, although officers consider that an appeal may be successful.

What is true is that this government is squandering the legacy of a decade of investment in school sport, it is wasting the inspiration of the Olympics, an opportunity that will not come again in my lifetime.

Cameron should spend less time lounging in search of photo-opportunities and more time thinking about the future. Sadly, as he is nothing more than a failed spin merchant with no knowledge about the reality of life for most people in this country, he won't. And that's shameful.

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