Tags: Assistant Head | Classroom Teacher | Curriculum Development | Curriculum Manager | Deputy Head | Gifted and talented pupils | Headteacher | Learning Partnerships | School Financial Management | School Leadership & Management | Subject Leader | Teaching and Learning

Neil Short, education consultant and former head, looks at how schools are facing up to the challenge of supporting and developing sporting talent among young pupils.

On 6 July 2005 the Olympic Games of 2012 were awarded to the city of London. The nation rejoiced in this victory and there was the common desire to make these games the best and most successful in history. From the prime minister there was the intention that, once again, the sporting prowess of the nation would be recognised and celebrated.

Since that time reality has intruded. The failure to win the football 2006 World Cup and the relative failures at European level in both swimming and athletics has demonstrated the size of the task facing the sportsmen and women who would strive for success in 2012.

The success of other, smaller countries at a wide range of sports over the past decade has highlighted the task ahead. Many countries begin to develop their sporting stars at a very early age with competition beginning at primary school level. It is likely that there will be pupils at present in primary education who will be available for selection in some events.

Potential areas for their involvement are swimming and gymnastics. But how will their talents be recognised and how will their skills be nurtured under the present system?

A commitment to sport

The present government has been committed to the development of sport in schools since 2000. Before that date it had attempted to reverse the trend which had seen the sale of playing fields rising to over 40 per month. Legislation in 1999 made this process more difficult and resulted in a slowing down of such sales and this was further reinforced in 2004. The 1999 legislation also established the minimum requirements for the size of playing field areas depending on size of school and pupil numbers.

The launch of the strategy ‘A Sporting Future for All’ in 2000 included the following provision:

  • funding for primary schools to provide facilities for pupils and the wider community
  • the establishment by 2003 of 110 specialist sports colleges
  • the appointment of 600 sports school coordinators
  • the development of more after-school sport provision.

At the launch Chris Smith, then secretary of state for culture noted that ‘schools are the bedrock of sport’. David Blunkett, at that time education and employment secretary, highlighted the role of the specialist schools sports offering sporting excellence ‘not just for the college, but for those in neighbouring schools’. Seventy-five million was allocated to the launch with matched funding from the Lottery and other sources.

Further allocations in funding in 2002 were followed in 2004 by an announcement that a further £500m was to be invested in school sport for:

  • the completion of the network of 400 sports colleges and sporting partnerships
  • improving the quality of coaching provision
  • improving links between schools and sports clubs in the community
  • training and developing PE/sports teachers’ skills
  • targets were also set for the amount of time to be spent on sport and games by 2010.

Figures released at the time of the announcement revealed that there were 313 school sport partnerships involving 12,000 primary, secondary and special schools. Over 3.5m children were involved, with each partnership being funded on average £270,000 per year. The funding provided for:

  • a full-time partnership development manager
  • the release of one PE teacher from each secondary school for two days per week to act as a school sport coordinator
  • the release of one teacher from each of the primary/special schools for 12 days per year to act as link teachers and build up subject leadership and expertise
  • the appointment of a specialist link teacher (one for every two secondary schools in the partnership) to fill the gaps created by releasing teachers from the timetable.

Signs of improvement

In September 2005, the DfES commissioned a survey of school sport following the improved funding arrangements. Almost 11,500 of the partnership schools were surveyed and the results for the primary sector showed significant improvement in the time spent by pupils on high quality sporting activity. There was an increase in the number of pupils in Y5/6 registered as ‘gifted and talented’ due to their sporting ability.

The survey seems to reveal a primary school population which is moving towards the government target of two hours per week participation in sport during/after school. Doubts on their ability to meet this were expressed in the Daily Mail on Saturday 29 July 2006 by Don Foster, the Lib Dem sports spokesman. Under the headline ‘£360m of sport cash “is unspent”’, he questioned the success of government policy. The counter arguments expressed by the government spokesman add little but party rhetoric to the debate, with no conclusive proof.

This article first appeared in Primary Headship – Sep 2006

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