Michael de Giorgio: School sport should be used to improve results

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The current debate around school sport has been fought passionately and from the heart. However, the school sports community is yet to land any winning punches in its fight with the Department for Education and time is running out.

With the paymaster now clearly the Department for Education and amid times of austerity, school sports practitioners have an issue in displaying their worth. Participation for the sake of participation looks like a luxury in tough times, whilst the paymaster is firmly focussed on enabling schools to produce better educational outcomes. The school sports community hasn’t yet been able to demonstrate its effect on the school environment and academic achievement, making it difficult to convince the DfE that school sport should be protected.

The protection of school sport is necessary. The £162million saved from closing the School Sports Partnerships may be sent to schools with complete autonomy over how to spend it. This will leave head teachers up and down the land with some hard decisions. They will find themselves weighing up the cost of a sports programme versus an extra science teacher or any other resource that directly drives educational outcomes. When your bottom line is about academic results, choosing sport will be difficult, but it would be short sighted not to realise the broad impact that sport can have on young people.

School sport, when delivered well, is highly important to the development of young people, but the challenge for the school sports community is putting numbers on that value. The heartfelt arguments about personal development, teamwork, competition, school cohesion, tackling child obesity and providing a sporting legacy from the 2012 games are all valid, but what impact can sport have on the bottom line for schools and the DfE, namely academic results?

Greenhouse, the charity of which I’m Chief Executive, has just undergone an independent evaluation, which starts to make the case that academic results can be improved through sport. We provide high quality sports and performing arts coaching to young people from disadvantaged communities, in their school or community sports centres. These coaches, who work with schools to engage those young people with the poorest attendance or behaviour, are selected for their coaching and mentoring skills. They work to build strong relationships with the young people they coach.

The coaches worked with 10,000 young people last year, mainly in London. These young people reported an improvement in their self-confidence, self-discipline, motivation and their happiness at school across the evaluation period. This led to a 12% reduction in school behaviour reports, whilst their school attendance exceeded that of their school peers at 96.4%. This improvement in their engagement in school enabled the young people to improve their academic performance, outperforming their school peers by an average of 8% in English and Maths, the equivalent of a GCSE grade in each.

This isn’t to say that all school sport is a magic wand. But it is clear that school sport, delivered well and often, can enable young people to make more from their education.

With this in mind, while the Department for Education considers the way forward on school sport, I suggest that school sports funding should be ringfenced for schools to use on sport. Furthermore, I would ask the DfE to provide schools with guidance towards existing best practice in schools sports delivery, enabling schools to invest efficiently in sport for their young people.

Michael de Giorgio is Chief Executive of Greenhouse Charity