Richard Garner: How our schools lost the plot

The Coalition decided to axe funding for PE teachers to train in delivering sport

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The Independent Online

The seeds for diminishing sports participation in state schools were sown way back in the 1980s. That was the time when the selling of playing fields was common place – often by cash-strapped councils who short-sightedly saw it as an opportunity to avoid making further cuts elsewhere to their budgets.

Click here to see 'The price of gold: How elite sport is funded' graphic

Then there were the teachers' strikes of the late 1980s. One of the first weapons they sought to use was a ban on voluntary activities. Voluntary activities, of course, meant organising school sports.

When such industrial disputes ended some teachers questioned their commitment to carrying out what was, after all, something they did not have to do. As a result the level of sporting activity has never reached its earlier heights.

Labour ministers recognised the problems after it took office in 1997 and insisted that schools or local authorities wanting to sell off playing fields had to get permission from the Depart- ment for Education.

Labour also set a target that all pupils should undergo two hours of sport a week, The majority of all secondary school pupils hit that target by the end of past decade – compared with just 20 per cent in 2003.

There is now, though, a further threat to the future of school sports as we seek to capitalise on the legacy of the Olympic games.

One of the most unpopular acts undertaken by the Coalition Government was when Education Secretary Michael Gove decided to axe the £162m funding for the School Sport Partnerships throughout the country – which saw secondary and primary school PE teachers released for up to two days a week to train in delivering sport and promoting sporting activities in conjunction with neighbourhood clubs. An outcry, led to a partial U-turn by the Government but there was still a 69 per cent cut in the programme's budget. Some 48 per cent of all authorities have now seen a reduction of School Sport Partnership activities.

The end result has been to leave the future welfare of sport more in the hands of the independent sector.