Stumped for an answer

DoreenMassey4x3.jpgDoreen Massey on the absence of a Coalition strategy on sport for children

Today in the Lords, I will press the government on what steps it is taking to encourage children from inner city areas to take up sports. My question arises from a concern that such children may be deprived of these opportunities, as well as the related benefits of enhanced well-being, increased self respect, the ability to work in teams and discouragement to join in anti-social behaviour. 

Important as schools are in all of this, they are not the only contributor to sport. Nor is sport just about competitiveness –important though that is. Sport encompasses health related fitness through the likes of walking, swimming, dance, pilates and yoga. At an early age, it can both identify outstanding talent and foster lifelong involvement in healthy activity.

David Cameron has promised £150 million to cover all England’s 17,000 primary schools – £8,823 per year per school. Why didn’t his government use this money to guarantee the highly successful, but now abandoned, School Sports Partnerships structure? These were developed under the last government’s commitment to rebuild sport in state schools, and involved specialist coordinators in 450 partnerships. It resulted, in 2009-10, in more than 90% of pupils participating in two hours of PE a week, with 78% taking part in competitive sport. And Ofsted noted: “Evidence is that these partnerships had left a notable legacy in the vast majority of secondary schools and their feeder primary schools over the last four years.”

After protests from teachers, sports professionals and the Youth Sport Trust there was a partial restoration of funding for each partnership for three years. But the money was not ring-fenced and half of them closed.

Initiatives in our inner cities exist. The ECB’s ‘Chance to Shine’ programme encourages boys and girls to take up cricket, not on vast playing fields but in school halls and playgrounds. Two million children are involved in a programme that also includes workshops on healthy lifestyles and anti-social behaviour. It has a strategic plan that is evaluated. Elsewhere, the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton, the Camden Fencing Club, Sport England’s ‘Get on Track’, Sport4Life in Birmingham, the Sainsbury School games, and others, help young people participate in sport. And many professional clubs, sportsmen and women are reaching out to include young people.

Such initiatives should be applauded, but Ministers must also tell us what their strategy is for sport for young people? As with the ‘Chance to Shine’ initiative, a strategy must have clear aims and targets, be delivery focused and must be evaluated for success. I see no such overall impetus from the government. Without that, many, including myself, fear that the Olympic Legacy will be just a notion and that young people, particularly in inner cities, will suffer.

Baroness Doreen Massey is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords

Published 12th November 2013

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