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The £150m school sport pledge

Industry experts share their views on the current issues affecting sport

by John Goodbody, Sports Journalist | Published in Sports Management 2013 issue 1
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue

The government’s announcement that £150m is to be allocated in each of the next two years towards improving coaching for youngsters in primary schools in the UK has generally been hailed with enthusiasm by national governing bodies of sport.

A typical primary school with 250 pupils is expected to receive £9,250 per year. This is the equivalent of around two days a week of a primary school teacher or a coach’s time, enough, in fact, it’s claimed, that to ensure that every pupil does sport with a specialist. The funding, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron, will be ring-fenced for sport but it will be the heads and teachers who will decide how this money is to be allocated. It can be specialist coaching, teacher training, sports clubs or support for after-school or week-end competitions.

So far so good. The Prime Minister had obviously been so excited by the success of the London Olympics that he felt duty bound to give further support to sport in Britain. Although there were complaints that this money would better have been announced last autumn, in fact, with the school year beginning at that time, it would have been impossible to have organised any provision for its introduction until September 2013.

In addition, it needed some months of consultation between the different government departments to ensure the programme can go ahead, with Sport England investing £1.5m a year of lottery funding through county sport partnerships to help primary schools link up with local coaches and clubs.

It has long been recognised that there are far too few teachers in primary schools with the necessary training – quite understandably, since they’re not specialists – to give pupils the necessary grounding in sport up to the age of 11. What concerns me is whether the money is going to be spent in the best way, if it just gives pupils some brief insight into an arbitrary selection of sports.

There are two fundamental activities which should be taught extensively to primary school children – swimming and gymnastics. Although the announcement mentioned that swimming remained part of the national curriculum, where, at least, it is usually taught by specialists, one wants to be sure that all pupils leaving school at the age of 11 do in fact fulfil the minimum requirement of swimming 25m on their front and back and are also taught water safety. As Jon Glenn, head of the Learn to Swim award at the Amateur Swimming Association, said: “It is the only subject on the National Curriculum, which could save a pupil’s life.”

The experience of gymnastics is vital so that children acquire a physical literacy, which can be transferred to other activities when they are older, in the same way that they learn to read, write and deal with numbers in the early stages in school so that the skills can be applied in other subjects later on.

One hopes that when heads and teachers examine how they’re going to use this money from the government, that they bear in mind the long-term physical development of their pupils, rather than just short-term interest in traditional team sports.

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