School sporting priorities

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The Youth Sport Trust national conference this week shines a spotlight on school sport. John Steele looks at the implications of recent developments including curriculum and accountability changes, and the Sport Premium.

Through my role at the Youth Sport Trust, I have contact with headteachers across the country, and through this interaction it has become abundantly clear that watching out for education policy change and being cognisant of the implications for their schools and pupils is now a daily part of their role.

In the PE and school sport sector, which has had its fair share of debate and newspaper headlines in recent years, there has been a range of developments for headteachers to keep abreast of, many of which have the potential to have a positive impact if schools grasp the opportunity.

At the Youth Sport Trust’s national conference in Telford this week (February 5 and 6), 500 headteachers, teachers and school sport professionals gathered to discuss the most pressing issues in the sector, which will include debate over how schools make best use of the £150 million-a-year investment from government in its Sport Premium.

This funding was first announced in 2013 for a two-year period but has recently been extended until 2016. Importantly, it is ring-fenced for PE and school sport.

While the funding is dedicated for primary schools, where initial teacher training and CPD in PE is a real issue, I strongly believe that there is a key role for secondary schools to play.

The Youth Sport Trust has always advocated the advantages of working in partnership, and over the last year we have been encouraging primary and secondary schools to work collaboratively to make effective use of this funding.

Secondary and primary schools have different specialist areas of knowledge and expertise. By working together they increase the potential of the Sport Premium having a long-term and sustained impact on the achievement of young people. It can be simple things like sharing resources, facilities, and training and development opportunities that can greatly benefit schools and young people.

For example, Southville Junior School in Hounslow is buying into a partnership called Sport Impact which is hosted at Isleworth and Syon Secondary School. It is allowing them to work with other schools in the area, generating more ideas and motivating pupils and staff. And Swanton Morley Primary in Norfolk has been working with a local high school to provide high-quality PE experiences and is improving the depth of knowledge in the subject by its teaching staff.

Of course there are other concerns for secondary schools and it is clear from the headteacher briefings we have held recently that one key area is the developing policy changes around curriculum, qualifications and school accountability.

Many headteachers are worried about the potential negative impact that school performance measure changes could have on the place of PE in the curriculum, as well as the extra-curricular sport and physical activity offer. We hear that some schools are squeezing the time available for PE as their response to having an increased focus on English Baccalaureate subjects. 

While I understand the pressure to produce results around core subjects, decreasing or removing altogether quality PE will have very harmful long-term consequences for a whole generation.

However, it has been heartening to hear that many headteachers are looking to actively promote the significance of PE and sport as part of a refreshed curriculum. By being clear about the important role the subject has on improving the overall wellbeing and academic performance of young people, they are positioning the subject in the strongest possible way.

Meanwhile, the new national curriculum, which is being phased in from September, will allow schools greater flexibility in terms of their PE offer and the opportunity for it to be designed locally could be beneficial. 

What works for a school in the inner city is likely to be very different to that in rural Devon or Dorset, and the freedoms the curriculum will bring will allow schools to design a PE offer that can meet the specific needs of its pupils.

The Youth Sport Trust continues to keep a close eye on policy developments, ensuring Parliamentary debate on the issue of PE and sport is as informed as possible. We are particularly keen to ensure that the position of PE as a curriculum subject and its related qualifications remain strong and valued in any new system so as not to disadvantage schools with high participation and attainment in this subject area.

Later this year, we will be launching opportunities through Youth Sport Trust Partner Schools to explore best practice and how PE, sport and physical activity can be used to effectively raise achievement for targeted groups. This work hopes to support all schools to ensure that PE and school sport can continue to be an effective driver for both individual student achievement and school improvement.

When discussing PE and school sport there is the natural link between the subject and the health and wellbeing of the nation. The Department of Health’s Change4Life Sports Clubs, which are delivered by the Youth Sport Trust, are working well to educate young people about the importance of having a healthy, active lifestyle and will continue to grow in the coming year. Since the clubs started in 2011, 225,000 children have joined.

Looking ahead we must not lose sight of the wider benefits of PE and sport and the positive impact it can have on a young person’s emotional wellbeing, cognitive abilities and social skills.


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