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School Sports Funding

Volume 519: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2010

I beg to move,

That this House congratulates the Youth Sport Trust on achieving major advances in youth sport over the past decade; believes that a good school sports policy must always be a combination of competition with coaching and opportunities for all to participate; notes that the number of young people doing two hours of sport a week has risen from 25 per cent. in 2002 to at least 90 per cent. last year, with over 1.6 million more young people involved in competitive sport between schools than in 2006; believes that removing funding for the Youth Sport Trust, cutting the specialist school status and dismantling School Sport Partnerships will undermine the Olympic legacy and the fight against obesity in young people; and therefore calls on the Government to reverse this decision, and to work with the Youth Sport Trust to find a solution that does not deprive children of the many health, wellbeing and educational advantages they gain from school sport.

We stand on the brink of arguably the biggest moment for sport in our country’s history. This is a one-off chance to lift the place of sport in our society and inspire a new generation. Today is a good moment to remind ourselves why we won the right to host London 2012. With cross-party support, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) set challenging but achievable targets that included, by 2012, getting 2 million more people physically active, 1 million more playing sport regularly and 60% of young people doing at least five hours of sport a week. This is no time to lower those ambitions.

Huge progress has been made in the last decade and now we must build on it. I was struck by this quote from the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, made just one week after our success in Singapore. He said:

“I congratulate the Minister and his Department on the progress that has been made on school sport. Specialist sports colleges are proving to be a success—there is no doubt about that—and school sports partnerships likewise. The Youth Sport Trust, which I visited just before the election, is a fantastic organisation.”—[Official Report, 14 July 2005; Vol. 436, c. 335WH.]

He is right: it is a fantastic organisation. We championed it in government, just as John Major championed it before us. We also built on his plans for elite sport. There has been a developing consensus on sports policy since John Major signalled a change in the early 1990s.

Should we not remind the House that the Government’s proposals are nothing new for them? In the 1980s, they did the same thing—they massacred sport, had schools sell off their playing fields, and cut support for youth activities. The economic crisis is not the reason for their activities now: they are back to their old bad habits.

I had the great misfortune to be in a Merseyside comprehensive under Maggie, and I remember after-school competitive sport vanishing with the teachers’ dispute in the 1980s. Ever since, I have worked in politics to put school sport back on its feet. It is the right of every child to have good sport while at school, and it cannot be left to random chance and the occasional good will of teachers.

Did not the Labour Government have a record of selling off playing fields? Any mention of that is a complete own goal for the Opposition.

What I will enjoy today is educating Conservative Members. When we came into government, we introduced rules on the sale of playing fields, which was to be allowed only if the proceeds from a small patch of the land were to be reinvested in higher quality sports facilities on the same land. The hon. Gentleman should check his facts, because that is what happened.

On the question of selling off playing fields, does my right hon. Friend recall from his youth that most of the welfare playing fields were sold off because the Tories shut the pits and the playing fields followed suit—[Laughter.] In Tibshelf in my area, in a school that will now no longer be rebuilt, John Barker runs a schools sport partnership and has managed to get more than 90% of the kids to start playing sport again. What does he get in return? He gets the sack: he is one of the people who have lost their jobs because of this lot.

I noticed that when my hon. Friend made that impassioned contribution coalition Members laughed, because they have no understanding of what happened to communities such as his and mine in the 1990s, when the coal industry social welfare organisation tried to protect some of those facilities. Some are still there, but not all of them. Coalition Members have no understanding of the role of sport and how hard communities in former mining areas have fought to keep their sports provision.

There was a developing consensus, which was repeated just before the recent general election. A write-up of a Radio 5 Live debate appears on the Youth Sports Trust website and it says that, on school sport partnerships, Hugh Robertson said it would be wrong to dismantle “13 years of work” and, instead, “the party would build on” them. But that broad consensus has now been broken by the Secretary of State. School sport partnerships have joined a growing list of things that the Conservative party said it would protect in opposition, but has scrapped in government.

Let me make one thing clear: Labour Members would have understood if the Government had decided to reduce funding to school sport partnerships and the Youth Sport Trust, as long as they kept the basic school sport partnership infrastructure in place. What we are struggling with is having to accept the Secretary of State’s decision to remove 100% of their funding and demolish an entire infrastructure and proven delivery system that is improving children’s lives here and now. I cannot understand why he has done that.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would be happy to reduce central funding for the Youth Sport Trust and the curriculum and support for sport. Will he tell the House by how much?

The right hon. Gentleman was not listening. I said that I would have accepted a reduction in funding to school sport partnerships. [Hon. Members: “How much?”] I said on the media a couple of weeks ago that I would have accepted a reduction proportionate to the reductions made around Government. It is for him to say how much would keep the school sport partnership system in place. [Hon. Members: “How much?”] How much are hon. Members offering?

Proportionate? Is that proportion a half, a third, 75% or 60%? Until we have clarity from the right hon. Gentleman, all we will have is an empty offer.

I will accept a package that keeps the basic infrastructure in place and keeps school sports co-ordinators in their jobs. I have said that I will accept a reduction, but it is the Secretary of State’s job to put forward a package that does just that.

What the Secretary of State has done is a senseless act of vandalism defying all logic, leaving people speechless. The Australian sports commissioner has asked how this country could dismantle a “world-leading” school sport system. The chief executive of the Canadian Olympic committee has taken the unusual step of writing to the Secretary of State to ask how, months away from a home Olympics, we can have this wholesale change in sports policy. We have called this debate because we want the Government to listen, to change course and to protect a basic school sports structure before it breaks down.

My right hon. Friend was very supportive of me in his previous incarnation at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport when I came to talk about school provision in inner London. Is he aware that the school sport partnership in the London borough of Westminster, which is set to lose £400,000 a year, has, since 2005, increased from 55% to 100% the number of young people taking part in at least two hours of sport a week, including the promotion of inter-school competition?

They are astonishing achievements, particularly in an area such as the one my hon. Friend represents, where traditionally there have been difficulties accessing good-quality sports provision. I remember those discussions. For the children living in that inner-city environment, that is an unbelievable achievement, and they should be congratulated on what they have done.

Ministers do not seem to understand why people feel hurt and angry. They use provocative language and selective figures, and they seem not to understand what has happened on the ground in their own constituencies—or, worse, they do know what has happened, but they are not prepared to acknowledge it because it does not fit with their political purpose. Either way, it is very bad. If it is the latter, it is appalling.

One thing that is understood by Government Members is that £2.4 billion has been thrown at this issue, and we have not seen any results—[Interruption.] Let us consider the right hon. Gentleman’s former Department. [Interruption.] On hockey, rugby, netball and gymnastics, the statistics show—[Interruption.]

Order. [Interruption.] Order. When I stand up and say order, I expect every Member of the House to sit down, not to carry on shouting at each other across the Chamber.

It is an absolute disgrace for people such as the hon. Gentleman to stand up in the House today and say there have been no results from the school sport partnerships. Will he do me a favour and go and meet his school sport co-ordinators on Friday and repeat to their faces what he has just said in the House? I will be surprised if he is still standing after that.

On disability sport in schools, my constituent Mark Eccleston is a full-time wheelchair user and a PE teacher at Chestnut Lodge, which is a school for children with complex physical and medical needs. He also won the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Paralympics and was No. 1 in the world in his sport. He says: “I feel strongly obliged to put in writing my thoughts regarding the Government’s ridiculous and staggering decision. I’m not sure who advised the Government on this issue, but they are obviously not fully aware of the implications that such a decision will have on school sport in general, not to mention the destruction that it will cause to disability sport in our schools.” Who will be listening—

Order. That was verging on a speech. May I remind Members that interventions are supposed to be brief?

My hon. Friend has just made the very point that if we are going to provide high quality sport to children and young people with disabilities, we need to provide it with an infrastructure. We need people working together to give kids the best possible opportunities, but that point is entirely lost on those on the Government Benches. Indeed, let us look at the language that they have used. The Children’s Minister—I am glad he is here today—arrogantly dismissed school sport partnerships at the weekend as “centralised bureaucracy”. In other words—this is what the Government think, and we heard it a moment ago—those involved are expendable, self-serving pen-pushers who have made a negligible impact on the lives of our children. That is what we are hearing from the Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are talking about an army of 3,200 people—positive, passionate, motivated people—who believe in the power of sport to change people’s lives for the better. If nothing else, I hope that today they will at least hear some praise and recognition from those of us on the Opposition Benches for their efforts and that they feel cheered by that. I know that I speak for every Opposition Member when I say that we appreciate their commitment to young people and the contribution that they have made to the betterment of their communities.

I have received dozens of letters from children in schools in my constituency who have benefited from school sport partnerships. One junior school pupil, Demi-Leigh Hughes, has written to say:

“In my opinion this is wrong! I have heard of some bad things, but this tops the lot”.

The Government really do have a problem when it gets to the point where pupils—not their teachers or parents—are writing to Members.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a formidable force lining up against the Government, and the chorus of disapproval grows by the day. Today, 75 prominent Olympians and Paralympians have written to the Prime Minister in pretty strong terms, imploring him to think again, saying:

“We cannot stand by and watch as your government threatens to destroy any hopes this country has of delivering a genuine London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic legacy.”

On Sunday, 60 head teachers wrote to The Observer. They were even more blunt, calling the decision

“ignorant, destructive…contradictory and self-defeating”.

Otherwise, they probably thought it was okay. The decision is entirely unjustified, either educationally, professionally or logistically, or in terms of personal health and community well-being. As my hon. Friend said, opposition has united people across the ages. Next week, young people will come to Downing street with, we are told, a petition with 1 million names on it. If that does not make the Government sit up and take notice, nothing will.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what we are witnessing in the House today is either a complete failure of joined-up government or sheer hypocrisy by the Government? We have just seen the launch of the public health White Paper, which says that one of the Government’s aims is to take

“better care of our children’s health and development”,

which could “improve educational attainment,” yet now we are debating the cutting of a proven programme that does just that. Is that not sheer hypocrisy?

The Health Secretary was on the airwaves this morning saying that we need more sport played in schools. Well, yeah. I never agreed very much with the current Health Secretary—we had our differences—but he was right to speak up in Cabinet against the Education Secretary. He had the courage to say that. As always, we see this Secretary of State failing to carry people with his decisions. He rushes out to make a decision, but does not carry his Cabinet colleagues with him. The mismatch between what the Government are saying in the public health White Paper and what we are debating now demonstrates that.

Is it not clear that Ministers have no idea about sport? Looking at them across the Chamber, I think it is clear that none of them has played sport. I cannot see, for example, the Secretary of State joining the boxing club.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the statistics that the Government have quoted when making their case for this cut? According to a departmental website, they have focused on inter-school competition in rugby, football and hockey. They do not even include tennis, despite the fact that the Prime Minister was the captain of the tennis team at his university. So they are using a very focused set of statistics to make their point, even though it bears little relation to reality.

I would go a little further than my hon. Friend. As I shall explain, I believe that the Government are abusing the statistics, and I say that having thought carefully about it. In my view, the Secretary Of State is abusing the statistics, and I will come back to that claim later.

I represent a former coal mining constituency as well, and I have spent time with partnership development co-ordinators. Is not the heart of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument that he does not fundamentally trust head teachers to take forward school sports?

May I politely refer the hon. Gentleman to the letter that head teachers sent to The Observer at the weekend? I know that the Secretary of State has been inundated with letters from head teachers who say that the whole infrastructure saves them money and time, because they do not have to organise expert coaching and competition themselves. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that head teachers strongly support the present system.

I want to make some progress.

I have mentioned the names of those who are lining up against the Government. They are not people who want to score points; they are fighting for something in which they passionately believe. Until now, the Government have dug in and patronised people with bogus statistics, but this is now turning into a real test for them. Are they prepared to listen and to change course?

Today, I am setting four clear objectives for the debate. The first is to probe the background to this decision. The second is to test the figures that the Government have used and to find out whether they stand by them. The third is to obtain clarity on what has happened to school sport funding. Fourthly, and most importantly, I want to make the Secretary of State a genuine offer that will help us to re-establish the consensus on school sports as we head towards a home Olympics.

Let me start with the decision-making process. We admire the erudition that the Secretary of State brings to our proceedings. Mr Lansley never quoted Dryden to me, and I really admired that about the Secretary of State for Education, but let me extend his cultural references today. How about Defoe? I know that he is thinking “Daniel”, but I want to know what he thinks about—

Thank you very much. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been revising over the weekend. What does he think about the work that Spurs and other clubs do with schools? We never hear him talk about sport; let us hear him talk about it. And what does he think about Strauss? Is he thinking “Johann”? I think he was, actually, but I want to tempt him to talk about Andrew today, and about the excellent Chance to Shine initiative. I want to know that he knows about these things, and that he values them.

I also want to know what sport means to the right hon. Gentleman. Last week, he goaded me about my drama career at school. I have looked up his school sports career. It did not take long. One article on him mentions it:

“In 1979, he won a scholarship to Robert Gordon’s school in Aberdeen, where he spent the next seven years excelling in every subject, except sport.”

There was also a lovely quote from Mrs Gove, his mum:

“When he had finished all his school work, he would more or less revert to reading his encyclopaedia”.

[Hon. Members: “Aah!”] It is a lovely image, but it worried me. Did he ever use the encyclopaedia as a goalpost, or anything like that? Stumps? Anyway, that worried me a little. It also made me wonder—so inexplicable is his decision on this matter—whether this whole thing might be Gove’s revenge. I get the distinct impression that he harbours some unpleasant memories of his own sporting experiences at school, and that he is lashing out at the school sport system, now that he has the chance to do so. I hope that that is not the case, however.

I have an invitation for the right hon. Gentleman. Let us get our tracksuits and our trainers on—I will lend him some if he has not got any—and go to see the school sport co-ordinators in my constituency. The Children’s Minister can come, too. If the Secretary of State comes with me to meet the school sport co-ordinators in Wigan, and if he looks them in the eye and calls them a centralised bureaucracy, we shall see what is left of him afterwards.

I also want the Secretary of State to explain a mystery to me. Week after week, he addresses Members on both sides of the House with unfailing courtesy, but that courtesy seems to have deserted him in dealing with this row. Sue Campbell—Baroness Campbell of Loughborough —is a world authority on school sport. She has given a lifetime of energy and passion to the subject. Surely someone of such stature, with decades of service, should have earned at least a hearing. Will the Secretary of State explain why he refused the many requests from Lady Campbell and the Youth Sport Trust for him to discuss funding before the spending review? It really is not good enough. Why did the Secretary of State wait until the day of the spending review to send Lady Campbell a curt and dismissive letter dispensing with the services of the Youth Sport Trust? Why did a man who is so polite and courteous act in such a way?

That brings me to my second purpose today: to challenge the bogus claims that the Secretary of State and other Ministers are making. We have heard an incredible abuse of statistics as they have thrashed around trying to find an argument. Let us set the record straight on three claims. This is claim one. The Government have said that school sport partnerships are ineffective because in the

“last year the proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds playing sport went down.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 259.]

The Government’s source for that is the “Taking Part” survey, which asks people in all age groups whether they have engaged in sport in the last seven days and in the last four weeks.

It is true that on the seven-day test the percentage of 11-to-15-year-olds engaging in active sport dropped from 88.8% to—wait for it—88%. That is a statistically negligible fall in a figure that has shot up since school sport partnerships were established. What the Government do not cite, however, is the four-week figure in the same survey. The percentage of 11-to-15-year-olds engaging in sport in the last four weeks rose from 96% to 96.7%, and, according to statisticians, that is the more important figure. It is estimated that in 2002 only 25% of young people engaged in two or more hours of competitive sport each week, whereas more than 90% do so now.

Let us now consider the survey that deals only with school sport, rather than the “Taking Part” survey. In each year group represented by 11 to 15-year-olds, the percentage engaging in at least three hours of sport each week has risen. In year 7, the rise was 59% this year, compared to 53% last year. In year 8, it was 54% compared to 50% last year. In year 9, it was 49% compared to 44% last year. In year 10, it was 45% compared to 42% last year. On the Government’s first claim, it is “case dismissed”.

The second claim is that there is not enough competitive sport, and that only one in five young people are playing it regularly against other schools. That is the claim that needles me most. I bow to no one in my support for competitive sport, having played it all my life.

Jada Anderson is a young athlete in my constituency who was spotted by Jonathan Edwards and is training alongside world champion Jessica Ennis. Her mother writes:

“Where and how else would my daughter have had the opportunity to realize her sporting potential… without the massive help from our local School Sports Partnerships?”

Does that not nail the lie that there is no link between those partnerships and competitive sport?

It certainly does. Such stories, much more than statistics, illustrate the success of what has been achieved.

I felt a raw injustice on this issue because I saw that such opportunities were not available in the 1980s, although they are the right of all young people. When I came into politics, I wanted to do something about it. As an adviser to the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, I encouraged him to set up a lottery programme under the New Opportunities Fund called “active sports co-ordinators”. It was the start of the school sports programme. A BBC report in 1999 said:

“The first wave of sports co-ordinators to boost competitive sports in schools will be in place within the next year”.

It is a total myth to say that they have not boosted competitive sport. They have succeeded in that regard.

The coalition says that only one in five pupils play inter-school competitive sport regularly—that is, nine times a year. I have two comments to make. First, that represents a big increase on the proportion many years ago. In itself, it is an impressive figure. However, it is only part of the story. Last year, 49% of children took part in inter-school competition, playing on at least one occasion. There was also a large increase in the number of pupils taking part in intra-school competition: it rose from 69% in the preceding year to 78%.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with Rachel Redmond, partnership development manager of the North Trafford school sport partnership, that such partnerships have not only increased the level of activity in competitive sport, but improved quality through access to high-quality coaching and facilities?

I could not agree more, and that is the basis of a good sports policy—not competition on its own, but coaching and competition together.

In my quest to educate the Education Secretary about sport, I want him to take two simple messages away from today’s debate. First, not everyone can play for the first team or even the second team, as he may remember from his own school days. Secondly, a proper sports policy cannot be based on competition alone; it must be supported by coaching. A policy based on competition alone is a policy for the few, not the many.

I pay tribute to the work done by my right hon. Friend, particularly in respect of swimming. For many, swimming is not a competitive sport, but it is also the only sport in Britain with equal participation by girls and boys. Is not one of the dangerous aspects of the Government’s announcement today that it is being accompanied by enormous cuts in local authority funding? That is likely to lead to a reduction in the number of swimming pools in this country.

That is a huge worry, and I would add to that the axing of the free swimming programme. That began in Wales, which is where we got the inspiration from: young people under the age of 16 able to swim for free. That has been axed by the coalition.

My right hon. Friend has referred to the figure that I think the Prime Minister gave at Prime Minister’s questions last week of two in five pupils playing competitive sports regularly in school. I put that to the co-ordinators of the school sport partnership in my area, and they said: “The statistics around competition which Gove and Cameron are continually referring to are misleading. To be regarded as a regular competitor in primary schools pupils would have to have been involved in nine separate competitions, and at secondary school 12, so those pupils playing one to eight times don’t fall into that category.”

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and may I refer him to Barrie Houlihan, professor of sport at Loughborough university and the lead evaluator of the school sport partnerships programme? He wrote about the Prime Minister’s remarks from the Dispatch Box last week, and they are amazing comments to make about what was said by a Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Professor Houlihan said that there was

“a selective use of statistics”—

a selective use of statistics from the Dispatch Box by the Prime Minister!

Moving on to the third claim, the Prime Minister said that SSPs had failed because there was a decline in rugby union, netball, hockey and gymnastics. Again, that shows that the Government have no idea what they are talking about. The decline in those sports was minimal, and the reason for it was that schools are now providing, on average, 19 different sports, compared with 14 in 2006. There seems to be no appreciation of that huge change.

On the three central claims the Government have made therefore, the figures speak for themselves. Their claims are summarily dismissed as nonsense.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the increase in the take-up of club sport by young people and the link between that and the investment in SSPs? The figures show that there been an increase not only in school sport participation, but in club sport, which gives the lie to what the Government are saying about the impact of SSPs.

Anyone who has dealt with sports policy knows that this has been the key issue we have been working to crack. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) for working so hard on it, by not only getting kids to play sport in schools but then encouraging them into the clubs at weekends and in the evenings. The figures show that links between schools and local clubs have increased significantly. It is very important to raise that point, and, again, it seems to be lost on the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to laud club sport; it is very important and it largely happens outwith school. Will he therefore acknowledge the changes to lottery rules under this Government that mean that 20% of lottery receipts will now go to sport, unlike under his Government where that withered?

I reject that out of hand, because what happened was—[Interruption.] If Members will listen for a moment, what happened was, when we came into government in 1997 we established something called the New Opportunities Fund—I have already referred to it. It allowed for the spending of lottery money in statutory premises—in hospitals and schools. That is what the public wanted. That fund, which was additional to the sports lottery fund, paid for the first generation of active sports co-ordinators. So that shows, again, that this Government are making statements and claims about which they have no knowledge whatsoever.

The Culture Secretary stood at that Dispatch Box yesterday and told my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) that

“in year 7, four in five children are not playing sport at all.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 520.]

That is simply wrong; it is an outrageous abuse of statistics. Will the Education Secretary apologise for these erroneous claims that Ministers continue to make? Will he set the record straight? Has any civil servant warned him or his Ministers, or Ministers in other Departments, about the way in which they are presenting these figures? I do not expect a straight answer from him on that question, but I can tell him that I will be writing to the UK Statistics Authority asking it to comment on the public presentation of statistics in this area by Ministers because I believe it to be woeful.

If the shadow Secretary of State is seeking consensus, as I am sure he is, will he reflect on whether the tone of his speech today is helpful? On Friday, in advance of his speech, I met the school sport partnership co-ordinator for the Colchester academy and I was very impressed. I want this approach to continue, and I want there to be an accommodation and consensus. The shadow Secretary of State is not helping the argument. Let us have a grown-up debate, let us be sensible and let us stop the cat-calls.

If the hon. Gentleman spoke to those school sports co-ordinators, he will have found that they are pretty hurt and pretty angry. He just nodded at that, so is it not right that I reflect some of that feeling in this House this afternoon? Is it not right that I give a voice to those 3,200 people, who cannot stand here, and put across the passion that they feel about the young people with whom they are working. [Interruption.] I am coming to a positive proposal. I feel passionately about this, but I also want a way forward and it is all about whether people are prepared to listen. We cannot get everything that we want, but I am prepared to negotiate and to compromise—I hope that the same applies to those on both sides of the House.

I certainly think that school sport partnerships have done some excellent work in my area. I have spoken to school sports co-ordinators and to head teachers and it is fair to say that head teachers and deputy head teachers have a range of views on the effectiveness of the partnerships and how valuable they have been in their area. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if they have been doing work in the way that he has outlined, it will still be possible for those head teachers and those schools to work in partnerships to produce just the same things that have happened before?

I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said and his comment that the partnerships have done excellent work stands in stark contrast to the position of his Front-Bench team. He is just giving head teachers a prescription for more work and more bureaucracy; they will have to rush around on their own trying to find the coaches. The current system works, so why is the Education Secretary dismantling it?

The Government and the right hon. Gentleman have talked themselves into a mess—not for the first time. The spin just does not end. He says that school sport partnerships will be replaced by an Olympic-style school sport competition, but there are two problems with that statement. First, such a competition is no substitute for year-round sport in all schools for all children, and secondly, such a competition already exists; it is called the UK school games and it has been in place since 2006.

We are getting to the heart of the matter now: the right hon. Gentleman’s mishandling of his budget. There is now real confusion about whether this money for school sport has been cut or de-ring-fenced, as Ministers have been saying. He says that we should give money to schools and let them decide, but yesterday his schools Minister, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), said of the Youth Sport Trust grant:

“The money saved will not be fed through the Dedicated Schools Grant”—[Official Report, 29 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 532W.]

So which is it? Will head teachers be able to find this money or not? Will it be in their budgets? Is it not the case that schools will be asked to pay for sport themselves, as well as for many other things that they currently get for free? Is this not a false economy, as those services can often be provided more cheaply through the economies of scale that come from providing a service across a whole area with the expert support of a national body such as the Youth Sport Trust?

All this will not take us out of the impasse, which brings me to my final point, which is a genuine suggestion about how to take things forward. As in any sporting dispute, we need an independent referee. I suggest that in this case we bring in thousands of them. Surely the best way to resolve this argument is to ask the head teachers of this country about the effectiveness of school sport partnerships. A simple question could be put to them in a survey: would they prefer a funding package to be found to maintain the SSP infrastructure or would they prefer to have each to their own and the freedom to decide? I can tell the Secretary of State today that I have received an offer from a reputable firm to do a survey for free, which I shall share with him. I urge him to take that offer forward, as long as he consults the Opposition on the questions that would be asked. I believe that he would find it helpful as it might shed new light on the misplaced suspicion that lies at the heart of his policy pronouncements. He seems to distrust any system of collective or central support for schools. He nods at that, and I am disappointed about that because there is an ideological problem here.

The drift of the right hon. Gentleman’s policy is towards a more atomised school system, where schools become walled gardens and do their own thing, competing fiercely, and where collaboration is frowned upon. That vision conflicts with the idea of providing excellence and specialist provision to all children, as it becomes more costly and complicated when schools go it alone. Sport needs central organisation, particularly competitive league and cup competitions, and there are also only so many qualified coaches. To give children access to the best, it is easier to work together across a defined area and to share resources. Far from being bureaucratic, it reduces the bureaucracy on schools. If they were left to do it all themselves, more time would be spent on it and the quality would not be as good.

Today, I can tell the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) that I have given the Secretary of State a solution that fits the White Paper that the Secretary of State published last week. Let the heads decide—it is a simple proposal.

In conclusion, we have built up a school sports system in this country that works. Thousands of people have built it up with blood, sweat and tears. They have worked hard at it because they believe passionately in what they do. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) laughs at that and in doing so he denigrates their commitment. I do not often implore anyone to do anything, but I am imploring the Secretary of State today to keep the basic school sport partnership structure in place. When I think of all the positive energy that will dissipate if they are broken down, it makes me want to weep.

My own life has told me that good school sport must be a right for every single child in this country. It raises academic standards, builds strong schools with a sense of identity and togetherness and builds well-rounded children. For some young people—perhaps the less academically minded in the class—the day they go to school with their boots in their bag is the day they have a spring in their step and a bit of hope in their heart. Let us not take that away from them. I commend the motion to the House.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for making his case with characteristic passion, reflecting the years of experience that he has devoted to ensuring that sport plays a proper part in the life of the nation as both Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and a special adviser before that. No one could doubt his passion or commitment. Indeed, they animated every word that he spoke. I recognise that in calling for this Opposition day debate he is doing more than just making a political point. He speaks from the heart, and I appreciate the fervour with which he makes his case. I know—I share the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell)—that when, occasionally, that passion takes a rawer edge, it comes from an individual who cares deeply about the sporting infrastructure in this country. For that reason, I make no criticism of the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman made his case.

I also think that it is appropriate to acknowledge that across the House there are individuals who are committed to ensuring that we support the place of sport not just in our schools but in the life of our nation. Distinguished former sports Ministers on the Opposition Benches and individuals on the Government Benches, although they might disagree about the delivery mechanism, share something of the passion exhibited by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech.

In responding to the right hon. Gentleman’s strong case, I want to try to lower the temperature and to analyse the situation that we have inherited. Of course, we must consider the facts and the statistics against the backdrop of the difficult economic position that the Government inherited. [Interruption.] I know that Opposition Members would like to put that part of the debate to one side, but for those of us in government it is impossible to consider the decisions that have to be taken in schools across the country without being aware of the dire financial position that the Government inherited.

I shall come to some of those interventions in a second.

Every option that is proposed by the Opposition, whatever the passion or fervour behind it, has to have a price tag. In the middle of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the current delivery mechanism might not be as efficient as it could be and that there might be room for reduction. He said specifically that he would accept a cut or a proportionate reduction that would retain the infrastructure, so he acknowledges that it is perfectly possible to reduce spending and retain the infrastructure, but when I asked him how much of a cut and what would retain the infrastructure he was curiously silent. I would be very interested to hear from any of the Opposition Members who care so much about this—I do not doubt their passion—what level of cut they would contemplate and what they would consider to be a robust infrastructure to be kept in place. We have not had an answer on that.

If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared seriously to discuss retaining school sport partnerships, I will sit down with him and discuss at what level they could be kept in place and funded. The Opposition would support him if he put forward a figure that would keep them in place. If that is the offer he is making, I will sit down with him tonight to discuss it.

I am always very grateful to sit down with the right hon. Gentleman, but he called this debate now. It is a debate of his timing, not mine, and he said in his opening remarks that he would be prepared to accept a cut. Now he has had an opportunity to state what that would be, but we do not know; there is silence on this issue.

The Secretary of State has referred to the £162 million figure both in his letter to Sue Campbell about the cut in school sport partnerships and on the departmental website. What proportion of that money is to be transferred? He says that the policy has been brought about as a result of the economic situation, so exactly how much of that £162 million is he cutting?

At the moment, we are looking to see exactly how much we can devote to sport, music, science, languages and all those specific areas of curriculum support that are outside the school budget. We have increased overall school funding by £3.6 billion.

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the adverse effect that his policy will have on a number of schools? I have received a letter from the head of a sports college in my constituency in which fine academic and sporting work is done. The head is very concerned about what the impact will be—starting next year. What is the Secretary of State going to do to reassure people like her? She is dedicated to teaching and is rightly worried about how her school will be affected.

The hon. Gentleman makes his point very well. I am sensitive to the fact that teachers and head teachers across the country are entering difficult times in respect not just of sport funding but of overall funding. The economic situation was not of the making of Government Members, but we are doing everything we can to help schools through this difficult time. One thing we are doing is removing ring-fencing. If he was referring to a specialist sports college, that will mean money that was hitherto ring-fenced as part of its specialist status now going directly to that head teacher, who I am sure is doing an excellent job. If she has, as I am sure she has, his confidence and mine, that money will be spent in a wise fashion.

I am keen to make progress, but I shall be happy to give way to a number of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House in due course. [Interruption.] I am even happier to give way to hon. Ladies and right hon. Ladies on both sides of the House.

We know that £2.4 billion was spent by the last Government on delivering their sport strategy. Our contention is that although much good work was done, that money was not spent as effectively and efficiently as it should have been. In the letter I wrote to Baroness Campbell, which the right hon. Member for Leigh referred to as “curt”, even though it was four and a half pages of prose, I outlined my gratitude to her for the work she had done. Earlier, the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) suggested from a sedentary position that I should have met Baroness Campbell. I had the opportunity of meeting her—indeed, of having dinner with her—before I became Secretary of State. I also had the opportunity of talking to John Beckwith, one of the supporters of the Youth Sport Trust, and with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), I had the opportunity of assessing the work of the trust. My hon. Friend had the opportunity of meeting Baroness Campbell on three occasions before we made our decision in the comprehensive spending review.

One of the questions that was in my mind was whether we were ensuring that enough was spent on the front line under the current structure. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would support the investment required to retain the infrastructure, but he did not specify what it was. Let me share with the House some of the details of the infrastructure. At present, we have 450 partnership development managers and 225 competition managers. On top of that, there are senior competition managers and on top of that, 11 regional development managers, and on top of that three national development managers. They work alongside the county sport partnerships and the national governing bodies of each sport. How many of those posts are essential to the delivery of an effective school sport offer?

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the people he has just mentioned save schools time and money? What would he say to Kealey Sherwood, the director of sport at St Luke’s school in my constituency, about the £300,000 cut to my local partnership? She said:

“We are devastated. There is a real danger that at an exciting time for sport in Britain, all will be destroyed.”

What does the Secretary of State say to her?

I am grateful to Kealey Sherwood for the commitment she shows. I am also grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the work he did when he was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, but I have a question, which most people would consider fair-minded. If Opposition Members would like to maintain the infrastructure entirely intact, how much are they prepared to take from other budgets to do that, or if they agree with the right hon. Member for Leigh that a cut is possible to maintain the infrastructure, what level of cut would it be? Which of the posts is dispensable?

The Secretary of State talked about the national governing bodies. The infrastructure is the school sport partnerships working with the national governing bodies to deliver their whole sport plans. If he is serious about finding a way through, has he had any discussion with his hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster) about why that infrastructure is so important? Has he had any discussions with his hon. Friend about the way forward?

I am fortunate enough to have had a number of discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Bath, and one of the points that he has made to me is that although many people working in the network and the infrastructure are doing a fantastic job, which I happily acknowledge—I am glad to have the opportunity this debate affords me to stress that—it is also the case that the quality of delivery can be variable. It is important that we audit how the infrastructure is performing, and that we ensure that money is spent proportionately.

I shall give way to the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), but then I want to make some progress.

Is the Secretary of State not in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? In my school sport partnership in North Stoke, we have transformed participation in sport. He asked how much our shadow Secretary of State wished to cut the budget by, but it is not a question of how much—it is a question of keeping the infrastructure. Can we for once use Parliament as a means of finding a solution to how we get sport in schools and in our communities? Will the Secretary of State continue his contribution in that spirit?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the fair point she makes. I chose to begin my remarks by making it clear that I wished to operate constructively. I should like to ask some questions to ensure that we have a proper informed debate about the successes, and about the areas where the current strategy may not have been delivering the value for money we wanted.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the comments of a teacher from Silkstone primary school in my constituency who said that staff at his school had benefited from the excellent training courses presented by their SSP? He continued:

“Staff development has allowed colleagues to learn many new skills…This has been central to our ability to develop the whole child and focus on enjoyment and excellence.”

Will the Secretary of State reconsider the comments that he has just made and admit that the partnerships work very well in schools, not just on sport, but on many facets?

I have enormous respect for the hon. Lady and the way that she makes her point. As I stressed earlier, and as her intervention gives me the opportunity to underline, there are many parts of the country where those who are working in school sports partnerships are doing a great job, but my task as Secretary of State is to analyse the current infrastructure and ensure that we are getting the maximum value for money, where good practice exists to support it, and where practice is less than optimal to try to find a way through to ensure that we have better value for money.

I am happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman. We are still waiting for the answer to the question what is a proportionate reduction.

The right hon. Gentleman is giving a lot of encouraging signs that he is prepared to look at the system and make it more efficient. I am not arguing that it is perfect. Of course it could probably be made more efficient, but can we make some genuine progress? Will he sit down with me and discuss how we can keep in place enough people on the ground to provide a decent enough sporting offer to children? I will accept the reduction in the funding if he will agree to sit down and talk about the current structure, rather than creating a whole new and different structure that will not deliver for children.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that offer and I am always happy to work in a consensual way, but I should like to lay out some facts which will, I hope, allow the House to have an informed debate. I will take the opportunity, of course, to talk to him, formally or informally, at any point on any aspect of policy, but it is important that we appreciate that he has acknowledged that a proportionate reduction is appropriate. He has not yet come forward with what that proportionate reduction would be. Let us go on to examine the scope for reduction.

I should like to make a little progress. I know that the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) and the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) are keen to intervene, but a number of my colleagues on the Government Benches have not had a chance yet, so it would be only fair and sporting if I were to give them a chance as well.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key issue is not whether we have one organisation or another, but to raise the number of hours a week of sport played by children in their schools? Will he consider encouraging that more through the national curriculum?

There seems to be a consensus that the quality across the country is variable. My right hon. Friend made the point that an audit was needed to look at what works and what does not work so well. The previous Government spent £2.4 billion on that. Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether he inherited any audit of how that money has worked?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is important that we look at the existing infrastructure and what it has delivered. Many of the people who are doing the job of partnership development manager are utterly committed to improving the sporting offer for young people, but I worry that the structure within which they work does not allow them to do what is best.

Much of the job description of a partnership development manager depends on full-time strategic management, developing an ongoing self-review document, advocating the priorities of the partnership within wider strategic frameworks, establishing robust data-tracking and monitoring systems, and promoting the benefits and successes of the partnership. There is inadequate space in the job description for doing what the right hon. Member for Leigh did so well—making the case for improved participation in sport with fervour and passion. [Interruption.] He says, “Let’s change it.” I agree. We are changing it. He had the opportunity when he was in power; he did not do so. Now he is happy to do so. I am happy to see this movement. The Opposition are happy to acknowledge that we can reduce the amount that is being spent, and happy to acknowledge that there has been too much bureaucracy for partnership development managers. I am delighted to acknowledge that.

The same applies to the role of competition managers. It is vital that we encourage more school competition, but one of the problems is that there is another layer of bureaucracy. What is the role of a competition manager? It is a full-time position responsible for modernising the competition landscape. One has to work strategically with the partnership development manager, manage and co-ordinate the monitoring and evaluation of projects and fulfil local and national data collection requirements. Again, all those take away from the central task of promoting sport with fervour and passion.

The data requirements—

I am sharing some facts with the House.

The data requirements for school sport partnerships are exemplified in the school sport partnership self-review tool. We all know how onerous tick-box exercises can be, and that exercise has 115 boxes to tick. Every moment spent looking at the self-review tool is a moment that could be spent coaching, inspiring and acting to ensure that more children take part in sport, but unfortunately there is too much bureaucracy.

In a second.

In the same way, we acknowledge that the Youth Sport Trust—Baroness Campbell, Steve Grainger and their team—has done a lot of good work, but one question I ask about their organisation is: did the way in which the previous Government managed it necessarily make the most of its talents? With the Youth Sport Trust, we have to ask: was it encouraged sufficiently to find outside sources of funding? Only 15% or so of its funding came from private or independent sources; 85% of it came from the state, and that cannot be an entirely healthy position for any charity. Indeed, large sums were committed to administration; £340,000 was spent on communications, and £400,000 was given to one private sector company to manage the school sport partnerships outside the trust. Was that the best use of money?

I am very happy to make way for the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford). I do not know whether any of those are aspects of bureaucracy that he would be willing to defend.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, because I will tell him of 70 simple facts that illustrate the effectiveness of the scheme—and of the competition manager in my constituency who wrote to me about this matter. The 70 are the 70 primary schools in Greenwich, every single one of which takes part in an annual sportathon that gives thousands of children an opportunity to participate on a site that will become an Olympic site in 2012. What is wrong with that? Will the right hon. Gentleman now recognise that he has made a terrible mistake and must now negotiate with the Opposition to reach a solution?

The right hon. Gentleman once again reflects with passion the interests of his constituency, and as ever he brings to our debate an understanding of its landscape, but the thing I have to say—[Interruption.] There is a sedentary intervention from the Opposition Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton). If she wants to make a point, I shall be delighted to hear one, but in the meantime I shall reply to the right hon. Gentleman.

Nothing in our proposals means that any primary school would lose out on an opportunity to take part in competitive sport. Everything that we are about relates to ensuring that the money that we spend in schools and on school sport is spent more effectively.

I have been generous in giving way, and I should like to give way to some of the gentlemen and ladies on my own side who are anxious to make a point.

We have heard a lot from the Opposition about infrastructure, and my right hon. Friend has told us a lot about bureaucracy, which I think is what they mean by infrastructure. Will he give me his view on the extra bureaucracy required for disabled children to access sport? Under the current structure, their schools face much greater hurdles than many others.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. As we know, he is utterly committed to ensuring appropriate provision for children who are living with disabilities, and I want to ensure that we get the spirit of both the Olympic and the Paralympic games into our schools. A lot of good work is going on, and I want to ensure that the money that we spend in future is targeted, in particular, at schools which often have a large number of children who are living with disabilities.

I am just answering my hon. Friend’s point.

I want to ensure that those schools get the support that they need.

Does the Secretary of State agree that my children are much the same as others, in that they do not cry out for more infrastructure and bureaucracy when they talk about sport? What they really benefit from is local people giving them leadership and encouragement, which they get—but not through infrastructure and bureaucracy.

It is important that we ensure that the very many Back Benchers who have not yet intervened but want to contribute have a chance to do so, and I should like to make some progress. With respect to the hon. Lady, there may be room for some interventions later.

I have talked about the nature of the bureaucracy. It is also important to talk about the nature of what has been delivered. It is important to recognise that, yes, there have been improvements, but they must be put into this context: £2.4 billion spent, and what have we seen for it? The right hon. Member for Leigh chided me in saying that in his view there had been an abuse of statistics. Well, the motion refers, I think, to 22% of children taking part in sports in 2002 and 90% doing so now. I have to point out to him that that is an abuse of statistics. The 22% figure was an estimate by Ofsted; 90% is a figure from a genuine survey. The first survey of involvement in school sports, in 2003-04, showed that more than 60% were already taking part. Yes, that is an improvement—I am happy to acknowledge it—but what we have seen is a manipulation of statistics for political purposes. I am happy to forgive the right hon. Gentleman, but let us be clear that he was not comparing like with like.

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State is now going down the route that I was trying to avoid. On Friday afternoon, I met Zoe Ford of Colchester academy, who is in charge of co-ordinating seven primary schools, and she told me that this project has been a great success. Forget the figures—will he come to Colchester and meet this young lady, who can prove to him how successful this has been?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a very good point. I am always disappointed when I go down a path that he does not approve of, and I appreciate the importance of my visiting Colchester, as have previous Secretaries of State. I again take the opportunity to underline that in some areas of the country many of those involved in the delivery of school sports are doing a fantastic job. Given everything that he says, I suspect that Colchester is one of them.

It is important to recognise that, as the right hon. Member for Leigh acknowledged, the picture is not perfect—far from it. Looking at the figures on the sports where participation has fallen and the number of schools offering particular sports, it is an unarguable fact that after the commitment of £2.4 billion, the numbers of people taking part in gymnastics, rounders and netball have fallen, and the number of schools offering hockey and rugby union has fallen. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I have to say that the number of schools offering swimming has not changed—it was 84% in 2003-04, before £2.4 billion was spent, and it is 84% now. There has been no increase in participation in a significant number of sports.

I will not give way at this stage.

As well as a fall in the number of schools offering these sports, the numbers taking part in competition have also been lower than we would expect. Just two in five people take part in competitive sport within a school—intra-school competition—and just one in five in competitive sport between schools.

No—not at this stage. I was very generous in giving way earlier.

It is also important that we look at those figures more deeply in context. On schools where pupils regularly take part in intra-school competitions, in 1,280 secondary schools not a single pupil takes part in an intra-school competition. That equates to nearly one in three secondary schools where not a single intra-school competition takes place.


I know that there are challenges that we all face, but after the commitment of £2.4 billion we have not seen an improvement. Similarly, as to the proportion of pupils who regularly take part in inter-school competitions, in 710 schools not a single pupil takes part in such competitions. That situation is not defensible.

The right hon. Gentleman said that not everyone can be in the first 11, or the first 13 or 15, and that is true. However, some schools are exemplary. In 10 schools, 100% of pupils regularly take part in inter-school competitions, and in 320 they regularly take part in intra-school competitions. There are massive variations and disparities. I mention these figures simply to point out that a responsible Government would look, as we have, at the commitment of £2.4 billion and ask this: can we ensure that we have more schools where more students have an opportunity to take part in competition?

I will not give way at this point.

If some schools can offer every student an opportunity to take part in intra-school and inter-school competitions, why cannot more do so?

No, I shall not.

I believe that the time is right to consider a different approach. We should listen to some of the voices that are equally as committed to sport as the right hon. Gentleman. They include organisations such as Compass, which represents those who are involved in providing coaching support for schools. In a letter to me, it says that it is important that we cease

“to fund a costly central management and control system”,

and argues that

“the most sustainable model in primary schools is where coaches work alongside teaching staff...This will require no expenditure on centralised management and infrastructure.”

I have to take account of what it says.

In the same way, I listen to Greenhouse, a charity that has done a fantastic job in encouraging more children, particularly from areas of deprivation, to take part in sports. One of the trustees of Greenhouse, David Meller, says to me—[Laughter.] For the avoidance of doubt, I should stress that this is David Meller, the sponsor of Harefield academy, which I have had the opportunity to visit.

Not the gentleman who forced down the price of Chelsea strips everywhere. That was not all he forced down, but I will put that to one side.

This is a serious point. David Meller says:

“The quality and effectiveness of”

the existing approach has

“varied from borough to borough”—

exactly my point—and that the

“structure is overly bureaucratic and not sufficiently focused on delivery.”

Let me mention someone else who has a valid point to make in this debate—the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who used to be Minister for Sport. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Leigh has respect for the hon. Lady, but I certainly do. She says:

“It was always expected that, if School Sports Partnerships were a success, they would become embedded and the Youth Sport Trust would then withdraw. If schools and parents feel that their SSP has been valuable, I suspect that it—or at least many of its functions—will continue in some form. Where the contribution of the SSP has not proved valuable, new solutions will be sought. This is exactly how it should be: schools themselves taking more responsibility for school sport.”

Steve Kibble, an individual who delivers sport for a local authority in Devon, has written to me, as have several other teachers and head teachers. He points out that in his area, school sports partnerships

“have drawn down £1.4M per year”

and argues that

“if the money had gone direct to schools we would have had £4,110 per school per year to invest in PE”,

noting that instead some schools have had just £200.

Those are all powerful voices who care about sport just as much as the right hon. Gentleman, and who say that we can reform the way in which we deliver school sport.

It is abundantly clear that some fairly murky bathwater has to be disposed of, and it is also plain that there is a baby that has to be cared for. As my right hon. Friend knows, I represent an area of the country with some of the highest social deprivation. Thanet primary schools have benefited significantly from sports festivals. Will he indicate very clearly whether such areas and school clusters will continue to have the money to hold sports festivals and, if they wish, to employ locally a sports co-ordinator to run them?

I shall not give way. Our approach is to ensure that the money is devolved entirely to local authorities. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr Gale), because he is not only a very effective constituency MP, but somebody who appreciates the importance of competition in school sport.

No, I shall not give way.

It is critical that we recognise what a different approach might involve. It is important for those of us who care about delivering school sport in a better way to acknowledge that the way in which the curriculum is currently designed means that those who wish to deliver competitive sport often have to do so outside school hours. Is it worth thinking about how we can reform the curriculum to better support school sport? I think that it is.

It is also worth acknowledging that there are bureaucratic requirements for coaches who support particular school sports to be qualified at a specific level and in a specific way. Perhaps we could look at that bureaucracy and make better use of the volunteer army that is determined to encourage more children to take part in sport. There are rules governing everything from health and safety to who is qualified to drive a school minibus that restrict that volunteer army in committing to school sport. Is it appropriate that we look at all those rules and reform them? I think that it is. In all those areas, action could have been taken in the past 13 years, but it was not. I would like to see a different approach.

I shall not give way.

We must acknowledge the reality regarding school playing fields. There cannot be effective school sport without school playing fields. A number of hon. Members have made the point that Labour has an at best ambiguous record on this matter. In 1997, the Labour party manifesto stated:

“A Labour government will take the lead in extending opportunities for participation in sports; and in identifying sporting excellence and supporting it.

School sports must be the foundation. We will bring the government’s policy of forcing schools to sell off playing fields to an end.”

That was an admirable aim. However, in January 2000, it was revealed that of 103 applications to sell playing fields, 101 had been approved.

Elsa Davies, director of the National Playing Fields Association, said that the previous Government did not even pay lip service to their election pledges:

“They have said one thing and done precisely the opposite. It is a very sad U-turn. These pieces of land are disappearing forever and they are part of our children’s heritage.”

In November 2000, the sell-offs had still not been stopped. Elsa Davies pointed out that 190 applications had come forward, and that only four had been refused. In February 2002, after more than 18 months in which £125 million had been due to be handed out to 12 partner organisations to support school playing fields, the Daily Mail and the BBC revealed that they had contacted all of those groups and found out that not a single one had opened new playing fields with the money. Kate Hoey, the then Minister for Sport said:

“Trying to stop the sale of playing fields was another uphill battle. No one wanted to admit”—

Order. The Secretary of State may not use the Member’s name. I think that he is referring to the hon. Member for Vauxhall.

I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am quoting from The Daily Telegraph. The hon. Member for Vauxhall said:

“Trying to stop the sale of playing fields was another uphill battle. No one wanted to admit that this was still happening… But again this didn’t fit the picture that Downing Street wanted to portray. They had begun to believe their own spin”.

She continued:

“Ministers should admit that what they are really doing is allowing sales to go ahead to subsidise the Education Department’s rising costs. The truth is that, in town after town, green spaces are being concreted over and it can be seen by everybody.”

By April 2007, Labour had presided over the loss of 2,540 school and community playing sites. I recognise that there are pressures on Governments and on schools, and that flexibility is at the heart of the effective delivery of Government policy. However, it is appropriate for the Opposition to acknowledge that when we look back at the record of the past 13 years, although there are successes to be applauded, there are also lessons to be learned.

I recognise that many right hon. and hon. Members want to contribute to the debate and I hope that it will follow the pattern that I hope I have set. I hope that it will be respectful of the facts.

I am afraid that I cannot give way.

I hope that the debate will be respectful of the facts. I hope that it will acknowledge that there are hon. Members in all parts of the House who are committed to the better delivery of school sport. I hope that it will take into account the points graciously made by the right hon. Member for Leigh, and recognise that there is scope for a reduction in funding and for the more efficient use of the infrastructure that we have inherited. If we proceed in that way, I am sure that we can all work together to ensure that school sports continue to be delivered to an ever-higher standard and that we will all be able to take pride in the achievements of our young people.

Order. Before I call anybody, I remind hon. Members that there is a six-minute limit. There are 27 speakers, so short speeches would be helpful—brevity is the order of the day. If hon. Members try not to take as many interventions as usual, we will get as many speakers in as possible.

I will try to be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker, charitable to the Government and constructive.

I do not believe that the Government are setting out to butcher school sports, but I fear that, whether by design or through how things pan out, they will make the same terrible mistakes that were made in the 1980s. At that time, a combination of political correctness and political ideology undermined competitive school sports and derided teachers and parents who gave up their time voluntarily to run school sports clubs. Large numbers of school playing fields were sold off to pay for the budgetary constraints imposed by Mrs Thatcher’s Government on local government. As a result, many schools no longer have their own playing fields. Sadly, many sports, in particular cricket and rugby, are available only in private schools nowadays.

In my constituency of Hall Green, the site of the former Moor Green football club is the subject of a planning application by a developer for housing. Next to that site is Hall Green primary school, which is desperate for playing field facilities, as are the other cluster schools. If the matter ends up with the Government on appeal, I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind what he has said in this debate about losing sporting facilities.

As well as being a Member of Parliament, I have had the privilege over the past six years of being chairman of a large charitable trust that is associated with a professional football club. The trust uses the power of football to engage with some of the most disadvantaged people in the south-east of England, who would not respond to anybody else, and certainly not to Ministers, politicians or local government officers. The trust has a turnover of £2.8 million and it employs 30 full-time staff and 130 coaches. It has engaged with many school partnerships to provide coaching and facilities that are desperately needed. It has had huge success.

The Government’s policy will potentially provide more business for such trusts. With all due respect to the Secretary of State, our experience is that working with schools and school partnerships can bring huge benefits. We can take on such commitments, but I am not sure that they will be achievable in the way that he thinks, and certainly not if he cuts £162 million and puts back only £10 million. What is happening to the other £152 million? Will it go to schools so that they can contract out or will it go into the general budget? If it goes into the general budget, sport will lose.

The Secretary of State asked the Opposition spokesman to give him an alternative. My right hon. Friend came up with one, but as we are in that sphere, I will offer an alternative to the Secretary of State. In this country, the most profitable sport, and the one that dominates income generation, is premier league football. More than £3.5 billion of contracts are currently operated by the premier league for the benefit of 20 clubs. Yes, some trickle-down economics apply, but basically 20 clubs, their owners, their players and the agents are the ones that benefit.

I shall make a suggestion to the Secretary of State. In 1997, when the Labour Government came in, they imposed a levy on the privatised utilities to pay for a specific employment programme. If the Government were to impose just a small levy, let us say 5%, on the £3.5 billion coming into premiership football, that would completely pay for the cuts that he is proposing. I suggest that he may like to go and have a word with the chief executive of the premier league and put such a suggestion to him. If he did, the Government would be hugely popular—they could do with some popularity at the moment—among sports fans throughout the country.

If the Secretary of State made such a suggestion, he could only get one of two answers, yes or no. Or he might be told where to go, but he would have shown clearly the view of a Government who say that we are all in it together. One particular segment of sport is getting a vast amount of money that many people now find absolutely obscene, so I say to him: be radical, be brave. Why does he not impose a very small levy on premiership money to pay for all the cuts that he is announcing today?

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, which opened with a funny and high-quality speech from the shadow Secretary of State, which reflected his passion for, and expertise in, sport. I am sure that will soon be conveyed into the area of education. The Secretary of State’s response was also of high quality. Last week he produced an extremely promising White Paper that rightly focused on teacher quality. He has also successfully protected schools’ funding and introduced a pupil premium to help the poorest.

The Opposition do not like hearing it, but we all know how terrible, and indeed terrifying, is the scale of the overspending that the last Government left. Apart from the wilfully blind, all of us recognise the necessity of bringing it down before it does the same to us. It is therefore understandable that the Government should seek to make every possible saving, and that the £162 million budget for the physical education and sport strategy is put under scrutiny.

The Government are determined to stop micro-managing how schools and others spend their money, and to end most ring-fencing of budgets. Their proposals on school sport partnerships are consistent with that approach. Exaggerated claims that ending them will destroy all competitive sport in maintained schools are foolish and wrong. It is true that school sport partnerships have not been the cure-all for our children’s obesity and exercise challenges, and that as we heard, there have been a mixture of outcomes and variations. Nevertheless, I welcome the tone of the Secretary of State’s speech, which set out the fact that the Government are prepared to listen to the representations that have been made up and down the country.

Whatever the variations, sport partnerships have had a role to play in improving and increasing participation in sport. It is incumbent on the Government, even in these parlous times, to listen to the representations that are made and consider ideas of how to ensure that we do not needlessly lose what we have of value. There may be a period of transition, and as the Secretary of State rightly said, we will need to provide time to allow alternative funding to be brought forward, but there is huge popular sentiment behind sport for our young people and children.

As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff) said, there is a vast amount of wealth in football, but also in other professional sports. We must take at face value the enthusiasm of the many sports people who are speaking up on behalf of sport partnerships, and see how we can work with them and others. I am not sure I agree completely with a levy on the premier league, but it is an idea to put in the pot.

We need to consider ways of maintaining what is most valuable. From what the Secretary of State said today, I picked up on the fact that the Government are open to listening to representations on that. He said that there was scope for more efficient use of the existing infrastructure, which implies to me, in however nuanced a way, that the Government are coming to recognise that that infrastructure may have value and is not just needless bureaucracy. I hope that we will see further action on that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that head teachers and staff have the capability and organisational skills to retain competitive sport in schools, just like at my school, Dingwall academy, a state community comprehensive, in the 1980s? The teachers worked tirelessly to ensure that there was competitive sport, with all sports included.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and like the Secretary of State, I believe in trusting front-line professionals. May I take her with me on a virtual journey to my constituency, and to some of the small rural primary schools there? Without some form of infrastructure such as the sport partnerships, it would not have had specialist coaches coming in to work alongside the teachers in the school. That co-ordination and involvement can play an important part. Rural areas and the primary sector in particular can benefit from some form of central infrastructure.

The Government showed that they listen during the passage of the Academies Act 2010, when representations were made in both Houses about special educational needs, with Members saying that not all the responsibility should be passed down to schools after careful consideration of the impact that it would have. The Government came forward with changed proposals to ensure that certain aspects of SEN provision would rest with local authorities. Having heard the Secretary of State’s words today, I am hopeful that he is in listening mode again, while also rightly seeking to ensure that we do not have needless bureaucracy.

The engagement among the Front Benchers in recognising that there is room for improvement and for common ground should give hope to all those who want to ensure that we move forward from a position that was improved in recent years under the last Government, but which can and should be so much better than it is. If we can move forward on that basis, I believe that we can do the right thing by our young people in schools up and down the country.

How ironic that a debate on cuts to school sport should follow the Health Secretary’s statement on public health. He recognises the problem of childhood obesity and health inequality, but it is unfortunate that on this issue, the Government’s left hand does not appear to know what the right hand is doing. This change is not a nudge, it is pitching school sports back into the rough of the 1980s.

In the words of one Darlington schoolteacher,

“hard pushed teachers do not have the time to replace or enhance the work of the Partnerships in organising competitions.”

He continued:

“I am dismayed at the state of democracy in this country if one self confessed hater of school sport”—

I think he means the Secretary of State—

“can scrap a decade’s successful work. Surely this man must listen to the outcry across the nation that this whimsical decision has caused.”

My concern is that without the innovation and expertise offered by school sport partnerships, the most able, motivated and enthusiastic young people will, quite rightly, be given the opportunity to play hockey, netball, athletics and basketball for their house and their school, but the rest will be left with the excuse of concluding that sport just is not for them.

School sport partnerships and specialist sports schools, such as Longfield school in my constituency, have succeeded in combining a growing excellence in competitive sport with activities designed to encourage those less inclined to don a bib and take to the hockey pitch. Selling the same old nostalgic product, as the Tories tried in the ’80s, simply does not work, and I speak as someone who played rugby union for my university. School sport partnerships understand the specific needs of different groups, particularly girls, and develop new activities and experiences that compete successfully with how girls previously chose to spend their time. They have been exceptionally good at listening to what girls want, and flexible in responding to what they have heard. Imaginative initiatives, such as a prom club to help girls feel fit and healthy before their prom night, grab the attention of girls who are so often left out of competitive sport.

However, school sport partnerships have also championed competitive sport. They have offered leadership courses, helping people to gain experience, qualifications and confidence in sport that they can share with their younger peers. Older girls have often inspired younger ones to give sport a go, and SSPs have often worked with primaries to produce a better quality offer. That is a good example of making public money go further.

Why are the Government not listening to young people? The campaign to save that value-for-money approach to school sport is growing daily. Those working in school sports, almost to a man and a woman, believe that that cut has not been properly thought through.

As I said earlier, I have received dozens of letters from children in my constituency who are concerned about those cuts. This is from Bradley Johnson, aged 10:

“Dear Mr Wilson…I am writing to ask Mr Gove to please change his mind on stopping the school sports partnership. Please I’ll even beg him if I had to”.

What has the world come to when young children desperate to play sport must beg the Government to do so?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. If the Government cannot listen to the Opposition, perhaps they can listen to Bradley from Sedgefield.

Alison, the school sport co-ordinator in Darlington, said:

“I believe passionately that we have an obligation to fight for what I feel is the right of every young person in a state school to have the equality of opportunity to find their physical spark.”

The Secretary of State needs to understand the anger, frustration and—frankly—the disbelief at such a rushed and ill-thought-through cut. It is a dog’s breakfast of a cut.

I will not give way because I want to make a progress and this matter is important to my constituents.

Hannah Marshall is a young woman from Darlington who benefited from the Darlington school sport partnership. Her energy and enthusiasm in embracing all the opportunities that presented themselves were sparked when she was in primary school—a range of experiences, competitions and activities were on offer through the partnership. Sport has changed Hannah’s life. She has taken advantage of many opportunities, but she has also made a massive contribution to sport in school and college, and in the wider community, through her voluntary work. Since leaving school, she has studied A-level physical education, biology and leisure studies, and now wants to become a PE teacher. She says:

“I’ve had the best time ever! I’ve loved the sport, playing football and volunteering. My advice is to get involved as much as possible. The more you put in, the more you gain.”

Those are wise words. The Secretary of State should listen to young people such as Hannah, who, unlike him, know what they are talking about when it comes to school sport.

Very simply, your own Secretary—[Hon. Members: “You?”] I apologise. Would you accept—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Lady accept that there would and should be a cut to the budget?

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) indicated, if the Secretary of State would like to make the Opposition an offer, perhaps we could start negotiations.

To conclude, there are hundreds of Hannahs throughout the country, but their spark may remain unlit if we allow the end of school sport partnerships.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) feels as strongly as I do that we need to find a way forward, which is why he was concerned about the polarisation of this debate. I would have no difficulty in attacking the previous Labour Government if I wanted to enter into such a debate. I would point out that, for several years, they failed to protect smaller playing fields after they had promised to do so; that, under them, obesity increased; that, when they claimed a wonderful participation level of two hours of sport a week, they failed to mention that that included changing time; that, under them, participation in recent years hardly increased and that, sadly, the participation of women and disabled people has fallen; and that they made little or no dent in the drop-off in sports among people who had left school. That is what I would say if I wanted to be negative.

While the hon. Gentleman is not being polarising, and in the spirit of consensus that he says he espouses, does he agree that it would make sense for the coalition Government to respond positively to the constructive offer that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) made? Common cause can be made and we can find a way to save the essential infrastructure for the invaluable work that those partnerships—

Order. Interventions must be very short. The right hon. Gentleman should know better; he has been here long enough.

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is, broadly, yes, as I will say in my conclusion.

If I wanted to be positive, I would praise the previous Government for their work, for example, in building up the links between schools and sports clubs. Above everything, that increased the opportunity to provide a wider range of sports, so that more children are more likely to find a sport that they like. I would also praise the work that they did in developing the amateur community sport status, which gave tax benefits to sports clubs, and the way in which they restructured and simplified the landscape of the various sporting bodies. In particular, I would praise them for the excellent UK school games, which had a great effect on very many young people—it took place in my constituency of Bath.

The debate has also been polarised on the question of whether the school sport partnerships scheme was excellent or varied. The obvious truth is that there are examples of very good practice and of not such good practice.

Surely the House wants to ensure that it provides a lasting sporting legacy from 2012. That is what we are all about. We know that if we are to do that, we must ensure that we have coaches, volunteers, sports facilities and many other things, including a proper support structure for sport, whether for school, amateur or elite level sport. The one thing that is clear to me is that school is where it all starts. If we can get sport provision right in school, particularly by linking schools with clubs, we have a real opportunity to provide that sporting legacy from 2012.

The Government are right to have introduced the innovation, building on the UK school games, of the schools Olympics—or whatever it will ultimately be called—because that will boost the amount of inter and intra-school competition.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the UK games for young people. Who will organise the UK schools Olympics if we do not have school sport partnerships? The school sport partnership in Waltham Forest organises 112 competitions each week.

I will come to that very fair point at the end of my speech.

The Secretary of State is right to point out the amount of red tape and bureaucracy in the existing scheme, and to say that we should devolve responsibility for decisions to the lowest possible level, and, within our education system, to governors and head teachers. However, there are two problems. First, if schools buy in services, they need to have a broad framework from which to purchase. Unless we take action quickly, we will discover that all aspects of the school sport partnership network have disappeared. That is why it is important to accept the principle that we need to find a way to maintain a base level of support within some sort of structure. Schools need something to buy in to.

I agree with the Secretary of State that there ought to be ways of slimming the bureaucracy and of the number of bodies. Within my own constituency, the county sport partnership—another excellent set of bodies that do excellent work—already work with our schools and some of the excellent staff who are involved with the school sport partnership to see whether they can find a way to build a framework into which schools can opt. With a little bit of additional support from the Government, that could be a way forward. I do not think that it is necessary to have county sport partnerships and school sport partnerships. Indeed, the divisions between school sport and community sport have been too great under the current structures and, as I have said, bringing them together has been beneficial.

To my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I say that I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that while some slimming of the structure is necessary, it has provided some excellent things and, with a smaller budget, there is a way of providing a basic framework whereby schools can bid.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is also a matter of timing? Schools, rightly or wrongly, have great uncertainty about their future budgets and therefore are not prepared to commit to a pool. I am concerned that we could lose everything by acting too precipitately.

My hon. Friend is right, which is why I have said that time is not on our side. People are being issued with redundancy notices—and that is a problem—and schools are not clear about how much money may be available in their budgets.

Broadly speaking, we are moving in the right direction, but we need a framework. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to talk urgently to the Youth Sport Trust and Sport England, because if they worked with him, he could put together a package that satisfied Members on both sides of the House.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) who, at the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour has come up with a solution. If we do not do something as a result of today’s debate, people will be made redundant, so they will be gone and the infrastructure that is so important to school sport will be lost.

I heard what the Secretary of State said and, as an incoming Minister, he is right to want to look at all areas of expenditure. However, I was sad that he did not say that he had held wide-ranging discussions with the hon. Gentleman and with the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, because I well remember the debate that we had on BBC Radio 5 Live before the election, in which we all agreed about the success of school sports. The House should not underestimate the esteem in which our sporting infrastructure is held. After all, that investment led to our wonderful success in Beijing, with our biggest ever medal haul in the Olympics and Paralympics.

The infrastructure was important. We did lose out in school sport in terms of its competitive nature, and we can argue about the causes of that, but what was important was rekindling that competitiveness and putting structures back in place. I am sorry that the Secretary of State has not met Sue Campbell—although I understand one of his ministerial colleagues has done so—because she is an expert in sport infrastructure, not only in this country but around the world. I urge the Secretary of State to meet her to talk through these issues.

We set up the Youth Sport Trust so that it could look after school sport and youth sport. Sport England dealt with community sport through national governing bodies and whole sport plans, and UK Sport dealt with elite-level sport, which we hope will lead to a further medal haul in 2012 that will be the envy of the world.

The Secretary of State should also consider the added value of participation in school sport. Nobody has yet mentioned the sports leaders who volunteer to go from their secondary schools into primary schools. Primary school heads say that if the money is devolved, they will not have the time or the expertise to commit themselves to competition in school sports. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said, those young sports leaders will come to London next week under the leadership of Debbie Lute, who was herself a sports leader. The programme has given them self-confidence and self-esteem, which read across into their academic life. The issue is not just sport for sport’s sake, but what sport can do and the value it can add.

Is my hon. Friend aware that year 5 pupils are involved in volunteering and starting to achieve qualifications as playground leaders and sports coaches? People become involved in the volunteering process from a very early age.

I agree, and that is the way forward—surely it is the big society that the Prime Minister keeps talking about. It is an opportunity to develop people’s leadership skills.

The structure is important. We tend to view bureaucracy and infrastructure as all bad and to be disposed of, but the structure in this case is important. We were careful to ensure that the sports infrastructure met the requirements. There was resistance from some sports to get involved in school sports, and one of the things that we were able to do was widen the choice of sports available to youngsters. Traditionally and stereotypically, boys played cricket, football and rugby and girls played netball and hockey, and that was it. Children did not get an opportunity to do any other sports, which left lots of people out of sport. Through the Youth Sport Trust, and through work with the governing bodies, we opened up opportunities to try archery, fencing and a wide range of sports. It was not a question of participation at elite level, but about the opportunity to take part.

Many of my friends, and I still have a few—[Interruption.] I always include the hon. Member for Bath. Many of my friends became my friends through school and other sports that I have been involved in over the years, so the partnerships should not be thrown away. Urgency is now the name of the game.

My hon. Friend mentioned the range of sports now practised in schools. Some areas of the country are also developing specialisms, such as mountaineering and orienteering in south Yorkshire, which, thanks to the partnerships, is having a huge impact in schools.

I agree, and it has been great to see smaller sports being experienced in schools, which has been achieved through the network, through the school sports co-ordinators and through the opportunity to get involved in coaching. The Secretary of State said that we need to look at how we use sports throughout the school day, but the link between school sports and clubs was the opportunity to bring clubs into the schools and try to use the schools to the fullest extent in passporting people to participation. We have the route right for elite sports—if someone shows potential, they have a route to elite participation—but we also have a route for those who just want to enjoy their sport for the sake of it.

As sports Minister, a big issue for me was disability sport. The hon. Member for Bath was right to say that participation in disability sport should have been a lot better than it was, and there was a need for reform. Disability sport in school is also vital, although there is a transport issue. Some of the good practice in school sport partnerships was in developing ways forward for disability sport. We should be able to offer those with disabilities the same chances as other children to be involved in sport.

I am passionate about sport and I could go on for hours—although of course you will not let me, Mr Deputy Speaker—about what sport can do for our society. We must not miss this opportunity and I hope that the Secretary of State will take up the offer from my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State. If I can be of assistance in any way—I am sure that the hon. Member for Bath and the Minister for Sport and the Olympics would also help—I offer my services to try to find a way through this. If we lose this infrastructure, it will be lost for ever, and we do not want that to happen.

I am pleased to speak in this debate on an issue in which I am very interested. I had many positive experiences in school sports. Indeed, I lost many competitive games, which stood me in good stead in my political life. I was also the lead member for leisure on Swindon borough council and councillor for a new development ward. I support 100% the positive role that sport can play in encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle, and improving behaviour, team work and enjoyment. I want to focus on some constructive points, especially because I am so biased in favour of sport.

Before the debate, I took the opportunity to visit many of my local schools, and the school sport partnership organised some events to showcase exactly what it was doing, working with Swindon borough council’s leisure department. That gave me an opportunity to discuss the matter directly. From my visits in my constituency, I can draw not only many positives, but—crucially—lessons to ensure that we can secure for young people the maximum sporting opportunities.

There have been positive experiences in this process, but it has been patchy. One deputy head teacher whom I spoke to this morning said that the local school sport partnership had taught those involved what they had forgotten, but that it would not be a complete disaster if it disappeared, because they would be able to continue through other mechanisms. There is good and bad, and we should move forward and give head teachers the powers they need.

People involved in the school sport partnership I saw were understandably extremely positive, as were Swindon borough council and some of the head teachers I met—although not all of them—so my hon. Friend raises a fair point, which strengthens the case for giving head teachers more choice. I want to be positive and constructive, but I am biased, because I have seen first hand the benefits that sport can bring.

I return to what I have seen in my constituency. Clearly we have in place a greater range of activities than would typically be offered. Many Members have mentioned that point already—in particular, I noted the speech by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman). One sport I saw was street dancing, which is extremely popular, especially among females—probably off the back of the inspirational “Pineapple Dance Studios” television programme. The crucial message is that it goes beyond the core traditional sports. I am a great believer in competitive sports—I was sporty myself—but trends change, and we need to capture the imagination of children to get them active.

We have to sustain engagement post-event. We have to ensure that, after children enjoy a taster session of external sports clubs, they continue to engage long term. In Swindon, we are good at that, because we have a successful sports forum of 60 sports groups working with the council to promote its activities.

I want to associate myself with my hon. Friend’s positive comments, because based in my constituency is an effective school sport partnership working with 74 primary schools, nine secondary schools and two specialist schools. He made the point about links with clubs. In a remote, rural area such as Cornwall, it is very difficult for young people who develop a passion for sport to find fixtures and opportunities to expand and develop—

Order. I am sorry, but interventions have to be very short. A lot of hon. Members want to speak. If hon. Members are going to intervene, they should keep their interventions short.

I fully agree with my hon. Friend’s excellent intervention. In the 10 years I was a councillor, the achievement I was most proud of was setting up the sports forum to get sports groups to capture children’s imaginations and take them beyond. I welcome her intervention.

We have to improve and increase the provision of high-quality physical education and school sport, especially through training. A number of PE teachers have said to me that, through the school sport partnership, they were equipped with a broader range of skills. We also have to increase the number of healthy and active pupils. We have all been quoting statistics today, and I will quote some relevant to my constituency. In Swindon, the number of schools doing two hours of sport a week has risen from 33 to 68. I was most inspired by a gentleman called Dave Barnett of Robert Le Kyng primary school, which, I must confess, is in the neighbouring South Swindon constituency. He has worked to deal with children with behavioural issues, and to get students active and—crucially—enjoying it. That is a major factor that we should not overlook.

We are all enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s contribution—it could be replicated around the House. My Salford school sport partnership is equally good and has equally impressive statistics. I invite him to vote with the Opposition tonight, because he clearly supports school sport partnerships.

That is a kind intervention. However, I will finish my speech, and then the hon. Lady will see where I sit on this. There have been many successes in Swindon, but that is not necessarily the case throughout the country—I conceded that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy)—so we should look at the broader picture.

I want to mention some positive Government measures to which hon. Members have not referred, for example the Troops for Teachers programme. One of the lessons I have learned is that there is not a sufficient pool of teachers confident enough to deliver a broad range of sporting activity. If ever there was a new wave of teachers who could fill that gap, it is soldiers, so I welcome that initiative. I also welcome the measures to protect playing fields and support the principle of the school Olympics and the plans to invest in leisure infrastructure as part of the Olympics legacy.

I also have my own brief wish list. I would like greater provision of accessible open space in new developments. I touched on this matter in my maiden speech and in a number of Westminster Hall debates. I know, from when I was younger and from having represented a new development ward, that when someone is inspired by sport on the television and wants to go and use jumpers for goalposts, they need somewhere to do it, but too many new developments are concrete jungles and do not provide those opportunities.

We should encourage local authorities and schools to open up their buildings and facilities to local sporting groups and organisations. We also need to work with the youth service. There is now a crossover between traditional sport and youth provision: things such as street dance and cheerleading fall into both categories, because they are traditional sports and are what the youngsters want to do. We also need to tackle the issue of insurance. A number of PE teachers raised with me the point that inter-school competitions require students to be driven to schools, but in some cases it costs £1,000 to insure a teacher to drive a minibus. That proves to be one of the biggest barriers.

In conclusion, it is essential that schools understand and support sporting activity and opportunities. As an MP, I will continue to lobby on this locally in my own small way, and I will continue to visit my schools. Given that schools will effectively now commission this work, I echo the need to have in place a basic framework, as suggested by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster). Those opportunities must continue. Schools themselves can then judge whether the relevant activities are being offered to inspire and increase participation; whether we are working to link with local sports clubs and organisations to sustain engagement; and whether they are receiving the training ultimately to deliver more of their own tailored sporting opportunities that their pupils want. I hope that school sport partnerships can, as in the case of Swindon, prove to their local schools that their work should continue to be commissioned, and I urge the Minister to set out how he will encourage that.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who made some very positive comments. I can fully understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) invited him to join us in the Lobby tonight—he seemed to agree with our motion. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe), the former sports Minister, who is highly regarded across the House for what he achieved in that post.

Last week, it seemed clear that the Government believed that school sport partnerships did not work, despite the facts and the completely opposite view of many of those involved. They believed that partnerships did not deliver and fell short of expectations, and that the investment in them did not result in a commensurate outcome. However, the same message is not coming across today, especially in the comments of some Government Members. I sense a more open approach, so I will be interested to hear the Minister’s winding-up speech.

The Government’s view was at odds with the opinions of individuals and organisations immersed in the world of sport, as we have heard already. Mr Chris Willets, the Tower Hamlets school sport partnership manager, has advised me on the impact of the partnership locally. In 2006, the average number of timetabled minutes for physical education was 99, but is now 127; the number of newly qualified teachers supported to deliver PE was nil, but is now 55; the number of teacher and sport training courses was nil, but is now 73; the number of pupils involved in inter-school sports competitions was 9,000, but is now 15,000; the number of primary inter-school competitions was one, but is now 37; the number of secondary inter-school competitions was three, but is now 25; the number of young people playing sport outside school was 4,000, but is now 11,000; the number of young people involved in representative sport was 31, but is now 237; the number of young people coaching, leading and volunteering was 1,700, but is now 5,100; and the number of professional coaches working in schools was nine, but is now 57. That trend applies to many other statistics that I will not quote.

Those might only be statistics, but they are powerful numbers and they do not—nor can they—convey the huge benefit to young people that sport brings. They do not convey the pleasure, joy and character building that sport delivers, and they cannot explain what a school sport partnership means to young people in a borough such as Tower Hamlets. It helps not just with health, but academically, as I am told by the excellent head of Langdon Park community school, Mr Chris Dunne, whose school was designated a sports academy in 2008. The question being asked in my constituency is: how much longer is Tower Hamlets to bear the brunt of cuts dressed up and designated by the coalition merely as changes designed to make funds “more targeted” or “more effective”? The abolition of the education maintenance allowance has been similarly dressed up, ultimately being dispatched by the Government to make way for “more targeted support”.

I agree that all Members of the House believe that sports in all parts of the UK create added value, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the important thing is the mechanism for delivering that sport? There is a college not a million miles away from my constituency that receives part-funding for a teacher, not for sport but for arts and design. That is why we need change.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the shadow Secretary of State, made it quite clear that we are prepared to engage in trying to ensure that whatever system we have works for the benefit of young people. Last week we were told that the whole £162 million budget would be completely lost—or replaced by £10 million—and that the school sport partnerships would be deconstructed. The Secretary of State, for whom I have the highest regard, asked today by how much we would cut the budget, and in response my right hon. Friend said, “Let’s talk about it.” Let us try to ensure that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so that we can protect the good and improve that which can be improved. That is the way forward.

The abolition of the education maintenance allowance has been dressed up, ultimately being dispatched by the Government to make way for “more targeted support”. However, as with the school sport partnerships, that rings hollow and is unfathomable to young people locally. All they have are the realities: school sport partnerships delivering unprecedented interest, involvement and achievement in sport among children and young people in Tower Hamlets, just as the EMA helped them to strive to achieve their potential in further and higher education. Many young people in Tower Hamlets do not approach sport from a position of privilege, any more than they approach further or higher education from a position of privilege. As noted by others, the Government know that the money must be protected. It is to their great discredit that they cannot be honest about what they are doing to communities such as mine.

However, as I have said, I detected a change in tone from the Secretary of State. I hope and pray that he takes up the invitation from my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State to engage in talks with Members and advisers to see whether we can arrive at a better solution than that which the Prime Minister suggested last week when, in answering questions, he completely dismissed everything about school sport partnerships. Last week the coalition was for eliminating the funds and abolishing the structure. Today I sensed the Secretary of State acknowledging that there was merit in many of the schemes across the country. I hope that I am right, but I fear that I may not be.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s listening mode, and I assure him that I appreciate the need to evaluate school sport partnerships. It is important to be clear in that evaluation about the difference between inter-school sport and intra-school sport. It has been said that 80% of children do not take part in inter-school competition, but that is hardly surprising, as it is representative sport at that level. Very few schools will enter competitions with anything other than their best team. Clearly, it cannot be the case that everyone can take part in inter-school competition or that it will replace intra-school activity.

The Secretary of State said that he was concerned that schools were now advocating activities such as rock climbing and dance rather than rugby or football. It is important to find the right sport for the right person, whether it is a more traditional team game, an individual sport or two hours of aerobics every week. Nothing gives me more pleasure than visiting a school and witnessing pupils who would probably never want to participate in competitive sport, but who do participate in street dance, for example. As long as young people are active and are enjoying sport and learning all the lessons that come with it, it should not matter whether they are cross-country runners, table tennis players or stars of the first XV rugby team. That is where school sport partnerships have come in, helping to deliver a wider PE curriculum than a PE teacher could manage on their own.

In principle, I agree with non-ring-fenced budgets and with more decision taking by individual schools, so I ask myself: why do I have reservations about schools making their own decisions, especially if the £162 million really is distributed among schools? If all schools pooled their money—and if it is definitely in their budgets for that purpose—life would be perfectly straightforward, as long as the local authority can provide the leadership. However, as I pointed out earlier, that works only if everyone signs up in advance. The feedback that I am getting locally is that head teachers are so uncertain about their budgets that they will not commit in advance until they see their budgets. There is uncertainty about what the pupil premium actually means, about the ending of extra grants for specialist schools and about much more. I am aware that the Secretary of State has gone out of his way to reassure people, but sadly there is still uncertainty. That is why I feel that we should not just stop the initiative dead. We should evaluate and make improvements, but we also have to move at a timed pace and put steps in place, rather than just saying, “This scheme will come to an end by April 2011.”

I would like to refer briefly to some comments made by one of my constituents. In part, we have focused on some of the bad experiences with school sport partnerships, but I want to celebrate some of the good experiences. In east Dorset, school sport partnerships have given all school children access to high quality coaching in a number of sports and, by organising festivals and tournaments, have allowed children the opportunity to compete and co-operate with children from other schools, as well as giving them access to facilities at the larger venues. It is through such initiatives that children become enthused by sport and develop life-long habits and skills. In addition to the more traditional sports of football, netball and rugby, children have had the opportunity to discover sports such as karate, basketball, archery, badminton and athletics that might not otherwise have been on offer. Thus, all children have the opportunity to find a sport that will interest them.

Sport plays a vital role, and it should be an integral part of a child’s education. It has obvious health benefits, but it is also important for personal development, communication skills and giving children self-confidence. It is impressive to see young sports leaders from middle and upper schools who have been given the chance to organise events, referee matches and do coaching, giving them skills that will be useful in any chosen career. With that responsibility comes more mature attitudes, and older children become role models for the younger children they lead. I am concerned that, without the work of the partnerships, the current level of participation in sport will not be maintained. The smaller schools will have difficulty offering the variety and quality of sporting activities possible at present, and the provision of sport could become patchy and piecemeal. I make my remarks in a constructive manner, and I urge the Secretary of State to give the issue a thorough review.

I want to use my few minutes to tell the House what the decision means in my constituency, in Tameside and Oldham. Both the New Charter academy in Tameside and Failsworth school in Oldham have made remarkable progress since they attained sports college status. The improvement in results and the progress made by students at both schools have been tremendous, and that applies right across the curriculum, not just to sporting achievement. Those two schools are the basis of school sport partnerships in their boroughs, each covering a group of secondary schools, colleges and 30-odd primary schools. The SSP funding pays not only for the partnership development managers, but for their teams of part-time sports co-ordinators and primary liaison teachers—all teachers, not bureaucrats.

In the Failsworth partnership, regular participation in competitive sport stands at 45%, and in Tameside the figure has reached 62%, the third highest participation level nationally last year. In Tameside and Oldham, physical education and school sports have been transformed by school sport partnerships, and it is a tragedy that all this hard work and achievement risk being blown apart by this ill-conceived and spiteful cut. While the most noticeable progress has been made in the sports colleges, it is in the primary and special needs sectors that the cut will have the cruellest impact. In the words of Emma Heap, the Tameside development manager:

“These measures will take us back ten years.”

The loss of dedicated SSP funding, of infrastructure and of facilitation and partnership work will inevitably lead to piecemeal, patchy sports provision in the primary sector. Talent will not be spotted at an early enough age for children to become Olympians or sports professionals, and the opportunity to develop transferable skills such as teamwork, leadership and volunteering—all of which can be developed through sport—will be lost. Some of our greatest sporting achievements in recent years have been in the Paralympics, and I wonder what thought the Secretary of State has given to the potential damage he is doing to our ability to spot and nurture sporting talent among students with disabilities by doing away with SSPs.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the lives of even some of the most disabled young people, such as the pupils of Abbey Hill school in my constituency, have been enhanced through the school sport partnerships? Those young people are now going to lose those opportunities because of the Government’s decision.

What I am going on to say will prove my hon. Friend right.

One of my constituents, Jade, is 13 years old and she has spina bifida. She did not take part in PE very much and, being a quiet girl, tended to sit and watch the others. Thanks to a national scheme piloted in Tameside, however, school sports co-ordinators spotted Jade’s potential at a talent academy, an Active 8 session. She tried her hand at a wheelchair event, and quickly progressed to win a race at county level. Next, she took part at regional level and won again. She had another win at national level. The SSP introduced her to the local athletics club and generated support around her. She tried the javelin, again with much success. Her first throw was 5 metres. The Paralympic record was 11 metres, and Jade was only 12 years old at the time. She has great potential and, at an athlete identification day, UK Athletics identified her as a potential Paralympian.

Jade is just one of 400 pupils who have been through the Active 8 academy in the past four years, many of whom have moved on to sports clubs and ever greater levels of achievement. Jade’s parents are overjoyed at how far she has come, from being shy and retiring to being confident and successful. Her family put this down to the role of the SSP, the school sports co-ordinator and the competition manager at her school, without whom none of this could have happened. This is what the Secretary of State is putting at risk with his ill-conceived proposal, which will smash the infrastructure that makes all this possible for Jade and thousands of others like her. It really is not good enough to look to hard-pressed head teachers to provide the funds to maintain the skills, experience and infrastructure of the SSPs. Mainstream education budgets are being slashed, and difficult decisions will need to be made.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government do not seem to understand that it is in deprived areas, where parents do not have the money to pay for their children to have coaching or to join expensive sports clubs, that the cuts will take us back more than a decade to when sporting opportunities were the preserve of the well off?

Indeed I do agree with my hon. Friend. Her comment applies equally to my constituency.

The heads of both the sports colleges in my constituency have promised to do everything possible to continue the present level of support, but when they are battling to balance their books, it will be increasingly difficult for them to prioritise sport over maths and English. Head teachers and leading sporting figures are calling for a rethink, and even the Daily Mail describes the proposal as “idiotically destructive” and a

“false economy on a staggeringly grand scale”,

I want to end by urging Government Front Bench Members to heed those calls. I really hope that the Secretary of State will take up the offer from those on our Front Bench, but I am not optimistic. I am afraid that this is what happens when public schoolboys are running the country. This Government, and these Ministers, have not got a clue about the schools that are attended by 93% of this country’s children. Not only have they not got a clue, but, by scrapping school sport partnerships, they are showing that they have not got a care either.

This has been a timely debate on an issue of great importance for the future of our country. It is telling that, today, Members on both sides of the House have recognised the value of school sport partnerships. As the shadow Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), made clear in his excellent opening speech, we will continue to support the growing grass-roots campaign that is uniting head teachers, teachers, parents, young people, coaches and elite athletes across our country in defending school sport partnerships because of their past success and their capacity to transform the future for hundreds of thousands of young people. We will do so until the coalition reverses a decision that can be justified neither by the deficit nor by the performance of the Youth Sport Trust and school sport partnerships. Let us be clear, however, that we are willing to work with the Government to find a constructive solution. The speeches by the hon. Members for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) and for Bath (Mr Foster) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) demonstrated that there are people on both sides of the House who can play an important part in finding a solution.

As we have heard time and again since this ill-conceived decision was announced, youth sport can and does transform the life chances of so many young people, building confidence and self-esteem, which are pre-requisites to educational attainment. It supports the development of leadership and teamwork skills that are so beneficial in the modern world of work. It helps young people to stay healthy and to avoid the curse of obesity, which is our greatest public health emergency—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) made so well. Youth sport also ensures that some young people find a positive alternative to drifting into a life of crime and antisocial behaviour. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, these are all reasons why dismantling support for school sport would be both reckless and short-sighted.

It is also a decision that thus far displays breathtaking arrogance at the highest levels of Government. The Secretary of State for Education wants to be viewed as an intellectual radical reformer and the man to restore the education system to the halcyon days of a mythical glorious past. Yet in the seven months since the election, he has sometimes shown himself to be too clever by half, even for a man of his undoubted intelligence. On this occasion, he has also shown himself to be uncharacteristically discourteous, imposing this draconian cut without ever visiting a school sport partnership, without ever having the decency to meet representatives of the Youth Sport Trust, and showing an astonishing determination not to allow the facts to get in the way of his decision.

It is bad enough to dismantle an infrastructure that has been the catalyst for so much progress, but it is unforgivable systematically to rubbish its achievements, distort its aims and write off sports teachers and coaches as bureaucrats. This has been low politics from people who claim to be the promoters of new politics. I genuinely say to the Secretary of State that true leadership means sometimes having to say, “I got it wrong,” or, at the very least, being willing to change direction. If he fails to do that, he will be a diminished, not an enhanced, figure in this House.

It will not be the kids and grandkids of many of those on the Government Benches who will suffer if the Secretary of State persists with this policy. Private schools have the best facilities, the most expansive playing fields and the best qualified sports coaches. Why should not the vast majority of pupils who attend state schools in our country have the same opportunities? I would have thought that that was a non-negotiable guiding principle for the Lib Dems.

How can the Prime Minister talk of his belief in the big society when the Government he leads are dismantling partnerships that have supported an increase of 800,000 young people acting as sports volunteers and leaders since 2007? That point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (David Heyes). This Government do not seem to understand that a big society is often dependent on an active state.

Five years ago, on that historic day in Singapore, Britain was engulfed by a wave of pride and patriotism. Against all the odds, we won the Olympic bid on the clear prospectus that we would use the greatest sporting event in the world to inspire a generation of young people through sport. That commitment was made in the knowledge that we had the means and the ambition to transform an aspiration into a reality. Against that background, I ask the coalition, “Do you want your legacy, and our Olympic legacy, to be a generation of young people lost to sport, not because there is a better way or no alternative but simply because one Minister is hell bent on pressing ahead with an ideological approach to education?”

That Minister should consider these words carefully:

“I am devastated to witness the potential demise of this legacy with the sweep of Mr Gove’s pen. I wish that he had spoken to me, the teachers in our partnership, our students, our parents and our local sports clubs and providers before telling us that competitive sport in our schools was non existent.”

Those are the words of Jo Phillips, a school sports co-ordinator in the Prime Minister’s constituency. They should be a wake-up call not only to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, but to every Member of the House of Commons.

Our Olympic legacy does not belong to one Government or another; it is the torch that we pass from one generation to the next. That is why we will not rest until the coalition rethinks this decision.

We have had a very good, if truncated, debate, to which passionate and genuine contributions have been made by many hon. Members. I have to say, however, that I think the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) attended a different debate, and certainly did not listen to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Let me make one thing clear at the outset. This Government, this Secretary of State and this Minister are absolutely committed to promoting sport in schools and outside schools, and to all ages, as beneficial, positive, healthy, team-building, socialising and a fun thing to do. Some of us actually play it as well. The hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts), who is no longer in the Chamber, might like to turn out next Wednesday for the parliamentary hockey team. I shall be leading it in Wapping. I note that his interests include watching rugby and football, but apparently not participating in sport himself. Above all, we want to see more young people engaged in high-quality sport, more often and more competitively, starting younger, for longer and, most important, sustainably into adulthood.

No one is talking about taking sport away from schools, and no one is talking about downgrading sport as an important and exciting part of school life. Head teachers have been responsible for ensuring the delivery of PE and sport in their schools ever since it was made a compulsory part of the national curriculum in 1992, and we have no plans to change that. The Government are not closing down school sport partnerships; what we are doing is ending the ring-fenced funding for them beyond the summer of 2011. Funding was never expected to be of unlimited duration—and, of course, we have still not heard from Labour Members what they would have been able to sustain given the disastrous economic legacy that they bequeathed to the country.

If schools choose to use their own sports funding to buy in the services provided by the school sport partnerships, they will be free to do so. Indeed, if they have been such a success in the eyes of schools, surely that is what those schools will want to do. However, we believe that that should be offered without the bureaucratic, costly, top-down infrastructure that school sport partnerships involve.

Despite the best intentions of the last Government and the best endeavours of many school sports co-ordinators and teachers, we simply are not aiming high enough or achieving nearly enough in return for the massive investment of £2.4 billion in public funding since the partnerships started in 2003. The question, therefore, is not “if” but “how”. It is about how we achieve more, how we get more young people involved, and how we change the whole ethos of sport in schools and ignite a spark in our young people that is sustained into adulthood—and not just because it is offered on a plate by a generously funded but highly prescriptive central Government offer.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way at this stage. Let me briefly echo his points. The co-ordinator in my area has worked extremely well, but the difficulties were highlighted by a head teacher in my constituency who said that

“the strategy was both ineffective and also a perfect example of how ‘ring-fenced’ initiatives can be inefficient and bureaucratic.”

Do our children not deserve a better system?

My hon. Friend is right. It is a mixed picture.

The network of school sport partnerships did help schools to raise participation rates in a range of areas targeted by the previous Government, and schools should be given credit for that. I pay tribute to the Youth Sport Trust and to Lady Campbell, whom I have met three times in the last six months and with whom I have played extreme frisbee in Sheffield. The fact remains, however, that the proportion of young people taking part in competitive sport has remained disappointingly low, and definitions of what count as participation levels are hardly ambitious. I will not repeat the figures now.

What we need to do is enable schools to exercise innovation and autonomy. What interests me is how many inspirational men and women wearing tracksuits are motivating our young people on the sports pitch, not wielding clipboards and filling in forms back in the office. We firmly believe that the ideals of the Olympic and Paralympic games can be an inspiration to all young people, not only to our most promising young athletes. They embody the ethos of achievement and self-improvement that the best schools manifest in their sports provision for all pupils. That is why we want to see a new focus on competitive sports. Truly vibrant, sustainable sporting provision does not depend on a continuous drip-feed of ring-fenced funding, trickling through layers of bureaucratic structure with multiple strings attached. Instead, it must be integrated into the core mission and organisation of each school.

Our Government will get behind schools and teachers and help them to do what they do best: decide for themselves, individually and in collaboration, how to teach and develop their young people. The time for a top-down, centrally driven school sports strategy has passed. The days of a bureaucratic, top-heavy programme that saw extra funding soaked up by management, reporting and form-filling are, happily, passing into history.

What is important is delivering more high-quality sport for more children for longer, not a dogged attachment to the past structures of delivery. This motion from an opportunist and failed ex-Government is not the way in which to achieve that, and I urge Members to vote against it.

Question put.

The House proceeded to a Division.