Saturday, 26 June 2010

'Reviving' competitive sports

Good luck to the Michael Gove in his 'revival' of competitive sports as he takes forward school olympics plans, particularly if he builds on a huge revival in school sports under Labour. But I hope he doesn't fall for the myth that Labour engaged in some ludicrous 'war' on competitive sports. (Even in the 1980s, where I was schools press officer for the ILEA, I organised the launch of a detailed independent research report on team games in London schools, accompanied by great photos of scores of London school sporting success stories, disproving the idea that the ILEA - and not a few misguided heads - was anti-competitive sort. It won plaudits from the Mail and Telegraph at the time! The Labour political leadership of the ILEA in 1988 was keen to promote it in London schools.)

There were several important elements of Labour's approach in government: the first was to increase overall participation in sports and PE; the second was to protect school playing fields unless they were being replaced by other sports facilities; the third was to revive competitive team sports. The Youth Sports Trust was transformed into the successful organisation it is today. Using an increasing specialist sports school network, local sports co-ordinators were employed to help revive sports which declined under the last Conservative government largely because teachers declined to help with after-school coaching. All playing field sales have had to be approved by a body that includes the strongest campaigners against their sale - but critics ignore that growth in sports facilities that often resulted.

The number of specialist sports colleges was increased from 11 in 1997 to around 500 today, creating as many local networks which are key to the growth in sport. The proportion of young people doing at least two hours a week of sport a week has risen from 23 to 90 per cent. And great strides were made under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in increasing the numbers of pupils involved in competitions. Even between 2007 and 2009, competitive games were on the rise: in 2007, 98% of schools had sports day, 58% other intra school competitions and 35% were involved in inter-school competitions. By 2009, these last two figures had risen to 69% and 41%. I do hope that the Secretary of State builds on those successful structures and doesn't fall for the Daily Mail myth machine.

This post has been picked up by John Rentoul.

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