On 17 July 2017, the Education Secretary Justine Greening announced an extra £1.3bn of funding over the next three years for England’s schools. At first, it appeared that the government had finally started to listen to the many headteachers and parents who’d been warning of the dire consequences of budget cuts for months. (I wrote about the funding crisis here: http://bit.ly/SchoolBudgets) However, it quickly emerged that the so-called “new” funding was in fact recycled money from within the existing DfE budget. Therefore, not only was the pledge at least £1.7bn short of what was required in order to protect school budgets in real terms (the IFS later pointed out that £1.3bn equated to a real terms cut of 5%), it was also a clear case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Although it is not yet clear where Greening intends to find this money – if there really are £1.3bn worth of efficiency savings to be made then questions must be asked about how effectively she has been running her department – what we do know is that £280m will be cut from the free schools programme (suggesting a stark shift in policy as 30 of the 140 planned new schools will be local authority-run not free schools under central government control) and £315m will be cut from the healthy pupils project funding. It is this latter cut that causes me most concern. Healthy pupils project funding pays for sporting facilities and after-school activities, as well as healthy eating. It is less than five months since Greening trumpeted this investment (oddly, the total amount pledged for 2018/19 was £1.3bn!) as a way to “help pupils benefit from healthier, more active lifestyles”. “Schools will be able to use the new healthy pupils capital programme to improve facilities for children with physical conditions or support young people struggling with mental health issues,” the DfE promised in February 2017. The healthy pupils project funding “builds on wider government work such as the recent sports strategy,” we were told. I can only assume that most of this investment will now be shelved and that school sport – and the promotion of healthy lifestyles more generally – will once again be pushed to the back of the queue and to the bottom of the government’s education agenda. I last wrote about this in the summer of 2012 (is it really 5 years ago?) when the London Olympics brought the dire state of school sports funding into the spotlight. Below is the article I wrote which, in light of this week’s announcement, seems apt for a re-read…
What a difference a day makes
What a difference a day makes. Twenty-four little hours is all it took to turn us into a nation of Olympics junkies. Prior to the opening ceremony, there was little, if any, enthusiasm for the games and the press were more concerned with security failings, corporate fascism and the gratuitous cost to the taxpayer of hosting a glorified summer fete, than they were with the sporting hopes and ambitions of our country’s greatest athletes
A survey in one of the national newspapers a week before kick-off suggested that 85% of Britons didn’t care about the Olympics. And it’s hardly surprising when you consider that the front (and indeed back) pages of those newspapers were full of stories about the Orwellian nature of Olympic policing. We learnt, for example, that brand names on everything from hand-dryers to urinals at the Olympic Park were being covered up in a bid to prevent companies who hadn’t paid the king’s ransom from benefitting from their association with the games, and that a butcher from the midlands was being ordered to remove the Olympic rings he’d patriotically displayed in his shop window by a group of Olympic storm-troopers. And then came the farcical incompetence of security contractor, G4S, to recruit and train enough security guards and x-ray scanners to prevent what we were told was an inevitable terrorist attack.
And so it went on. The Olympics was portrayed as nothing more than a corrupt and costly waste of our country’s time and energies.
Until, that is, the opening ceremony.
The opening ceremony
In an astonishing feat of creative genius, Danny Boyle managed to please all but a handful of mad right-wingers (who bemoaned the politically-correct undertones of a show which celebrated the NHS, and denounced it as ‘multicultural crap’) with his tour de force opening ceremony in which he plotted the history of these ‘isles of wonder’ through the medium of song and dance. From fields of green emerged smoking chimneys and dark satanic mills. In one memorable sequence, a glowing Olympic ring rose skywards from a bubbling white-hot furnace. Then came the Beatles and the First World War (and history teachers across the country groaned at the thought of explaining that strange chronology). And Mr Bean playing a piano. And Tim Berners-Lee and Dizzy Rascal. And some teenagers texting each other and updating their Facebook statuses.
I’m not really doing it justice: it was magnificent, a veritable smorgasbord of Britishness. Following the embarrassment of Beckham, Boris and the London bus at the Beijing handover, my expectations were low. But, against all the odds, the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games surpassed even Beijing for spectacle. The ceremony didn’t just prove to the rest of the world that Britain is Great; it proved beyond doubt that Britain makes the rest of the world great, too.
Sadly – and this is not a reflection on the ceremony but on my age and stamina – I fell asleep before the lighting of the cauldron and had the strangest dream that the Queen jumped out of a plane with James Bond. But I digress…
The point I’m making is this: the opening ceremony galvanised the country. Suddenly, we were all excited. Out of the blue, we developed a passion for dressage and handball (admit it, you didn’t even know it was a sport before this summer, did you?). Out of the blue, we added words like ‘keirin’ and ‘omnium’ to our vocabularies. And, out of the blue, we descended on our local Halfords and began cycling in earnest. Suddenly, the streets were filled with overweight, middle-aged men wheezing their way up hills in ill-fitting shorts and tee-shirts (or was that just me?).
All that talk of security concerns and overbearing corporate sponsorship practically dissipated overnight. We rejoiced in the spectacle of watching people at the top of their sports competing for supremacy in a range of superhuman feats. Suddenly, we cared. We were transfixed, glued to our TV screens (struggling to choose which one of the BBC’s twenty-four dedicated Olympics channels to watch).
And just when we thought the Olympics couldn’t get any better, Team GB won a gold medal. Then another. And another. And another. At the time of writing, we have won 26 golds and 59 medals in total. This has proved to be our most successful games since 1908. We are third in the medal table, and comfortably so. If you consider that the two nations above us have far bigger populations, our achievement is even greater: according to my ‘back of the envelope’ calculations, China has won 1 gold medal for every 37 million of its population; we have won 1 medal for every 2 million.
Bradley Wiggins won his seventh Olympic medal (four of which are gold) to become the most decorated British Olympian of all time. His title didn’t last long. Sir Chris Hoy soon won his seventh medal – six of which are gold – and surpassed Sir Steve Redgrave as our greatest ever Olympian. The country started to run out of superlatives to describe the miracles taking place in E20.
One night I let my daughters stay up late with us to watch the athletics. Usually, they’d feign interest in someone running fast or jumping high in order to delay their bedtime but this time they were genuinely interested. We bit our nails, sucked air through our teeth and roared with delight as Jessica Ennis won gold in the heptathlon with a breathtaking British record display in the 800m, Greg Rutherford won gold with a 8.16m leap in the long jump, and Mo Farah won gold in the 10,000m – the first Briton ever to do so. It really was Super Saturday!
London 2012 was shaping up to be the best Olympics of my lifetime.
And then someone went and spoilt it all.
School sport is patchy
In a sleight of hand presumably designed to help us forget that sordid News International business, the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt declared that the quality of school sport was “patchy”. And we all knew he wasn’t referring to what took place on the playing fields of Eton. No, this was yet another attack on state schools. And just when we teachers thought we were safe: basking in the better-late-than-never sunshine at the end of an academic year peppered with bullet holes from Michael Gove’s scattergun after he’d taken potshots at the education profession (the year ended, lest we forget, with a direct hit: Gove announced that teachers in academy schools no longer needed to be qualified). And so we sought solace in a summer of sport; the Olympics was meant to be balm for our hurt minds.
But it wasn’t to be.
Schools are blamed for everything: we know this only too well and are, by now, used to it: as soon as I heard about the London riots last summer, I waited with baited breath for the first politician to blame the violence on poor discipline in schools; when the perennial teenage pregnancy statistics are released, there’s always a queue of (un)worthies lining up outside Millbank Studios waiting to blame it on the quality of sex education and a lack of moral instruction in our schools; knife crime – it’s schools’ faults; the grocer’s apostrophe – ditto. Even ever-improving exam results are down to falling standards in education, a sign that tests are getting easier or that teachers are colluding with exam boards. Heaven forbid that a politician should accept that the quality of teaching is improving and that students are working harder and smarter than ever before.
So, this summer it’s the turn of PE teachers to take the hit. Schools are being blamed for falling standards in sports education; falling standards which have led to an apparent disparity in the number of Olympic medal-winners who were privately educated and the number who went to state schools.
Hunt told the BBC: “At the moment school sport provision is patchy in some places and we need to do what we can to make sure that the very best examples are spread throughout the whole country and this is absolutely going to be a focus over the next few months and one of the things we really want to take away from these Games.”
The worst statistic in sport
Hot on Hunt’s heels, the head of the British Olympic Association, Lord Moynihan, said that state schools weren’t producing enough top athletes. He said it was wholly unacceptable that 50% of the medal-winning sportspeople at the Beijing games hailed from private schools. (Lest you be impressed by his title, it’s worth noting that ‘Lord Moynihan’ is the former Conservative sports minister, Colin Moynihan.)
It is, Moynihan said, one of the “worst statistics in British sport” that half of Great Britain’s medals came from just 7% of the population [who were privately educated].
An analysis of the team representing Britain at this summer’s games is not much better: about a third of the team was privately educated and about 50% of our gold medallists (at the time of writing) are from private schools including Chris Hoy and Ben Ainslie.
Lord Moynihan called for an urgent review of school sport policy. “There is so much talent out there in the 93% [of people in state schools] that should be identified and developed. That has got to be a priority for future sports policy.”
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Menzies Campbell – also an accomplished athlete in his day who held the 100m record – backed Moynihan’s plea. He told The Guardian: “For far too long in this country we have turned against competitive sport in schools but there is no doubt in my mind that if we are to sustain the wonderful legacy from these Olympic Games we must accept that competition is the very lifeblood of sporting achievement.”
Lord Moynihan said Olympic sport should aim to have the same ratio of state to private school students as football: “Football is different,” he said. “The balance of professional football is that around 7% of players come from the private sector, which is an absolute mirror image of society. That should be the case in every single sport and that should be the priority in each and every sport and that is something that every government should strive for.”
And soon everyone was talking about it.
Cameron caught on the hop
David Cameron, seemingly caught on the hop, blamed teachers. The prime minister told LBC Radio that there needs to be “a big cultural change” towards sport in schools if Britain is to capitalise on Team GB’s Olympic wins. He called for a more “competitive ethos” in schools. He said, “The problem [is] some teachers not wanting to join in and play their part.”
“I would like to promote competitive sport,” Cameron said. “We need more competition, more competitiveness, getting rid of the idea of all-must-have prizes and you cannot have competitive sports days. We need a big cultural change in favour of competitive sports.”
So, to summarise: sport in state schools was being attacked for not producing enough medal-winners on two fronts: that it wasn’t competitive enough (sports days were namby-pamby winner-takes-nothing affairs) and that teachers weren’t playing their part in helping young people achieve their sporting potential (they were lazy left-wingers who left school at 3.30 every day to count their pension pots).
In other words, state schools were letting the country down because they weren’t – like their private school counterparts – providing enough quality sports instruction and weren’t providing instruction in enough sporting disciplines.
Hmm. I think you can see where this is going… It’s a shame that Hunt, Moynihan and Cameron didn’t have the same common sense and foresight to realise that they were to blame for much of what (they claim) is wrong and that their criticisms would soon come back to haunt them.
When presented with a few unfavourable facts, for example, Cameron tried to defend his government’s decision to scrap Labour’s target of two hours per week of school sport by asserting that the target had been a mere box-ticking exercise. But, as a result of it being axed, schools were no longer duty-bound to provide weekly PE lessons and, under intense pressure for better results in core subjects and trying to deal with spending cuts, many stopped doing so.
Cameron and his cohorts were soon being asked: how can schools provide quality sports education when your government cut the funding that allowed it to do so; how can schools provide quality sports education when your government continues to sell off playing fields? In short, how can schools provide more, and more varied, sports when they don’t have the money or the facilities?
So, if school sports provision is patchy, then Cameron and Hunt must take their share of the blame: it was their government which cut funding for school sport. And, as Liz Nicholl, the chief executive of UK Sport (which funds Team GB’s athletes), says: the success of any high performance system “depends on the right level of investment”.
“We can provide those inspirational moments through the success of the athletes in order to inspire the youngsters, but we do have to invest in schools, in teachers, in coaches, in talent to achieve that success,” Nicholl added.
Let’s take a step back and consider why so many people were offended by Hunt and Cameron’s remarks…
Gove’s swingeing cuts
One of Michael Gove’s first acts as Education Secretary in 2010 was to scrap the government’s £162million-a-year funding of School Sports Partnerships (local networks of schools and PE teachers). SSPs were popular. Indeed, in opposition, the Conservatives shadow sports minister Hugh Robertson had praised the partnerships and promised that his party would build on them if elected. The partnerships had achieved notable success, too; not least in terms of getting more students across England to be physically active during school hours. The number of students in England doing at least two hours of physical education per week rose from 25% in 2002 to over 85% in 2010. The partnerships also helped free up PE teachers – by funding administrators – to work with more young people in their communities; they helped pay for inter-school competitions and for secondary schools to work with local clusters of primaries; and, by creating partnerships between schools and sports clubs, they helped widen the range of sporting activities on offer.
When Gove scrapped funding, there was an outcry and he made a partial U-turn, allocating a relatively meagre £65million a year instead of the previous £162million. It’s worth noting that, not only was this a much smaller sum, but it was also only available until 2013 and was no longer ring-fenced, meaning Headteachers could decide to spend it on other things (and who could blame some Heads for doing just that: they have to prioritise their spending and are led by government policy – the coalition government have told us time and again that the core subjects are what matters most and the International Baccalaureate has been taking on more and more significance in the league tables).
The Youth Sport Trust predicted that Gove’s decision would mean “carnage” for school sport and, two years later, their gloomy prediction appears to be coming true: only 30% of local authorities still have a fully-functioning SSP. According to a recent Labour party survey, 48% of local councils in England have fewer SSPs than they did in 2010 and 28% no longer have any SSPs.
Let’s return to Colin Moynihan who said that there is wasted talent among the 93% of students who are state school educated. I agree: the talent is definitely out there; there is no innate difference between private and state school students – privately educated students are not, despite what Rupert Murdoch and Toby Young seem to believe, superior athletes. Nor are they superior in any other way except in the privilege which is afforded to them and the privileges which they can afford.
I disagree with Moynihan on several other points, however: not least his claim that the Conservative party is responsible for improving sports education and can be credited with our current Olympics renaissance; a claim Cameron has since repeated. It does him no credit to make this a party political battle – to suggest his party heralded a new sporting spring – not least because the facts are stacked up against him.
As Labour’s former sports minister Richard Caborn explains, it was during 13 years of Labour administration that funding increased and sports facilities got better: “We did invest very heavily in sport under the Blair administration. The success in the Olympics is a result of the investment we put into UK sports. Moynihan shouldn’t be rewriting history, he should be reflecting on what we did over the last decade to get us to where we are now.”
It’s not about party politics
Although my own political views are perhaps by now obvious, I truly believe that this issue is not and should not be about political points-scoring: as far as I am concerned, John Major and Tony Blair can share the political glory. Major introduced National Lottery funding for elite sports and this is surely one of the secrets of our cycling success. Team GB’s cycling team is better funded than its nearest rivals. But Tony Blair picked up the baton and increased school sports funding exponentially, introduced SSPs and set a target that meant schools had to timetable more weekly sports.
It’s not about party politics – indeed many Conservatives are passionate about improving state school sports through extra funding and opposed slashing the SSP budget. I am not suggesting that the Conservative party is to blame and that Labour are our altruistic benefactors. But I do believe that Cameron’s government – and foremost, Michael Gove – have acted recklessly and immorally in dismantling state education in this country. For Cameron and Hunt to then suggest that teachers are to blame for falling standards is the very height of ignorance and/or arrogance.
Cameron’s claim that teachers are to blame, it seems to me, is a classic – and transparent – example of passing the buck in the hope that people will forget that it was his government that began dismantling state school sport. But then he’s a gold medal winner at passing the buck.
Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says Cameron’s suggestion is frankly ludicrous: “What we need is the support of government, not the shifting of blame,” Blower told The Guardian. “It’s not because of teachers that funding for the School Sport Partnership has been so drastically reduced. Nor is it down to teachers that playing fields are being sold off, despite election promises.”
Blower went on to say that Cameron’s remarks were ‘foolhardy’: “Many Team GB medallists attended state school,” she pointed out, “which makes ludicrous his suggestion that teachers are letting the side down. We know of many teachers who are spending time from their summer break taking children from their schools to the Games.”
Malcolm Trobe, the deputy general secretary of school leader’s union ASCL, added: “We all want to build on the immense success of our Olympic teams and we understand that schools have an important part to play in this. However, the prime minister’s criticisms of school sport are ill-informed, unfair and fail to recognise the huge contribution that many teachers make to sports in schools. Many teachers, not just PE staff, willingly give of their time to motivate and coach young people in a wide range of sports.”
The Labour party was also quick to defend its record and question Cameron’s comments:
The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, criticised the government’s decision to end the target of two hours of school sport per week, saying support structures needed to be in place “at the grassroots” to “inspire the next generation”.
The former Olympics minister Dame Tessa Jowell said the government was wrong about Labour’s approach to competitive sport. But rather than fuel the fire, she urged politicians of all parties to unite around a cross-party 10-year strategy for sport. She also called for the reintroduction of PE lessons in primary schools taught by properly trained teachers as well as more funding to promote partnerships between schools and investment in school sports facilities.
Speaking on Radio 4′s Today programme, Jowell pledged Labour would take part in delivering a cross-party plan “to create [the] stability that has delivered the Olympics”.
“One of the reasons the Olympics have been so successful in their planning and execution is that all the parties have worked together in the national interest, built a national consensus about how to deliver the Olympics. I think that sense of unity of purpose should be applied to delivering this legacy.”
This 10-year commitment should not only involve the government and local councils, she said, but also sports governing bodies and the five million volunteers who work in sport.
What can be done?
So, aside from political spats about who is to blame for the current state of school sports (be it the Tories, Labour or lazy teachers), what can be done to address the situation?
In my opinion, we need to do two things:
- Paint a more accurate picture of state school sports.
- Work together – political parties of every hue, education and sports professionals, and parents and communities – to ensure we build on this year’s Olympic successes and emulate them in Rio and beyond.
1. Paint a more accurate picture of state school sports
Before we begin to address the issues inherent in state school sport, we need to understand the current lay of the land better. In order to build a new consensus, we need solid foundations. At the moment, we are starting from a false premise.
You see, the image Hunt, Cameron and Moynihan (among others) have painted is inaccurate. They suggest that teachers don’t give up their time to help inspire the next generation. They are wrong. They suggest that schools no longer promote competition and run competitive sports. They are wrong. They suggest that private school students enjoy more Olympic success than their state school counterparts. They are wrong.
Teachers up and down this country (and not just our wonderfully committed PE teachers who, in my experience, give up every lunch time and time after school in order to run sports practices and competitive matches; but all our teachers who willingly volunteer their time and expertise to inspire and coach young people) are passionate about developing their students’ sporting talents. This should be recognised and celebrated, not denigrated or taken for granted.
Schools may indeed prize taking part as much as they do winning. Schools may indeed foster a non-threatening atmosphere where values such as respect and fairness, empathy and team-work are given their due importance. (After all, isn’t this also called ‘sportsmanship’?) But they have not – contrary to David Cameron and Daily Mail scaremongering – shied away from competitive sport. In fact, 98% of schools in England and Wales continue to run annual sports days. And most of these are competitive sports days. Most schools still run myriad sports teams which take part in local, regional and national competitions.
And state schools spawn an impressive number of sporting heroes despite lacking the same money and facilities as private schools. This summer’s gold medallists Andy Murray, Bradley Wiggans, Helen Glover, Victoria Pendleton, Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farato to name a few) – as well as Sir Steve Redgrave before them – all went to state schools. Ennis, Farah and others were quick to recognise and praise the help and support of their former PE teachers. Redgrave, incidentally, cites his former English teacher with encouraging him to row.
2. Work together to ensure we emulate this summer’s Olympic successes
To do this, we need to:
a) understand why private schools do better
b) provide adequate funding
c) get people involved
d) provide the right infrastructure
e) improve primary school provision
f) raise the profile of coaches
a) Understand why private schools do better
Firstly, we need to understand why private schools have more success in elite sports. For, although state schools provide their fair share of medallists overall, there is no denying that some sports (e.g. sailing, equestrianism) remain the preserve of private schools. This is simple enough: private schools can afford to devote more time to sport, and have better facilities and often top-class coaches. It’s not difficult to see why private schools have better facilities when you consider many parents pay in excess of £30,000 a year for the privilege of sending their sons and daughters to the school – and that’s not taking into account the additional expense of boarding.
There are more important things in life than money, of course; but a certain amount of capital is important when the cost of taking part in a sport such as sailing or the equestrian events is so high.
So what can be done to level the playing field..?
b) Provide adequate funding
All the evidence shows that when money is invested in state school sports, results get better. Ten years ago, a programme was launched to pick teenagers with the necessary physique from comprehensive schools to become elite rowers. As a result, 50% of the rowing team at London 2012 are from state schools.
Sadly, though, money isn’t forthcoming. The Charities Aid Foundation released figures showing that the income of local sports clubs and charities has fallen 15% since 2004. So, whilst Britain has been preparing to host the Olympic games in London, and amidst much talk of ‘legacy’, funding for school sport has been declining.
Richard Harrison, director of research at CAF, said the last eight years had been tough for many sports clubs and charities: “The financial pressures facing many community charities, running sports clubs, maintaining playing fields and keeping local facilities open, mirrors the difficult financial climate facing many charities.”
c) Get people involved
As well as money, schools and clubs need people to give their time and expertise.
Harrison adds: “We need people to keep backing local sports clubs and charities as well, to ensure they can continue to support grassroots sport, and all the other causes we care about.”
d) Provide the right infrastructure
As well as money and people, schools and clubs need the right infrastructure. Sadly, though, the government continues to sell off school sports fields.
It would be easy to use lazy journalese here and lambast the coalition government for breaking an election promise: after all, Michael Gove has approved the sale of more than 20 school sports fields in the past two years despite a clear pledge by the coalition government to protect school playing fields in England.
It would also be easy to draw a link between the sale of school pitches and a decline in school sports: after all, although a government spokeswoman said that sales of sports fields are only approved “if the sports needs of schools and their neighbouring schools can continue to be met”, it seems highly unlikely that the government pays much attention to students’ needs when you consider that a staggering 21 out of 22 requests have been given the go-ahead by the Department for Education since Gove took office and that the 22nd request remains under consideration.
However, in the interests of balance, we should also consider the following:
- The criteria for agreeing a sale include ensuring that there are enough remaining playing fields for local schools and communities and that sale proceeds are re-invested in sport facilities; and
- The coalition government has clarified that of the 21 fields approved for sale, 14 belonged to schools which have closed, 4 have become surplus to requirements as a result of two or more schools amalgamating, and 1 was surplus grassland on the school site, not a sports pitch. The proceeds of all the sales, we are told, have been invested in the school libraries and better sports changing facilities. The remaining 2 fields were improved by developers and leased back for use by the schools and local communities.
- Sales of school fields have gone on for many years and under red and blue executives alike (although, admittedly, Labour has proven the more cautious): Labour sold off over 200 fields during the 13 years it was in power; the Tories sold 10,000 between 1979 and 1997.
- Even so, state schools need more investment in their facilities if they are to compete fairly in the future. We need a coherent, long-term plan not short-term money-making schemes.
e) Improve primary school provision
The government has pledged to channel 60% of Sport England’s £1bn Olympic ‘legacy’ funding over the next five years on 14-25 year olds. But there also needs to be a plan for improving PE in primary schools – this can be realised in part by funding more SSPs enabling qualified PE teachers to work with their local primary clusters. Dame Kelly Holmes has already called for there to be PE specialists in every primary school and for sport to be a compulsory subject. In addition to this, we should build stronger links between our schools and local community sports clubs.
f) Raise the profile of coaches and improve sports administration
Almost every Team GB medallist has praised his or her coach. But coaches – whether they be teachers, volunteers or professionals – are still undervalued and underpaid. In America and parts of mainland Europe, being a sports coach to children confers a wage and a social status commensurate with its importance: we need to catch up.
Sports administration in this country is, to use Hunt’s word, patchy. It is also confusing because the jurisdiction of various organisations overlap. At best, this leads to arguments; at worse, to a lack of action. These myriad organisations might have put aside their perennial disputes about money and supremacy for the duration of the Olympic Games, but there is always a danger that disputes will return soon after the closing ceremony. Sir Keith Mills, who completed a review of sports administration for the Department for Culture Media and Sport, recommended we start from scratch with a national plan for elite, grassroots and school sport. This will involve cross-party consensus and a genuine long-term vision but it will reap rewards for Rio and beyond.
And, if all else fails…
…we can sit back and enjoy the fall-out of this debate for the remainder of our summer holidays.
The government’s attacks on teachers and state schools have already begun to haunt them. It was the height of arrogance (or foolishness) for a government which cut school sports funding and scrapped targets intended to ensure all students were given two-hours of sporting practice every week to blame schools for declining standards in sports education.
David Cameron found himself struggling to ‘sell’ a coherent government policy on school sport after the Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said that all schools should offer two hours of compulsory sport every day like his school, Eton – a call which stood in stark contrast to Cameron who had just dismissed the previous Labour government’s target of two hours every week, saying it was a “piece of pointless Whitehall box-ticking”.
Then the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told journalists that the education secretary, Michael Gove, was due to make a new announcement about school sport – but it was an announcement about which Downing Street claimed to have no knowledge.
The sporting world soon began to lobby the government for a U-turn on the spending cuts wielded by Michael Gove last year. Jessica Ennis’s school coach, Chris Eccles, told The Guardian that the provision of sport in primary schools is hit-and-miss, largely because of a lack of dedicated PE teachers.
A YouGov poll for Channel 5 showed strong support for more school sport: 63% of respondents agreed that the national curriculum should include more time for sport and physical education.
Even the right-wing press has turned on the government: The Sun and The Telegraph have each launched campaigns demanding the government do more to support sport.
So it yet may come to pass that the government’s attacks on state school teachers will lead to the government being under intense pressure to act: to form a cross-party consensus aimed at increasing funding for schools and improving the nation’s sporting infrastructure.
There may yet be hope for we armchair Olympians: yes, we may have a four year wait but we might yet face the prospect of another fabulous fortnight of British sporting heroism in Rio.
Follow me on Twitter: @mj_bromley