Gove in school sports u-turn

By Peter Wozniak

Some of the funding for the school sports partnership will be spared from cuts, education secretary Michael Gove has announced.

Ministers had previously branded the programme, which co-ordinates action at different levels of the schools system, to encourage more participation in sport, wasteful and a “complete failure”.

But a concerted campaign on behalf of the partnership from athletes and local groups appears to have moved the government to back down – at least partially.

Mr Gove announced that £47 million of the £162 million central government funding for school sports partnerships will in fact be spared from cuts, to the relief of several thousand employees of the partnership.

The money will be found from the existing education budget, but will only keep the scheme in operation until the summer.

A further £65 million of funding will be provided until 2013 to give one PE teacher per school one day a week to encourage competitive sport.

Mr Gove said: “It’s time to ensure what was best in school sport partnerships around the country is fully embedded and move forward to a system where schools and parents are delivering on sports with competition at the heart.

“This will take some time and I’m pleased to be able to confirm some funding for school sports partnerships during this transition. But I’m looking to PE teachers to embed sport and put more emphasis on competitions for more pupils in their own schools, and to continue to help the teachers in local primary schools do the same.”

The funding will be phased out after the Schools Olympics, prompting Labour to claim the ‘u-turn’ was more “about saving face and will not go far enough”.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham added: “This package from the Conservative-led Government, after weeks of scrabbling round for funding to save something it branded a ‘complete failure’, only raises one cheer at best.

“So today, in conceding the success of Labour’s School Sports Partnerships, the Government has nevertheless failed to put in place a proper funding package that will allow us to capitalise on the excitement of the 2012 Games.

“We are still looking at the prospect of fewer children playing sport in the run up to the Olympics, and no answer on what will happen to school sport following the Games.”

The original plans would have seen the scheme scrapped entirely. Today’s volte face has raised suggestions that Cabinet ministers including sports secretary Jeremy Hunt had exerted their influence on behalf of the programme.

The issue had been the subject of angry clashes between Ed Miliband and David Cameron, with the prime minister insisting that participation in school sports hadn’t been affected nearly enough to justify the expense of the partnership.

Prominent athletes had pleaded with Mr Cameron in a letter to reverse the government’s position, arguing that the plans threatened the legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games.