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Olympic Sports/GCSE PE

Volume 630: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2017

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Olympic sports and accepted GCSE PE activities.

This is an important matter, especially to all those students and their parents who find themselves in what I would describe as a deeply unfair situation, if I may be so bold. The mother of my constituent Kyle Ross-Waddell, who is here today with his parents, contacted me in the summer about the position he found himself in at Bramcote School in my constituency. In short, this young man is an exceptionally talented speed-skater, to the extent that he is now one of only 12 15 to 18-year-olds who are part of the national academy for primarily speed-skating, but also related sports, that is based at two centres in Nottingham and Sheffield.

In Nottingham we have a fine tradition of skating, started by Torvill and Dean, and we have a national centre in Nottingham. As a result of that, all manner of young people are now excelling in various forms of skating as a sport. Kyle is undoubtedly in that elite squad, and it has been recognised that he has genuine potential in short-track speed-skating that will take him into an elite Olympic squad.

I am proud that for some years now, Governments of whatever colour have had a policy—it has been controversial in some respects but has undoubtedly worked—of encouraging youngsters who have that elite status over the course of their development so that they achieve the very highest recognition, in the Olympic games. I will go no further than that, because I would stray into matters that do not concern us in this debate, but the importance of providing those youngsters with the training, expertise, aspiration, coaching and so on that they require to achieve at the highest level has been recognised.

I am proud that Kyle is in that elite sector, and I am proud of his achievements, as his parents undoubtedly are. At the age of 14 to 15, he chose PE as one of his GCSE topics. As part of that GCSE, a youngster has to choose three sports to be examined in. Unsurprisingly, Kyle chose speed-skating as one of those three. In fact, he made it his main sport, for obvious reasons—he is exceptionally good at it. The system is that a youngster is watched and examined to see how well they play that sport. It is not just their knowledge of the sport or other sports; their ability to play that chosen sport forms an essential ingredient of the eventual marks they get for GCSE PE.

Bramcote School assumed that the system that then prevailed would continue. Speed-skating had not necessarily been put on the main list of sporting activities, but it was recognised, as with a number of other sports, that if some national centre of excellence or other access locally was available to ensure that a pupil’s physical ability to play that sport was properly assessed, they could make it their main sport and therefore study it as part of their GCSE.

That is where it all went horribly wrong. Bramcote School thought that the system would prevail whereby if the local board agreed that there was local provision to test the young person, they could carry on and make it their main sport, even though it was not on the list. Unfortunately, the Government changed the system. The previous Administration decided to take off the list speed-skating and a number of other sports—I have the full list—many of which are accepted Olympic sports and part of the elite programme that I am very proud to say my Government and previous Governments have been so keen to support.

Kyle found, at the end of the first of his two years of studies, that he could no longer study the sport he does so brilliantly. He has been able to choose another sport, but it is not one he particularly excels in. I am not saying he does not play it very well. Indeed, I have a lot of evidence that he is extremely good at both football and athletics. I refer to the wise words of his headteacher, Paul Heery, who said in a letter to me when I raised this with him at the end of the summer:

“This decision has been a controversial one for a number of sports, and their associations and governing bodies have raised their concerns. As you indicate in the letter, our PE teachers are confident that they can assess practical skills to GCSE level—where they have had to assess unfamiliar sports in the past, they have taken advice, used available information and used their experience and judgement.”

I have had testimony from a number of people, notably a gentleman called Andy Baldwin, who is a long-standing PE teacher of great experience. He was head of PE and sport at Fernwood School in Wollaton, in the city of Nottingham and the constituency of the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). In a lengthy email to my constituent’s mother, who is also a constituent, he explains that this system is simply unfair. My constituent and many others have effectively been—one hesitates to use these words, but I think it is proper in this context—discriminated against, because their sport, which they are extremely good at, has been taken off a list, to their profound disadvantage.

This is a really important speech. I speak as the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for sport. In this country, we should champion and be proud of sporting excellence. Sometimes that will be in uncommon sports, and we should have the flexibility to champion people’s potential, because we will all celebrate it if they do make it to the Olympics. I also wish to put on record that I wish Kyle the very best of luck in his career.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I know Kyle will be pleased to hear those words.

There is an outbreak of unity across the normal political divides on this issue. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who wanted to attend the debate but cannot. He has been good enough to share with me correspondence relating to his constituent, Natalie Crawford, whose name he has said I can mention. She happens to be a friend of Kyle’s family. She has represented her country in the youth Olympics in speed-skating and yet finds herself—I think she is now doing her A-levels—unable to put that sport on her curriculum so that she can be examined in it. That truly cannot be right.

I believe a review is being conducted in 2018. I am grateful for the letter that my hon. Friend the Minister sent me when I wrote to him back in the summer, but I urge the Government to give this their most urgent attention. I am sure that this matter can be resolved, but we need to get on with it. Someone like Kyle cannot wait until 2018, when he is due to complete his GCSE studies and sit his exams. Until the review, many other youngsters across the whole of England and no doubt Wales will be seriously discriminated against because of an arbitrary list. I will be corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) if I am wrong, but I think that sports such as judo, in which this country has done so well at the Olympics, have been taken off the list. Again, that cannot be right.

I am very grateful to my constituents for bringing this matter to my attention, and I am lucky to have secured the debate. I look forward to the Minister’s comments. I urge the Government to look again at this list and take action not in 2018, but as soon as possible.

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) on securing the debate. I know that she is passionate about sport and physical activity and is a keen follower of a number of sports teams, including, I understand, the Leicester Tigers.

Like my right hon. Friend, the Government are committed to ensuring that all pupils are healthy and active, which is why PE remains compulsory at all four key stages in the national curriculum. It is also why, through the primary PE and sport premium, we have invested more than £600 million of ring-fenced funding for primary schools to improve PE and sport since 2013 and have doubled that funding to £320 million a year from this September.

My right hon. Friend raises the issue of some Olympic sports not being included in the activity list for PE GCSE. We should all be incredibly proud of the recent performances of our Olympians and Paralympians. At the Rio 2016 Olympics, Team GB became the first team to win more medals at a games immediately after hosting them. They won 67 medals—the most since 1908—and came second in the medal table. ParalympicsGB also finished second in the medal table, winning 147 medals—the most since national lottery funding began. Indeed, I could expand as to where Yorkshire would have ranked in the medal table if it were an independent country—but I will not.

Not all Olympic sports are included in the PE GCSE activity list, but their inclusion or non-inclusion does not represent a view on the legitimacy or value of the activity. The revised PE GCSE was first taught in September 2016, as part of wider Government reforms to ensure that qualifications are high quality, demanding and academically rigorous and prepare students for further and higher education and, of course, employment. For PE, the subject content was revised to address comments that the current GCSE and A-level were not of comparable rigour to other subjects, did not provide suitable progression and had led to inequalities in assessment.

As part of the revisions, awarding organisations proposed revising the list of activities that could be assessed in the practical element of the course. That was to ensure that all the activities reflected Ofqual’s principles that non-exam assessment should ensure sound assessment practice, be manageable and ensure that a qualification is not easily distorted. In determining which activities should be included in the list, awarding organisations considered the range and demand of skills and techniques in the activity; the application of tactics and strategy in the activity; the ability to develop skills over a significant time; whether there were suitable conditions in which to perform; and whether the level of performance could realistically be assessed by PE practitioners—probably the key point in this situation.

I should say for the record that I am a lifelong supporter of Notts County; I watch Nottingham Forest as well; and I enjoy watching Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. I wanted to put that on the record, but I am very serious about this issue. Does the Minister agree that in the modern world, as Mr Baldwin points out to me, PE teachers are of course perfectly capable, through their knowledge of the subject, of assessing performance in all sports? They particularly rely on videos, and they have those skills, those abilities, so even if it is an unusual sport, they can test someone’s performance. And let me add that as well as judo, fencing, pentathlon, sailing, shooting, archery and many other Olympic sports have been removed from the list.

I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but the feedback from the awarding organisations was that, in some cases, the proficiency was not there across the country to assess some of these sports. When applicants put in for a GCSE exam, they may not necessarily all be of Olympic standard, and it is important that assessments can be made across the ability range in these sports. Often, specialist skills and knowledge are needed for some of the sports to make the assessment.

I understand that for some pupils, such as Kyle, the revisions to the activity list may be frustrating, but in many cases, pupils who excel in sports that are not on the activity list will also be highly proficient in a range of other sports that are included. It is important that GCSE PE can be assessed reliably and that the activities included in the list are of comparable demand among pupils and are manageable for schools to assess. I have discussed the issue with the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and we agree that it is simply not practical to expect that every sport can be assessed as part of GCSE PE. Indeed, I bumped into her on the way to this debate and mentioned that it was taking place.

As we previously committed to doing, the Government will review the activity list in autumn 2018, following the first examinations next summer. We will agree that process with the exam boards and announce details closer to the time.

In the case of my right hon. Friend’s constituent, Kyle Ross-Waddell, I understand that he is on the short track speed-skating talent pathway. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on the progress that he is making and to wish him the very best for his future development.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister takes a keen interest in this area, but surely, if Kyle proves to be successful, we will cheer every bit as loudly for his success as we will for anyone in any of the other sports in the Olympics, so we should rightly be celebrating and encouraging sporting excellence in all the sports that count in the Olympics.

Of course we should celebrate sporting excellence, but a number of sports may not be particularly practical for schools to offer. For example, clay pigeon shooting is an Olympic sport, but I suspect that concerns would be raised were it to be a sport taught in schools.

In terms of practicality for teachers, my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said that the decision was arbitrary. It was not arbitrary: the list has been reduced considerably to ensure that a PE practitioner will be able to recognise the key skills and fluency of movement in the activities proposed. The awarding organisations have removed activities that are so specialist or niche that specific expertise in the activity is required to assess them. An example is martial arts, which have been mentioned. For a number of activities used in previous specifications, experience suggested that teachers and moderators were often unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable with the assessment of them and were relying too heavily on outside expertise to inform assessment decisions.

Again, I thank my right hon. Friend for calling the debate and I reiterate that the inclusion or non-inclusion of sports in the activity list does not represent a view on their legitimacy or value. Today’s debate will be helpful in further shaping our thinking on the activity list, and we will provide further details of the review next year.

I wish Kyle all the best in his PE GCSE and in the other subjects that he is taking. I rather suspect that if he does stand on the podium at a future Olympics, people will not be looking too closely at what grade he got in his PE GCSE, although I understand from his school that he is expected to excel in the sports that he is currently taking.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.