Yesterday Andy Burnham took education secretary Michael Gove to task over the dismantling of School Sport Partnerships. Ed Miliband made school sport one of key targets last week at PMQs, and Andy Burnham has been chasing the issue relentlessly since then. You can read the whole speech below:
We stand on the brink of arguably the biggest moment for sport in our history.
It’s a one-off chance to lift the place of sport in the life of our country – and inspire a new generation.
Today is a good moment to remind ourselves that that is why we won the right to host 2012.
With cross-Party support, we set challenging but achievable targets: by 2012 two million more people physically active, a million more playing sport regularly, and 60% of young people doing at least 5 hours of sport per week.
Mr Speaker, this is no time to lower our ambitions.
Huge progress has been made in the last decade – and now we must build on it.
For a country that loves sport, we are in the relegation places when it comes to the international league table of physical activity.
As the Health Secretary has just told the House, we should do more.
Until recently, the policies in place to achieve our Olympic goals – particularly in schools – enjoyed a broad political consensus.
I was struck by this quote from the current Minister for Sport made just one week after our success in Singapore:
“I congratulate the Minister and his Department on the progress that has been made on school sport. Specialist sports colleges are proving to be a success-there is no doubt about that-and school sports partnerships likewise. The Youth Sport Trust, which I visited just before the election, is a fantastic organisation.”
It is a fantastic organisation – and we championed it in Government just as John Major had done before us. We also built on his plans for elite sport.
So there has been a developing consensus on sports policy since John Major signalling a change in the early 1990s. It was repeated just before the Election in a write-up of a Five-Live debate in March:
“On School Sport Partnerships Hugh Robertson said it would be wrong to dismantle 13 years of work, but instead build on it.”
But that broad consensus on school sport has now been broken by the Right Honourable Gentleman.
SSPs have joined a growing list of things that the Conservative Party said it would protect, but then has scrapped in government.
Let me make one thing clear at the outset, Mr Speaker.
We on these benches would have understood if the Government had decided to reduce funding to SSPs and the Youth Sports Trust – as long as it kept the basic SSP infrastructure in place.
What we are struggling to accept is the Secretary of State’s decision to remove 100% of funding – and demolish an entire infrastructure, a proven delivery system, that is improving children’s lives.
It is a senseless act of vandalism, defying all logic, leaving people speechless.
The Australian Sports Commissioner has asked how we could dismantle a ‘world-leading’ system.
The Chief Executive of the Canadian Olympic Committee has taken the unusual step of writing to the Right Honourable Gentleman to say, now, months out from a home Olympics, it makes no sense at all to have a wholesale change of school sport policy.
We have called this debate today as we want the Government to listen, change course and protect a basic SSP structure before it breaks down.
But Ministers need to understand why people are hurt and angry.
With provocative language and selective figures employed in a desperate act of post-justification, Ministers seem totally out of touch.
They either don’t know what’s been happening on the ground in their constituencies. Or worse – they do know but are not prepared to acknowledge it, because it doesn’t fit their political purpose. Either way, it’s very bad.
The Children’s Minister arrogantly dismissed SSPs as a “centralised bureaucracy” – in other words, expendable self-serving pen-pushers that have made a negligible impact on the lives of our children.
That hurts – because nothing is further from the truth.
Let’s me remind the House who we are talking about.
We are talking here about an army of 3,200 positive, passionate and motivated people who believe in the power of sport to change lives for the better.
If nothing else, I hope today they will hear some praise and recognition for their efforts and feel cheered by it.
I know I can speak for everyone on these benches in saying that we appreciate their commitment to young people and the contribution they have made to the betterment of their communities.
What is already clear, Mr Speaker, is that this is no ordinary political spat.
A pretty formidable force has already lined up against the Government.
The chorus of disapproval grows by the day – and not just from the usual quarters.
Today, 75 prominent Olympic and Paralympic athletes have written to the Prime Minister imploring him to think again in pretty strong terms:
“We cannot stand by and watch as your government threatens to destroy any hopes this country has of delivering a genuine London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic legacy.”
On Sunday, 60 headteachers writing in the Observer were even more blunt. They called it “an ignorant, destructive, contradictory and self-defeating decision. It is entirely unjustified educationally, professionally, logistically and in terms of personal health and community wellbeing.”
The national network of 450 SSPs “is the most universal, long-term, community-centred and sustainable that we could have devised; in microcosm, it is the ‘big society’ in action. To lose the School Sport Partnerships would be disastrous.”
And it has united people across the ages.
Next week, young people will descend on Downing Street with a petition of one million names in support of the school sports co-ordinators and SSPs.
Mr Speaker, these aren’t the usual voices of political protest. They are not scoring points. They are fighting for something they passionately believe in.
Up until now, the Government has dug in. It has patronised people with bogus statistics.
But it’s turning into a real test for the Government. Are they prepared to listen and change course?
Today’s debate has four clear objectives.
First, to probe the Government on the background to this decision
Second, we want to test the figures they have used and whether they stand by them.
Third, we need clarity on what has happened to school sport funding.
Fourth, and most importantly, I want to put a genuine offer to the Right Honourable Gentleman that will help us re-establish the consensus on school sport as we head to a home Olympics.
So let’s start with the decision-making process.
Can I tell the Right Honourable Gentleman, Mr Speaker, that we admire the erudition he brings to our proceedings?
Mr Lansley never quoted Dryden.
But today I want him to extend his cultural references.
How about Defoe? I know he’s thinking Daniel, but I want to hear him talk about Jermaine and the work between Premier League clubs and schools, through projects such as Kickz.
Or Strauss? He’s thinking Johann but can I tempt him today to talk about our Ashes captain Andrew and all the work the ECB have done in schools with the excellent Chance to Shine initiative?
We are opposites. Maybe I talk about sport too much. But I’ve never heard him talk about it.
Today, I want to hear him talk about what sport means to him?
He was goading me last week about my drama lessons at school. Well, I looked up his school sport career. “In 1979, he won a scholarship to Robert Gordon’s School in Aberdeen, where he spent the next seven years excelling in every subject, except sport.”
There was a lovely quote from Mrs Gove: “When he had finished all his school work, he would more or less revert to reading his encyclopedia.”
It’s a lovely image but I’m worried it explains a lot.
Is this whole thing Gove’s Revenge?
I get the distinct impression that he still harbours some unpleasant memories of his own sporting experiences at school and is lashing out at the school sport system.
I get the distinct impression that the Right Honourable Gentleman and his team haven’t met SSPs in their constituencies.
I hope the Front-Bench will accept an invitation from this one.
Why don’t we get our trainers and tracksuits on – I assume you’ve got some – and let’s all go and visit the SSP in my constituency.
Let’s spend a morning with them and see what they do.
And I say this to the Children’s Minister – let’s see if you’ll look the SSCOs in Wigan the eye and call them a “centralised bureaucracy” then?
But I also want him to explain a mystery.
Week after week, he addresses members on all sides with unfailing courtesy.
We like it.
But you do have to ask whether it’s all for show – as it seems to have deserted him in dealing with this row.
Baroness Sue Campbell is a world authority on school sport. We are lucky to have her in this country. She has given a lifetime of energy and passion to school sport in this country.
Surely decades of service and someone of such stature should have earned her at least a hearing, a chance to make her case before he made his funding decision?
We hear the Right Honourable Gentleman refused many requests to meet Baroness Campbell before making his decision or since. We expect better from him? Will he explain today why he refused to meet?
Did he give the evidence from the PE and School Sport Survey proper consideration before making his decision?
Worse, he waited until the day of the Spending Review before sending her a curt and dismissive letter, dispensing with the services of the Youth Sports Trust, with misleading claims about the effectiveness of SSPs.
And this brings me to my second purpose today – to challenge the bogus claims he and his ministers are making.
In recent days, we have witnessed an incredible abuse of statistics as the Coalition has thrashed around to forge a credible argument.
So, today, let’s set the record straight.
Claim 1. SSPs are ineffective because, in the last year, the percentage of 11-15 year olds playing sport went down
The Government’s source is the Taking Part Survey. It asks people in all ages whether they have done active sport in last seven days and last four weeks.
Its true that, on the 7 day test, the percentage of 11-15 year olds doing active sport dropped from 88.8% to 88%. But it’s a statistically negligible fall on figure that has shot up since SSPs first appeared.
The bit they don’t quote, from the same survey, is the four-week figure. That shows the percentage of 11-15 year olds doing active sport in the last 4 weeks rose from 96% to 96.7%. The more important measure, according to statisticians.
In 2002, it is estimated that only 25% of children did two hour or more of competitive sport or high quality PE per week. Now more than 90% do.
But now, if we take the survey that deals just with school sport, the PE and school sport survey, each year group represented by 11-15 year olds have seen the percentage doing three hours or more of sport per week rise.
Year 7 – 59% this year compared to 53% last participating in more than 3 hours every week.
Year 8 – 54% this year compared to 50% last
Year 9 – 49% this year compared to 44% last
Year 10 – 45% this year compared to 42% last
Claim one – case dismissed, Mr Speaker.
Claim 2. There’s not enough competitive sport – only one in five young people are playing it regularly against other schools
This is the claim that needles me most. I bow to no-one in my support for the benefits of competitive sport, having played it all my life.
I come from the generation that saw competitive after-school sport dry up in the mid-1980s with the teachers’ dispute.
That felt to me a raw injustice. I saw how it gave a bit of confidence and self-esteem to kids who perhaps didn’t shine academically in the classroom.
I have always believed good quality sport should be the right of every child as part of their education – not something left to random chance, or the goodwill or the views of head teachers.
So, when I came into politics, I wanted to do something about it.
As an adviser to the then Culture Secretary, I encouraged him to approve a Lottery programme under the New Opportunities Fund called Active Sports Co-ordinators.
At the heart of the initiative was the aim of building an alternative delivery system for competitive inter-school sport, which had lain dormant since ever since the 80s.
This was the start of the SSP programme, which grew over the decade, which had an explicit aim from the start of increasing intra- and inter-school competitive sport. The BBC report from 1999 said: “the first wave of sports co-ordinators to boost competitive sport in schools will be in place within the next year.”
They have succeeded.
The Coalition say only one in five play inter-school competitive sport on a regular – i.e. nine times a year.
There are two things to say: this represents a big increase and is an impressive figure; but it is also only part of the story.
Last year, 49% of children took part in some inter-school competition.
On top of this, there was a very large increase in the number of pupils taking part in some intra-school competition, up to 78% from 69% the year before.
There are now over 1.6 million more young people participating in inter-school competitive sport than there were in 2006, and 1.2 million more participating in intra-school competitive sport.
Anyone who understands sport knows these are quite incredible figures – and a testimony to the success of school sports co-ordinators.
In my quest to educate the Education Secretary about sport, I want him to take two simple messages from today if nothing else.
First, not everyone can play for the first team or even the second team (as I’m sure he’ll remember from his own school days).
Second, that you cannot have a proper sports policy which is solely based on competition. Competition must be supported by coaching and participation. A sport policy based on competition alone is a policy for the few not the many.
Claim 2 – case dismissed.
Claim 3. SSPs had failed because there was a decline in Rugby (Union), Netball, Hockey and Gymnastics.
There has been either flatlining or a small decline in these sports. But these sports are already at incredibly high participation levels – and the decline is minimal.
But let’s get to the main reason for this decline. Schools now provide, on average, 19 different sports – compared with 14 in 2006.
While these sports have declined – the number offering rugby league, athletics, football, cricket, tennis, basketball, cycling, golf, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, canoeing, archery, fitness classes, mountaineering, rowing, sailing, judo, karate, boxing, lacrosse, squash, equestrian sports, triathlon, skateboarding, dance and orienteering have all gone up.
Mr Speaker, I believe the figures speak for themselves – and the Coalition’s three central claims are summarily dismissed.
It’s not just me – experts are lining up to condemn the Government’s use of figures.
Barrie Houlihan, Professor of Sport at Loughborough University, and the lead evaluator of School Sport Partnerships between 2003 and 2009, this week described the Prime Minister’s comments at that despatch box as:
“a selective use of statistics that ignore the tremendous improvement over the past decade”
“Mr Cameron is wrong to say that SSPs have failed.”
But where the PM just was selective, other Ministers claims take the breath and fly in the face of the truth.
The Culture Secretary said yesterday: “in year seven, four in five children are not playing sport at all.”
This is just wrong and an outrageous abuse of statistics.
Will the Right Honourable Gentleman apologise for these claims today and set the record straight?
Has any civil servant warned him or any of his Ministers or Ministers in other Departments about the way they are presenting the figures?
I don’t expect an answer but I can tell him today that I will be writing to the UK Statistics Authority to ask them to comment on public presentation of statistics in this area by ministers.
The truth is the Right Honourable Gentleman has talked into himself into this mess.
The spin doesn’t end here. He says SSPs will be replaced Olympic style school sport competition,
Two problems with this statement. First, it’s no substitute for year-round sport in all schools for all children. Second, it already exists – it’s called the UK School Games has been in place since 2006
But we get to the heart of the matter. Again, his mishandling of the budget is at the heart of it.
There is now real confusion over whether this money for school sport has been cut or de-ringfenced, as he and other Ministers have claimed.
He says give money to schools and let them decide.
Yesterday, his Schools Minister appeared to contradict him saying of the Youth Sports Trust grant in a Parliamentary answer: “The money saved will not be fed through the DSG.”
So which is it?
Will head teachers be able to find this money or not?
Isn’t it the case that, going forward, schools will be asked to pay for sport themselves as well as many other things they are currently getting for free?
And isn’t it a false economy, as those services can often be cheaper through the economies of scale that come from providing across a whole area with the expert support of a national body like the Youth Sports Trust?
But that won’t take us out of this impasse.
So this brings me to my last point – a genuine suggestion about how to move things forward.
As in any sporting dispute, we need an independent referee.
In this case, I suggest we bring in thousands of them.
Surely the best way to resolve this argument about the effectiveness of SSPs is to ask the head teachers of this country that have seen them in action?
It could be a simple question – would they prefer a funding package to be found to maintain the SSP infrastructure; or would they prefer to each have the freedom to decide.
Can I tell the Right Honourable Gentleman today that I have received an offer to do a survey for free, which I will share with him. I urge him to take this forward and consult us on the questions.
I believe the Right Honourable Gentleman’s would find it helpful, as it might shed a new light on the misplaced suspicion that lies at the heart of the Right Honourable Gentleman’s policy pronouncements.
He seems to distrust any collective or central system of support for schools.
Instead, the drift of policy is towards a more atomised school system, where schools become walled gardens that do their own thing, compete fiercely and collaboration is frowned up.
But this vision is in conflict with providing excellence and specialist provision to all children – as it becomes more complicated and costly when schools do it alone.
Sport needs central organisation, particularly competitive league or cup competitions.
Also, there are only so many qualified coaches. To give children access to the best, it is easier to work together and share resources across an area.
Far from being bureaucratic, it actually reduces bureaucracy on schools. If they were all left to organise coaching and competition themselves, more time would be spent on it and there are doubts that the quality would be as good.
But let’s ask the heads in a survey.
It fits with the thrust of his White Paper last week – and is a real way forward.
In conclusion, Mr Speaker.
My own life has told me that good school sport should be a right for every child.
It raises academic standards, builds strong schools with a sense of identity and togetherness and well-rounded children.
For some young people, perhaps the less academically minded, the day they go to school with their boots in their bag is the day they have a spring in their step and hope in their hearts.
Let’s not take that one thing away from them.
I urge the House to support the motion.”