Posted: Wed, 31 Oct 2012 20:12
Today we publish an article by Alan Watkinson - a high profile supporter of School Sport Partnerships and well-known because this Summer one of his pupils - Mo Farrah went on to win 2 Gold medals for Team GB at the London Olympics! Alan this week won the Pride of Britain Teacher Award Writing in a personal capacity Alan sets out his views to the Sports Think Tank.
"It is true to say that I spent the summer of 2012 with a huge grin on my face intermingled with tears of joy rolling down my cheeks. Hearing myself using such phrases as "they just want me to do a piece to camera" and "that was Tessa (Jowell) on the phone" added to the surreal phenomena that was my 2012 Olympic experience.
The media's thirst for everything about my former pupil Mo Farah was insatiable. Questions such as "Explain when you first met Mo?" and "What he was like at school?" were incessant. The interest was flattering; how could I ever tire of talking about the former pupil that had wowed the world? Visits to 10 Downing Street and talks of a Knighthood were, to my mind, the least rewards that my modest, fun loving, world beating friend deserved. Surely, soon it will soon be my turn to call him "Sir".
The focus of the media was to move on relatively quickly after Mo's triumphs. "What did I think of the selling off of playing fields?" "Is the government right to focus on competitive sport as the solution to inspiring a generation and "Have you got confidence that Michael Gove and David Cameron will do the right thing for school sport?" The questions were no longer quite as comfortable but my passion, interest and strength of feeling on this subject is commensurate with my pride in my ex pupil's performance. There is much to comment on and I had the opportunity to strongly present a very popular view among Physical Education and Sport professionals. To use Mo's old secondary school motto – carpe diem - or, for non-Latin aficionados like the Secretary of State for Education, seize the day.
I remain very angry about Michael Gove's summary dismissal of the outstanding work of the network of School Sport Partnerships. His selective use of data and manipulation and misrepresentation of this data was offensive. You would think that somebody so fond of history would be more mindful of not trying to re-write it. An enormous success, a world leading system, confined to the dustbin in a fit of political pique.
However, the moment he made that decision we moved on and…
Throughout the joyful months of the Olympic and Paralympic Games there was an underlying powerful and challenging message being portrayed. It was an ever present at events, ceremonies, parades and celebrations. Every time I saw the message I was given hope. Gradually the backdrop of "Inspire a Generation" eased its way to the front in the same effortless way that Mo did on those two glorious Saturdays in August. The motto was launched on April 18th by Lord Sebastian Coe on a visit to Kew Gardens and it would prove to be the critical slogan that made the issue of legacy prominent and politically important. In short the motto was a stroke of genius that coupled with the spine tingling effect of the Games has motivated the nation to find the solution to this conundrum of how we achieve this Holy Grail.
For a start we need an integrated system from top to bottom. The answer is developing and strengthening a multi layered and multi-faceted network which relies on enlightened people, solid partnership and genuine multi-agency approaches. The benefits of Physical Education and Sport transcend a whole host of government departments and the whole sporting network. From the development of Physical Literacy for every individual in primary schools to the appropriate support for our most talented world leading performers, we should leave no stone unturned in providing a legacy for all that does the best ever Olympic Games complete justice.
In short we have three immediate and very pressing challenges. In the short window of time we have to make the most of the Olympic buzz, we need to commit to investment in people, we need to create structures that can make a real difference and we need a total shake up of our Primary Physical Education offer. Each topic is huge in isolation but I am sure that each and every one of these three issues resonates with those that understand the sporting industry in Britain.
Appointing Lord Coe as the government's legacy advisor was probably not one of David Cameron's more tricky decisions but it should be warmly welcomed nonetheless. Let's hope the man that led the bid and led the delivery of the most successful Olympic Games ever can pull off the most spectacular hat trick in this nation's history since Geoff Hurst's efforts in 1966. There are many inspirational and prominent sports strategists in this country and I would love to think that Sir Clive Woodward, Dave Brailsford and Baroness Sue Campbell, to name but a few, would be, or indeed have been, early staging posts for Lord Coe.
Last week I attended the Youth Sport Trust School Sport conference and am very excited by the new strategic approach proposed by the Trust. The organisation has taken an unwarranted hammering from our Secretary of State for Education. However, under the leadership of John Steele and Baroness Campbell they display indefatigable spirit and a total commitment to the cause; this is in itself a massive inspiration.
It was also very good to hear Maria Miller (Secretary of State for DCMS) speak. She appears to have a good grasp of the issues and revealed that a joint DCMS/DfE announcement will be made before Christmas 2012. Naturally, we wish you every success with that Maria. If you happen to be with Mr Gove and come across a sign post marked Damascus, get him on that road, grab your brightest torch and give it your very best shot. Even the most ardent rugby fans amongst us would list that as their favourite conversion of all time.
The situation is complex but requires immediate action and that in itself is very difficult. There will be many opinions and many suggestions as to what the most pressing issue is. To conclude I have listed three that I personally consider to be a top priority.
1) A long term cross party, cross department plan is needed. So number one priority is movers and shakers round a table with Lord Coe in charge – now where have we seen that before?
2) We need an immediate ring fencing and retention of the current level of funding to keep the life support switched on. The further diminishing of our already beleaguered system would be catastrophic. This is still an 80% cut on what went before and greater resource will be needed. However, doing this would allow time for us to grow and shape a true lasting legacy.
3) Finally, high quality primary school, Physical Education is the top priority. We need to accept that, despite pockets of outstanding practice, the problems are so deep rooted that there is no quick fix. We need investment in a solution that develops, educates and engages the practitioners, teachers and coaches alike. We also need rigorous Ofsted criteria that take the physical development of young people and all the well-researched, unarguable benefits more seriously. This may not be comfortable for some, and it may cost some money, but the cost of not doing it would be far greater. We need a plan now!"
Partnership Development Manager
Isleworth and Syon School Sport Partnership,
Posted: Fri, 05 Oct 2012 09:04
This week Gove and the Education team have at least been seen to be talking to the 'sector' about their lack of coherence for school sport. As the Think Tank has found at the Party conferences so far the black hole that is Government policy on school sport is becoming a toxic issue which needs to be addressed to save the claim to any legacy plans.
The lack of a coherent school sport strategy has been highlighted as the missing link in the Government's legacy plans, and the meeting at the Department of Education on Thursday was aimed at addressing the issue.
Governing bodies including the Football Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Rugby Football Union and the Lawn Tennis Association were called in to meet the minister, who ended ring-fenced funding and targets for PE and school sport in his first months in office.
The department would not comment on the talks, but the meeting was said to be constructive, despite the absence of several sports that believe they could make a genuine contribution to the debate.
Neither British Cycling or UK Athletics were invited to attend and there is some frustration that they will not have the chance to contribute to a debate they see as crucial to development of their sports.
Gove appears to have ruled out reversing his decision to scrap the School Sports Partnership that ensured all primary and secondary schools had access to professional PE teaching.
In a polite way I made the following comments from the S&RA on behalf of our members. Here my concern is much deeper.
The Sports and Recreation Alliance, which speaks for governing bodies, welcomed the talks.
"It's pleasing that the secretary of state recognises that there is a clear need for an appraisal of policy when it comes to school sports," said chairman Andy Reed, a former Labour MP.
"School sport plays a crucial part in inspiring young people to stay active but there's no doubt that it hasn't been as high up the agenda as it needs to be.
"School sport really is vital if we are going to truly 'inspire a generation' and it is essential that the right mandate is provided from the top. We have tried leaving sport up to teachers' discretion in the past and that hasn't worked due to pressures from other curriculum topics.
"Sport is one of those areas that gets squeezed when heads look to make cuts to their budgets or concentrate on academic subjects.
"Let's grasp this opportunity for an overhaul of the status quo and capitalise on the excitement and interest the Olympics have generated to transform school sport for the better.
"The Alliance is pleased that national governing bodies are involved in the policymaking process but all sports must be included as part of a wider consultation if any new system is to work.
"If we are going to have a school PE programme that works for every pupil, we need to invite all stakeholders into a discussion. That should include all sports, recreation and dance solutions as well as those who understand education needs"
Posted: Wed, 05 Sep 2012 09:46
So the reshuffle has happened and the Westminster village has had its day of excitement. For those of us who have been inside the 'bubble' we know of the excitement and disappointment felt by so many MPs in one day. The atmosphere is amazing for political junkies who watch every move.
So what has that got to do with a sport think tank. As you can imagine we believe it's pretty fundamental to the direction (or lack of it) for the next two years (the average life span of a Minister).
One of the main reasons for setting up the THINKTANK was to try and create some longer term thinking and consensus to avoid the two year cycle of initiatives. It is early days but we hope to start to make a difference.
So who has moved and what does it mean for sport. Quite clearly we always look first to see who is Sports Minister and SoS at DCMS. At the time of writing we know Maria Miller has been appointed as SoS to DCMS with the additonal Women and equality brief. We could call this a part time appointment - but it's seems all governments attach this brief to another departmental SoS. It is more that PMs haven't taken the women & equalities brief seriously. The main worry for sport is that Maria Millet has no known interest or expertise in sport. I served with her on an Olympic Bill and was impressed with her performance on marketing and brand. I am not sure I remember much else. This means she probably has no baggage and may be willing to learn and be influenced by the sector. No knowledge is common for Ministers. It is not always a bad thing. We shouldn't be too quick to judge. However, I don't expect her to take on Gove over School Sport as her support for localism probably means she supported the cuts.
At he moment we think Hugh Robertson will stay at DCMS. Hugh understands sport and knows he sector well. There is a growing consensus that whilst the sector likes Hugh they have been underwhelmed by delivery and willingness to fight his corner with colleagues. Ihope the success of the Olympics and a new SoS where he may have a better relationship might improve matters. I sincerely hope so. I want Hugh to go down as a successful sports minister.
The other moves are equally interesting. Hunt has been rewarded with a move to Health (one I predicted) which has come as a surprise as equally he could have even been sacked! He has expressed some support in the past for health getting involved in sport & physical activity and of course squeezed some money from DoH for the School Gameses Coordinators. That money may not be so much at risk now as Hunt would want the school games to be one of his legacies at DCMS.
We have lost Tim Loughton the schools minister/ school sport. Gove stays with Laws moving into Education to support him. Don't expect any change of direction in education. This could be a big worry.
Elsewhere there are changes in the Health team and we will wait to see how the portfolios work out there and in places like the Cabinet Office. We await to hear about Nick Hurd for example.
One other nice story is the elevation of Paul Deighton of LOCOGI wondered what he would do next. He was of course responsible for part of the Olympics - the show! There has been some misunderstanding in the press about his role at LOCOG and confusing the roles of the ODA and the ODA budget with his. However, all we need to know is that Paul is a serious player and a nice guy. This probably means he will get frustrated and be gone within 24 months. Just a hunch.
There will be more implications with Ministers in other departments - DCLG and DECC for example. We will look at these in more detail later this week.
(these are the personal views of Director Andy Reed)
Posted: Fri, 17 Aug 2012 11:23
We know that so much policy is decided in response to daily news headlines. So in the last few days the Olympic Legacy story has switched to School Playing Fields and now we await the response from politicians.
But we exist at the Sport Think Tank to get behind the headlines and to provide policy makers with access to the best evidence and facts before rushing onto the airwaves or creating the next headline. School Playing Field sales/disposals are full of myth and it's an issue in serious need of greater depth of analysis.
The story has taken extra legs today in the Telegraph after it was revealed that 30 Playing Fields - not the original 21 quoted - had indeed been sold off in the last 2 years. This followed the stories generated by the Guardian earlier this week that discovered there were plans to relax guidelines on school requirements for school playing fields.
It may be worth starting with this excellent article by Alan White in the New Statesman - "Olympic Legacy is too diverse to work under a single political ideology"
In this article Alan shows why it is a bit too simplistic to take the headline figures at face value. In particular the 10,000 school playing fields sold under the Tories between 1979-97 was always a rather convenient figure. There was no doubt there were massive numbers of playing fields sold off but nobody really knows how many.
There were improvements when the government introduced legislation in 1998 and updated this in 2004 when it wasn't working as well as expected. But as White says and fairly makes the point there is a lot of hot air being created around the debate again.
"Labour did improve things. As I type this I see Andy Burnham MP (of whom more in a second) is tweeting about the 1998 Act that slowed school sales, and which was updated in 2004.
The sale of school fields is now governed by this strict Labour legislation, which says that the sports needs of schools must continue to be met, there must be clear evidence all other sources of funding have been exhausted, and the money must be reinvested in sport. Now if Gove's somehow got round these guidelines and allowed the sale of fields that are genuinely needed, let's give him a kicking. Believe me, I'll be first in the queue, wearing my Tory-arse-seeking winkle pickers. But the Guardian story gives no evidence for this – and wouldn't we have heard more from the communities involved?"
The complexity of this can be seen by the story in the Guardian in 2005 in which the then Sports Minister Dick Caborn was able to announce a net gain in the number of playing fields. I remember putting out press releases off the back of this great 'news.' But as ever nothing is quite as it seems in this statistical v planning world.
A quick look at the various figures released of course reveals that of course despite the 1998/ 2004 revised legislation sales were still going ahead as can be seen in the FoI from the DfE here.
The number of approvals in previous years is as follows:
Since May 2010: 21
It may be uncomfortable for some - but there will never be a time when there are no sales. Schools will close and things do change. After all there are 16,500 primary schools and 3500 secondary schools. Their local circumstances will change over time and some will even close and move. I supported the loss of an unused bit of grass at a local college when it was replaced by some flats and a floodlit 3G pitch and changing facilities which I now see being used 7 days a week. Sometimes it is a trade off - replacing a bit of muddy unused field with a much better sports facility.
So putting it mildly this is a very complex policy area which requires some flexibility in our approach. The 'policies' exist to protect School Playing Fields and a small number will be sold each year for a variety of local reasons. We shouldn't go over the top with these when they are.
However, if the statement from the Sport & Recreation Alliance today is right the problem has been that those policies and procedures have been overlooked. Now that is a story worth looking at in more detail.
We will do some more research into the existing data that is widely available and collate the various sources of articles and materials to add to this site as a resource.
Posted: Mon, 06 Aug 2012 09:41
School Sport Campaign
Our success in the Olympics is widely welcomed. Whilst there is a throught provoking blog on whether we should be funding our Gold medal tally through the taxpayer elsewhere on this site the challenge of school sport has raised its legacy head again.
We raised this subject before the Games started and we are delighted by the amount of interest the spotlight of the Olympics has once again thrown on the Gove cuts to school sport. Those cuts make it almost impossible for the government to claim a legacy when so many children will be denied an opportunity to take part in PE & Sport at school.
Lord Moynihan raised the issue of the percentage of medalists from Indpeendent schools as a proportion of the population last week. This is an issue but needs to be kept in context. It doesn't take a genius to realise if you provide the best coaching and facilities to a small group of people from an early age in small groups they will do well. Our challenge is not to deplore the state sector for 'failing' but to enable them to raise their standards to an equal level through the right investment. It is also a bit difficult to hear Moynihan without understanding his and the BOA role in the school cuts debate - as it's alleged they were encouraging cuts to the YST whilst promoting themselves and the Olympic style games.. All based on a limited understanding of the state education system and a belief the independent schools should step in. Independent schools are good at what they do. Teaching small groups of students who have paid a small fortune to be there with the best facilities paid from those fees and the charitable status they enjoy. No independent Head I know believes seriously that they could teach an inner city Head teacher anything about running an inner city school.
So we are left with a great deal of interest in rebuilding our school PE & sport system. We don't need to rehearse all the elements of what we need to create but there are a few key points to make at this stage.
We need to build a broad policy and political consensus so that whatever is created is not used as a political football or changes in short term thinking
We need a coordinated approach to avoid new campaigners and others creating more initiatives in an already overcrowded sporting landscape. This is crucial. There are already too many people in this space and I am sure many high profile individuals will 'want to help and have their voice heard' - all great up to a point but will simply confuse the argument
Whilst there will no doubt be celebrities and sports stars wanting to help - and that is welcome - we need to listen much more to teachers, coaches and experts at local level.
We also need to reaffirm we are about creating a system that encourages ALL children to become physical activity and not just be about a massive talent ID programme. We are about inspiring a generation to be active not just medalists
Whilst we should encourage and nurture commercial interest we need this to be in delivering desired policy outcomes - not short term initiatives with little sporting sustainability
What we create should be the best school sport system in the world to match the world class UKSport system. It should be based on evidence of what works - not the anecdotal evidence of sports stars and politicians. This is where we have failed before