The Government’s attempts to capitalise on Britain’s Olympic legacy by investing in school sport may be nothing more than a gimmick, MPs have warned. The cross-party Commons Education Committee pointed out that the £150m of ring-fenced funding for primary school sport, championed by David Cameron, was in place for only two years.
And they concluded that such short-termism was “simply not good enough”, calling on ministers to introduce a sustained and funded package to improve physical education in schools.
“We are concerned that successive governments’ approach to school sport has been short-term,” they said. “Occasional ‘pump-priming’ by government is simply not good enough for something so important. We recommend that the Government commits to a long-term vision for school sport which is properly supported by long-term funding.”
The MPs hailed the success of the School Games competitions, but noted that this too was funded only until 2015 and was limited to children who were already more involved in sport.
They also questioned the Government’s focus on competitive sport and whether that might put some children off altogether.
“While this brings with it many benefits, this emphasis can also deter many young people from taking part in sport at all,” they said. “We must recommend that the Department for Education makes clear to all schools that they must offer both competitive and non-competitive sporting opportunities for their pupils, to ensure that all young people feel able to take part in sport and enjoy the benefits it brings.”
The committee’s Conservative chairman, Graham Stuart, said while the Olympic Games generated “massive enthusiasm” the Government needed to act to ensure that the momentum was not lost amid short-term plans and funding constraints.
“If school sport is to grow, it needs sustained funding and time to develop,” he said. “We are concerned that the Government’s primary sport premium – while correctly focused – is only being given to schools for two years. This is simply not long enough for schools to build a sustained provision.
“Many head teachers will be struggling to decide how to spend the money most effectively and, if the funding is not extended, there is a risk the primary sport premium will become little more than a gimmick. Successive governments have kicked school sport around as a political football, announcing short-term fixes without any sustained vision for the future.”
However, a Department for Education spokesperson insisted that the Government did have a long-term plan for school sports, saying: “Our vision for school sport is long-term – on top of the £300m that will go directly to schools to spend on PE over the next two years we have asked Ofsted to hold schools to account for how well they spend the money.
“In addition, the new PE curriculum will put competitive sport back at the heart of school life and end the damaging ‘prizes for all’ culture. Our reforms will ensure every child is given the opportunities they need to be fit, healthy and to excel at sport.”