School Sport and Activity Plan – Where do we go from here?
Posted: Wed, 17 Jul 2019 08:29
The publication of the School Sport and Activity Plan can be seen as a pivotal moment for the PE, School Sport and Physical Activity (PESSPA) sector. This is not because the new plan marks a significant policy change [LIA1]– its contents are a mixture of existing work and piecemeal developments; there is largely also silence on the future of the substantially funded but narrowly focused PE and Sport Premium.
As a result, an alternative challenge becomes apparent and may be set for the sector [LIA2]– can it develop a more comprehensive vision that could initiate the step-change required in PE, school sport and physical activity? And can the sector coherently advocate for government to fulfil its role in delivering such a vision?
In thinking about how the sector work towards such challenges, consideration of the different levers by which government can instigate change may be helpful. Broadly, these levers (or 'policy tools') fall into four categories. In outlining each of the four below, we can identify important questions, potential options and policy approaches that could beneficially shape PE, school sport and physical activity towards a better future.
- ·Funding: The Action Plan was light on specific spending commitments. Uncertainty about the longer-term future of the PE and Sport Premium will continue until after the wider Comprehensive Spending Review. Ongoing advocacy to retain the substantial funding that has been ringfenced for PESSPA is important[LIA3], but so too is renewed thinking about how monies may be distributed to best address wide-ranging priorities. Is the current system of standardised allocations solely and directly to primary schools effective? If not, how would distribution across a broader range of organisations be organised? Could there be differential distribution based on identification of need and countering inequalities in children's experiences?
- ·Shaping systems and organisations for policy implementation: The Action Plan makes ongoing reference to a collaborative approach to developing PESSPA. The age-old problem of linking schools and clubs is identified once again; new regional pilots to develop a 'co-ordinated offer' between schools and local organisations are promised; designated teaching schools and hubs will support capacity building within and across primary schools. While welcome, none of these suggestions represents a comprehensive system to support delivery of PESSPA across the country. Being idealistic, what might a more systematic approach to collaboration in delivering PESSPA opportunities look like? Being realistic, what is feasible to advocate for given the approaches to local governance of schools that are prominent in current government policy?
- ·Government's scope to exercise authority and regulation can offer particularly influential policy levers which do also needs careful consideration. The Action Plan identifies the importance of 'high quality, modern PE lessons' that develop 'physical literacy', and this may open scope for the government to use its authority to embed related changes into future iterations of the National Curriculum. Regulation through enhanced OFSTED inspections is also cited in the Action Plan, but OFSTED's role and capacity in assessing PESSPA has been questioned in the past. The absence from the Action Plan of mention of CIMSPA[LIA4]'s newly developed guidance for the deployment of external sports coaches in schools is disheartening, when this is an area of government regulation that could have significant impact. Convincing the government to expand into new areas of regulation would be a significant challenge for the sector. The issues mentioned here are, though, just a few of those where governmental use of this policy lever could make an important difference in increasing the standards of quality provision for young people.
- ·Finally, the government's central position gives it influence through the collection and dissemination of information. The Action Plan includes a number of examples of dissemination: promising to improve communication of appropriate levels of physical activity for children and young people, providing a digital library of 'workout videos that can be used in PE lessons', and issuing further guidance to 'support effective use of the PE and Sport Premium'. Otherwise, beyond continuing to measure young people's activity through the Active Lives Children and Young People survey, there appear no new plans for government to collect and collate information to understand and improve provision in schools. Weaknesses in monitoring from the use of PE and Sport Premium funds been highlighted by some in the sector. Ideas for improved approaches to gather information and learning on spending and provision, while not overburdening schools, are amongst those that could be further developed and promoted to government.
There are – deliberately - more questions than answers here. The range of questions, and associated government options, identifies possibilities for a more comprehensive policy approach to PESSPA. Continued ringfenced funding is certainly vital, but its use a somewhat stand-alone policy lever has arguably limited the effectiveness of the PE and Sport Premium. Can the sector collectively contribute to further development of ideas and advocacy for a more rounded policy approach that integrates co-ordinated use of a broader range of governmental levers to influence PESSPA?
The Sports Think Tank would support such an effort and is keen to prompt debate towards continued and comprehensive policy development for PESSPA.
Dr Iain Lindsey - Associate Professor in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences