At the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference in Birmingham this week, the strongest applause from the audience during the speeches of schools minister Nick Gibb and shadow education secretary Andy Burnham came when mention was made of the coalition's bizarre decision to axe the school sports partnerships that have revitalised PE and competitive sports in schools. Needless to say, the 2000 heads and school leaders were not applauding the rather thin defence being offered for the decision, nor did they buy the shameless spin that has accompanied the axe,
Today's Observer reports that ministers are frantically seeking a way out of the problem, which has already wrongfooted David Cameron at PMQs and threatens to undermine any hopes of a serious Olympics legacy among young people. Heads and pupils already threaten a national campaign that will embarrass even the most thick-skinned coalition MP. The fact that the SSPs have doubled participation in competitive team games and increased PE participation fourfold is dismissed by Cameron with statistics that no Labour spindoctor would have dared to disseminate. To imagine that a scheme that increases participation in inter-school competitions from 1 in 10 to 1 in 5 is a failure because 80% of young people are not so involved is both logically ludicrous and downright disingenuous. The clue is in the word 'competitive'.
But when the lead sports writer in the Sunday Times is as scathing as David Walsh is today (£), even Cameron's spin doctors must know the game is up. The coalition's ideological opposition to any ringfenced funding has come seriously unstuck. Now they just have to admit that there are occasions when such ringfenced funding is needed and desirable. Given that the funds are supposedly simply going to be added to the Dedicated Schools Grant, there should be nothing but a little loss of pride involved in re-ringfencing them: it should not trouble the Treasury one iota. The question is whether ministers are prepared to recognise that they have made a mistake, and effect the necessary rethink.