‘Olympic legacy disaster’: Manchester MP blames drop in school sport participation on removal of funding

By Oliver Rhodes

Declining numbers of children becoming involved in school sports is a ‘disaster’ for the Olympic legacy, according to a Manchester MP.

A country-wide survey by The Smith Institute showed a third of primary and secondary school teachers – 34% and 35% respectively – recorded a slump in participation.

The decision to abolish ring-fenced funding appears as the main factor and Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell pointed the finger towards the government. 

“The research highlights the dire consequences for sports participation of the government’s decision to cut School Sports Partnerships,” she said.

“The progress we made on improving participation, which could’ve rocketed after a successful summer of sport last year, has been dealt a heavy blow.

“It’s a direct result of the lack of ring-fenced investment and is a disaster for the Olympic legacy.”

The study stated pressure on time as a consequence for the slash in funding, which impacted the ability of schools to run clubs, competitions and events.

A total of 1,019 people were surveyed, including 673 primary school teachers, 225 secondary school teachers and 121 School Sports Partnerships or School Games Organisers staff.

More than two thirds of School Games Organisers and School Sport Partnerships staff also stated a participation drop after the end of ring-fenced finance in 2011.

High Quality Officer for School Sport Partnerships in Salford Elaine Gilmore believes limited opportunities are a major reason for fewer children taking an interest.

“The range of sports on offer has been significantly reduced with School Games funding focusing on traditional sports rather than the diversification that was possible before,” she said.

“This allowed greater engagement particularly for girls and for young people, who are disengaged from mainstream activity.”

Ms Gilmore said the reduction is devastating for those involved, but the School Sport Partnership in Salford survived after schools recognised its value.

She also highlighted the importance of sport towards children’s lives in the development of confidence, social and physical skills along with enjoyment.

“Many schools are committed to these values whether additional funding is available or not, so they will always do their best with what they have,” Ms Gilmore said.

“However, long-term engagement comes from a quality experience through expert delivery and through opportunities beyond the school.

“The consequences will be less young people being actively engaged in positive activity and it’s widely publicised how this is impacting on the nation’s health.

“Young people, who were inspired by the Olympics, are being denied the opportunity to follow their dreams.”

A Youth Sport Trust spokesperson said the organisation is committed to working with headteachers and school sport professionals, despite the apparent fall in participation rates.

“It is clearly disappointing when any report suggests a decline in physical education and school sport provision,” the spokesperson said.

“The recent government announcement of £150million-a-year investment for the next two years into primary school sport was a big step forward.

“It is now up to schools to invest this money wisely, work in partnership locally to maximise the funding and ensure any decline is reversed.” 

GreaterSport’s Matt Stocks admitted the removal of ring-fenced funding struck a blow, but said the Olympic legacy continues to burn bright with certain sport programmes.

“The School Games is a cracking example,” the development manager of children and young people, said. “We have more than 60% of schools signed up in Greater Manchester.

“We have approximately 60,000 young people regularly participating in competitive school sport within their local area.

“With the county sports partnership, we have about 5,000 people across the academic year taking part in county-level competitions.

“The funding is not what it used to be, but there may be a sense of too much looking backward rather than forward.”

Mr Stocks paid tribute to the School Games organiser network for creating opportunities for developing young leaders, disabled children, and teachers around continuous professional development.

He also believes the reduction may have been a result of primary schools lacking the time and skills set for a coordinated approach to sport.

“There is a lack of physical education specialists in primary schools and I think teachers complete six hours of PE training on average,” he said.

The reported change in participation following the abolition of ring-fenced funding of School Sport Partnerships remained constant at 49.50% in the North West.

And Mr Stocks said the figure is a testament to the region and cited the introduction of the School Sport Partnerships as a significant factor.

“Irrespective of the funding, there are a number of teachers equipped over the last ten years to deliver on their own,” he added.

Mr Stocks admitted the area’s 39.60% decrease was alarming, but he reiterated the idea of teachers lacking the means to coordinate activity as the reason.

Chair of Youth Sport Trust and UK Sport Baroness Sue Campbell provided evidence to the Education Select Committee yesterday regarding school sports.

Image courtesy of Mancunion, via Flickr, with thanks.

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