David Cameron made a spirited defence of school sport this morning when he appeared on LBC radio. Waving a sheet of paper triumphantly, the Prime Minister argued that the 20 school playing field sales that Michael Gove had signed off were actually schools that had closed, surplus fields and ‘surplus marginal school land’.
He also defended the decision to remove a compulsory target for all children to take part in two hours of sport a week:
Well, look, we haven’t done that, you know, sport is part of the national curriculum and we want schools to deliver sport and I think that’s very important, but frankly, and we’re putting a lot of money in, there’s a billion pounds going into school sport over the next four years. But frankly if the only problem was money, you’d solve this with money. The problem isn’t money, the problem has been too many schools not wanting to have competitive sport, some teachers not really wanting to join in and play their part and so if we want to have a great sporting legacy for our children, and I do: I’ve got an eight year-old, a six year-old and a two year-old and I want them to play competitive sport, and they want to play competitive sport, we’ve got to have an answer that brings the whole of society together to crack this. More competition, more competitiveness, more getting rid of the idea of all must win prizes and you can’t do competitive sports day.
That’s going to make teachers happy: it’s their fault for not wanting to join in with sport, although it is certainly one of the downsides of primary school teachers taking every lesson rather than just their subject specialty.
But as well as advocating a ‘culture change in favour of competitive sports’ in schools, the Prime Minister also suggested he was keen on taking the onus on encouraging children into sporting activity away from teachers and towards ‘the whole of society’. Using his own children’s village sports club as an example, he said it was essential to ‘back the clubs, get the clubs into the schools, link the schools with the clubs’. Cameron doesn’t mention the Big Society much these days, but it’s clear he sees this as an integral part of the Olympic legacy.
Incidentally, a far more powerful piece of evidence that sports teaching in schools is failing isn’t the representation of state schools in our Olympic medal tables, but the soaring obesity in our society. Teachers – and those local sports clubs – don’t just need to encourage the children with the most sporting potential to climb all the way to the top of their tree, but also encourage a love of physical activity in all their pupils that continues into later life. Obesity costs our health service far more than it does to bring in the medal haul we’ve enjoyed so far at the Olympics: the direct cost of obesity to the NHS is estimated at £5.1 billion per year, while £264.1 million has been invested in Olympic sports.