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Competitive Sports (Schools)

Volume 504: debated on Monday 18 January 2010

There has been a steady rise in the number of young people taking up competitive sport since 2003, thanks to the large investment in both schools sport in general and competitive sport in particular, so that, for example, 100 per cent. of primary schools and 98 per cent. of secondary schools held sports days in the past academic year.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response, but notwithstanding his comments, a recent report by the British Heart Foundation found that more than 1.5 million children are either overweight or obese. Given that, how do the Government propose to deal with the fact that less than a fifth of pupils in years 3 to 13 regularly take part in active sport between schools?

That is not strictly the case. If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at the figures, instead of the rather tendentious coverage of them given by one or two newspapers, he will find that whereas only one in four children did at least two hours of high-quality PE and sport each week in 2002, more than 90 per cent. of children do so now. When it comes to competitive sport between schools, 69 per cent. of pupils were involved in competitive sports within schools, on top of their regular PE, and 44 per cent. of schools were involved in inter-school activities. Each of those figures is higher than the year before, and each figure for the year before was higher than the year before that. There has been a year-on-year increase. However, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the way to get school and pupil activity up is by continuing to invest in this area, which is something that his party is not committed to doing.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to join me in congratulating Iqbal Singh Bola, a British gold medallist in taekwondo who has lived in Slough since he was born in 1989? He provides an inspiration for other young people in sport. Will my right hon. Friend urge communities to recognise the contribution that excellence and winning in sport can make to fostering aspiration among young people?

Yes, I gladly congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituent. She makes a good point, because she has named a sport mentioned by some who are critical of the broad range of sports and physical activities now offered to children in schools. Not only traditional sports but less traditional ones are being offered, which means that some children who would not otherwise have become physically active or involved in sport are now doing so, like her constituent.

Will the Minister then support the Conservative initiative for a schools Olympics? Does it not fit in with his policy, and would it not be another way to improve health care?

We already have what I would call two schools Olympics. They are the UK School Games, which give elite athletes from our schools a chance to compete annually, and National School Sport week, which involves every school in the country competing. I do not know what would be new about the Conservatives’ idea except that they would have a major row with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games for copyright reasons if they tried to use the Olympics name.