I’ve been trying to think if there are any positives to the thirteen years of Labour Party government. The negatives are all too obvious. I suppose there was Sure Start, which bravely attempted to break the cycle of deprivation and low aspiration. Then there was devolution which, as Europe becomes inevitably more of a centralised authority, was a definite step in the democratic direction. The minimum wage, paltry as it is, and feebly enforced as it, again was a tiny but significant step in the direction away from workplace exploitation.

And rarely acknowledged, but socially useful all the same, was the Labour administration’s efforts to resurrect school sport via, amongst other things, the school- sport partnerships. Along with sport colleges and community coaching programmes, Britain took a few brave steps towards its European partners in terms of school and community sports provision. Well, it’s all gone now!

 

Last week the Coalition’s strategic spending review did away with the Youth Sports Trust who were the quango that funded the successful school sports partnerships. There absence, given the wholesale slashing of local government budgets, will leave a giant hole in the after-school and inter-school programme. There was so much depressing news last week that it is not surprising that this little bombshell missed out on the headlines but ever vigilant David Conn, writing in The Guardian, 21/10/10 was right on the pulse. Conn starts his piece with the gloomiest of introductions:

‘It was never going to be easy watching Conservative ministers make swinging cuts to the national sporting infrastructure. For those who since 1997 have worked to greatly improve the shattered landscape the Tories left behind last time round, yesterday was bitter.’

Then moving to the grim facts and figures, Conn explains;

‘Sue Campbell, the Chair of the Youth Sports Trust, described as "devastating" the £160m cut to the schools PE and sport budget. That abolishes 450 School Sport Partnerships, which have worked to hugely increase pupils’ links between schools and with clubs.’

Quoting a Steve Gates, director of sports specialism at Bradford’s Tong High School, Conn writes;

"It takes a long time to build up a successful operation, with the relationships we have and systems which work well, but it takes very little time to destroy. There is now a real risk of it all collapsing.’

Having spent the last three years working in such a Schools Sport Partnership, I can only echo those sentiments. Three years in, and I can really see the fruits of my labours, with pathways of progression firmly established, good relationships with individual schools and the borough, and a general buzz amongst the students that sport can be both fun and rewarding. Now it is down to the individual schools to take up the baton, but PE departments are ill-equipped to perform this task. After school clubs they can just about manage but inter-school matches and exit routes for the more ambitious is beyond their resources. The buzz will soon be lost.

Then there is the so called Olympic legacy. Sebastian Coe and Tony Blair both spoke of the Olympics inspiring a new generation to take up sport. But if the grassroots infrastructure has been dismantled, this worthy aspiration cannot come to fruition. Watching some high level athletes on TV for a couple of weeks is one thing, getting youngsters to change their cultural habits from slothfulness and street gangs to self motivated sporting pursuits is quite another. Intricate pathways at the most basic level are needed. Smashing the existing networks is not helpful. In fact it is an act of vandalism inspired by a hatred of the state rather than a necessary financial saving. After all, we are only talking about £160m – about a couple of hours worth of fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Olympic bid stated it would get 2million more people actively involved in sport. That was a noble but hugely ambitious target. With the new Chicago school regime now installed in Downing Street, you can safely knock off a few noughts from that target.

End. JPK 24/10/10 Copyright

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