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Children: Competitive Sport

Volume 752: debated on Monday 24 February 2014

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage younger children to participate in competitive sport.

My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to lead this debate because last month I was incensed to read that Surrey Rugby, part of the RFU, was changing the ethos and rules for children’s mini-rugby, age six to 11, meaning that teams need no longer play to win and that they must also be of mixed ability, not the strongest that keeps on winning. My blood pressure shot up rapidly and the scheme provoked wider anger in the game. Ex-England international player and board member at Esher Rugby Club Simon Halliday said:

“We are appalled and have withdrawn from all Surrey rugby competition. In sport there are winners and losers. As long as you don’t demean the loser, it’s straightforward”.

Chris McGovern, the chairman of Real Education, criticised the Surrey rules, saying:

“This is not in the interests of children. It will rob them of motivation and incentive, and does not prepare them for the real world … Children can learn from failure and they have to lose sometimes”.

Steve Grainger, the RFU’s development director, countered:

“If we are not meeting children’s needs and not presenting them with a format that suits them, we are not delivering to our customers”.

What a ghastly word—“customers”. This guidance applies to Surrey’s mini-festivals. Scores will be regularly reviewed and current RFU regulations state that:

“Matches must be brought to an end if … at Under 7s to Under 12s the try difference rises to more than six”.

An accompanying Daily Telegraph editorial headed “Must try less hard” stated that,

“misplaced egalitarianism risks denying non-academic children the valuable opportunity of excelling on the sports field”.

My comment is that youngsters, whether playing rugby or on their Xbox, thrive on competition. A game where no one wins is not much fun.

Sport England must hope that its massive government investment into sport will help youngsters to learn more about life’s battles if they strive to win and learn how to lose. Sport England stated to me:

“We know that many young people enjoy taking part in competitive sport, and that others are more comfortable simply taking part with a focus on personal challenge. We think that competition and realising talent are essential elements of a high quality grassroots sports sector”.

Sport England is investing up to £35.5 million between 2010 and 2015 in the Sainsbury’s School Games, delivered by the Youth Sport Trust. Some 70% of schools in England have signed up for them. There is thus a clear demand for organised, competitive sport. Sport England’s investment philosophy for primary school sports is:

“We want all children to have good physical literacy—able to run, throw, jump, with confidence, through PE at their primary school; to have a positive experience, and associate PE with fun and enjoyment and also to have exposure to a range of activities including competition”.

To emphasise the Government’s commitment to young children having an enhanced sporting experience, the Prime Minister announced just three weeks ago that the Government will extend primary school sport premium funding up to 2020. It was previously guaranteed until 2016. This premium provides £150 million a year for primary schools to enhance their provision of PE, physical activity and school sport. The funding is fully ring-fenced, with an average primary school receiving around £9,250 annually.

The Youth Sport Trust, an independent charity devoted to changing young people’s lives through sport, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, very much welcomes the Prime Minister’s announcement. It states that it believes that this investment has the potential to transform PE, sport and physical activity provision in our primary schools, and that it is crucial that schools are supported and encouraged to use sport premium funding to secure sustainable improvements to provision. The Youth Sport Trust believes that participation in competitive sport at school is a key part in any child’s sporting journey, building key life skills such as teamwork, determination and leadership. The trust also believes that any focus on competition should allow all young people to participate fully in PE and school sport, including those who are less inclined to take part in competitive activities.

Going forward, if the Government are committed to driving the take-up of competitive sport in schools, it is imperative that measures to promote this are articulated as part of a wider PE and school sport programme. I would be pleased to hear assurances from the Minister that this commitment is at the forefront of government thinking.

The FA has made sensible changes at youth level, most notably that season-long competitions have now been removed in favour of shorter-format trophy events providing several competitions throughout the season, capturing children’s imagination and preventing runaway winners. This still promotes the importance of winning and losing and allows the recognition of winners, but here is a message to Surrey Rugby: no reselection is imposed on youngsters’ teams that have the audacity to keep winning.

The ECB Cricket Foundation’s Chance to Shine schools programme, with government backing, has the overall aim of reintroducing cricket into state schools. It uses cricket as a catalyst for developmental issues like behaviour, attainment, teamwork, life skills and values. The ethos is simple: link cricket clubs to local primary and secondary schools, provide qualified coaches to deliver cricket sessions and matches in schools, train teachers and encourage children to come and play at cricket clubs, thus encouraging competition. Since 2005, more than 2 million children, including 1 million girls, have received coaching through the programme—a great achievement.

Kwik Cricket, another ECB grass-roots initiative, provides children of primary school age with a fun, inclusive and fast-paced introduction to the game of cricket. The main aim is to inspire children to play cricket through a national competition framework. Each summer, the largest structured primary school initiative in England and Wales gives children aged five to 11 at 10,000 schools the opportunity to play and learn cricket in a competitive but fun environment. There is even an ECB Ashes school challenge, a free interactive primary school resource that enables students to learn about cricket’s most famous series. Perhaps in future England’s school youngsters could beat Australia interactively, unlike in the recent real live men’s Ashes cricket series. The women’s cricket team is of course absolved of this little barb.

The DCMS Taking Part survey 2013 states:

“For 5-10 year olds, the most common way of participating in competitive sport was playing sport in their school in organised competitions”.

It is a well known fact that increasing physical activity in lessons, including competitive elements, from twice a week to daily is reported to have a significant effect on primary school pupils’ academic achievements in maths, reading and writing. The DCMS document Creating a Sporting Habit for Life: A New Youth Sport Strategy made clear that a key goal for the Government was to increase the number of young people participating in school sport, including building a lasting legacy of competitive sport in schools. Competitive sport was also included in the PE component of key stages 1 and 2 of the revised national curriculum in England for September 2013, which sets out the purpose of PE for younger children as:

“A high-quality physical education curriculum inspires all pupils to succeed and excel in competitive sport and other physically demanding activities”.

My right honourable friend the Minister for Sport, Helen Grant, stated in the other place:

“Competition can be great, but not everyone likes it. We want people to be active and to enjoy sport, which is why changes have been made to the national curriculum to provide a broad range of team and individual activities such as dance that will appeal to those who may be a little less competitive”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/12/13; col. 336.]

However, you try telling contestants in “Strictly Come Dancing” that dance is not a competitive art form, or even that cheerleading teams do not compete to be the best. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, which is backed by the Government, found in its survey Changing the Game, for Girls that,

“it was not competition per se that girls say they dislike, but rather other people’s negative behaviour in competitive situations, including: cheating … fighting … arguing”.

I am not sure which sport they were thinking of in this perception. Perhaps it was hopscotch or conkers.

If you want to hear what competition in sport can do for the development of youngsters, turning them into rounded adults fit for life and business, hear what Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, one of the most influential women in the City and member of the Women and Sport Advisory Board— created last September by the right honourable Maria Miller, Minister of State at DCMS—had to say on the subject:

“Watching my sons play rugby, football and cricket has reinforced for me the importance of learning to be part of a team … The importance attached to the boys’ team sports by their schools and peers is also great training for playing in front of a ‘crowd’. The boys learn to deal with performance nerves, to overcome disappointments, to have the strength of character to carry on when losing—and to enjoy victories”.

Helena Morrissey’s company sponsorship of the Women’s Varsity Boat Race is a leap of faith to make equality a reality in a corner of the sporting world. She said,

“and then our daughters will be inspired, their schools compelled and the curriculum altered—to develop, ultimately, more women prepared to run businesses and the world”.

That is what competition in sport can achieve. Britain’s triumphant gold medal winner in the skeleton bob at the Sochi Winter Olympics, Lizzie Yarnold, commented in a BBC interview:

“You don’t get better unless you push yourself”.

That is what competition should do for us all, young and old. I hope that my noble friend and the Government agree.

Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab): My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, has secured this debate. She and I both played competitive—very competitive—hockey and cricket, and have the knuckles to prove it. Today I want to explore some of the issues around how far we should push competitive sport and to whom.

This debate is, of course, very timely, given the excitement of the recent Winter Olympics, the enthralling Six Nations rugby and the more disappointing Ashes tour of Australia, although of course the England women’s team won. Sport is around us all the time, and I am pleased to see that MPs and noble Lords are consistent in asking questions of Ministers about the importance of sport for young people.

There are of course concerns and tensions. Sport is only partly at international level and only partly competitive. As has already been mentioned, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, recently talked about “a crisis of inactivity”—not of sport, of inactivity. There have been reports of competitive sports encouraging pupils to cheat because of pressure to win and suggestions that pushy parents and grandparents on the touchline set a bad example for behaviour at sporting events. I have seen that. Sadly, there are examples of the poor behaviour of professional, or at least competing, sportsmen—usually, they are men—which degrade the name of sport.

Let me try to tease out the issue further. When I taught in schools and, indeed, when I was in school all those many years ago, it was clear that many children were not going to succeed in competitive sport. Sport for them did not improve self-belief and self-esteem; quite the contrary. Such pupils hated games, invented excuses not to do them, lied, forged sickness notes from parents, and so on. Sadly, they were often bullied and disparaged for not being able to catch, throw, run or swim. I am sure that it is the same in schools today. We know that many girls simply give up physical activity when they do not have to do it at school. What a pity.

I have always supported the notion of health-related fitness, as well as competitive sport; they are not mutually exclusive. Many schools now offer dance, movement and exercise which all can enjoy. Classes in yoga, tai chi, Pilates and Zumba—whatever that is—are proliferating in communities. They are not competitive, except perhaps in relation to oneself. Walking is competitive in relation to oneself and the elements. I went for a walk in Sussex recently and fought against the wind and the mud.

If there is enjoyment in being able to perform a physical activity, the activity may well continue, to the benefit not only of the body but of the mind. It is well known that physical activity also improves mental performance. Mr Gove recently praised the academic achievement of pupils in Shanghai schools. I wonder whether he is aware that in Shanghai, pupils also do one hour of physical activity a day.

I turn to cricket for a few final thoughts. Wasim Khan, chief executive of the Cricket Foundation, has spoken of concern that so many youngsters may be struggling “in a pressure cooker” to win at all costs. He has emphasised the need to play fairly and to respect the rules and the opposition. The ECB programme, Chance to Shine, cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, is a brilliant example of taking sport into inner-city schools. It is competitive, but in a fairly light-hearted way.

The noble Baroness’s Question refers to younger children competing in sport. I must say that I would not like younger children to be demoralised by an apparent lack of sporting ability or being in a pressure cooker. Younger children should be, and many are, active creatures. They like being physical. If they can taste the excitement of competition, handled well and positively, that could be a good experience that it can be fun to not win. All I am saying—I think that the noble Baroness will agree—is that qualities of collaboration, teamwork and respect for others are part of sport and that those qualities should not be downplayed in favour of competition, particularly at an early age.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for tabling this debate, although I fear that when I read the articles about Surrey, I understood why they are bringing that provision in. To deal with that first, rugby union is a game where physical size and strength are important. If you have a group of children who are bigger earlier, they do not compete; they smash down and defeat their opponents and drive them down. They gain nothing in terms of competition from being bigger and stronger; they do not actually have to be very good at the game; and those that they are walking over do not benefit from that either. That is why, in a club game, it is now encouraged that if someone matures earlier, you stick them in with older people. Thus, that article becomes more understandable. When someone says, “You’re taking away the trophy from my children and my club”, I say, “If you’re judging the success of your club by a trophy won by under-nines, go away and have a think about yourself”. That is my take on that.

When it comes to competition, I do not know a sporting activity in which competition is not involved. Competition does not mean the end result but the process by which you undertake these games—how, in any team sport where you have a ball, you move that ball around to achieve your ends. How you teach people to run and receive the ball within the confines of that game is the essential competitive element from which a score can be derived. The competition is the build-up, part of the structure, the movement and the correct way in which you do that. People get obsessed about scores, results and league tables that they can publish and point at—and they are often the people who are not taking part in the sporting activity.

In concentrating on the true competitive element—that is, getting somebody in a competition where the outcome is not more or less predetermined—you are creating competition. By evening the sides out, you create it. Why do you have first, second and third teams in adult sport, in amateur games? It is so that you have even competitive results. The RFU is removing trophies from its junior ranks because they are meaningless for the adult game. The idea that you should have a contest on as even terms as you can get, where the result is not guaranteed, is essential. If we can bring this into the youth policy, it means making sure that people are trained properly to create these situations.

To go back again to rugby union, the sport I know full well, it was probably the worst game for children ever at full 15 level on a full 15 pitch. “Let’s put the winger out there and see if he gets hypothermia first or dies of boredom”, because the ball is too big for him to carry and the pitch too big. All team sports suffer from this to an extent. Rugby is probably the worst, but I remember Trevor Brooking recently saying something about having a full-sized pitch and small children, and how the biggest kid who can kick it down the field and then win it in the air will win you the game. Half of both teams become irrelevant.

Therefore, when we are talking about competition, look at the essence of what it is. Forget about the league tables and the junior trophies. Let us talk about the really difficult bit: creating a situation in which someone gets something out of that process of competing with someone on as even terms as possible. It ain’t going to be for everyone, but most of us will benefit far more from having that skill than we will from not having it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, for tabling this debate. I have a number of interests in sport, all of which are declared in my entry in the register.

Too often, the offer in schools is seen as a choice between competitive and non-competitive sport, and the sporty and non-sporty children. Sadly, it is not quite that simple. As noble Lords may imagine, I am a huge supporter of competitive sport for everyone, but delivered in the right way, not just for those who are talented. It should be used as part of a drive to encourage lifelong participation in physical activity. Currently, 80% of women are not fit enough to be healthy. This alone should give us cause to think about primary school provision because that is where disengagement begins.

In recent years there have been many improvements in how sport is taught and coached, along with the development of the talent pathway and its relationship with competition. However, age grouping is a rather crude measure, as while young people develop there can be a significant disparity in skill level, and even a little training can make a huge difference in performance. Sport Wales is doing some great work in this area which is,

“player-centred, development driven and competition-supported”,

moving away from competition being the main focus. This is very positive because it will do a great deal to improve people’s experience of competition and keep them involved for longer.

I have been on the losing side many times and, quite frankly, it is miserable. Many sports have guidelines on how winners should behave, and I am glad to see that this will be extended to what I call overenthusiastic parents. There has been a lot of debate about the right way to encourage fair play and, while losing can be perhaps a little easier to understand, if not accept, as you get older, it is down to the skill of the coaches and teachers to balance competitive teams but not in a patronising way. I have seen some great examples of balance and, while being beaten by a massive margin is miserable, knowing that someone was being easy on you is worse. We should be more creative, but I do not wish to see junior competitions dumbed down; trophies should be awarded for excellence, effort, and commitment.

The Minister for Sport in another place, Mrs Helen Grant, has been extensively quoted this weekend speaking about girls in sport. She was building on research that has shown why many girls drop out of physical activity and how they feel about competition. We know the issues—they have not changed that much in the years that I have been involved—but one piece of news that I am really pleased about is that the ECB has professionalised the women’s game and is offering paid contracts. I heartily congratulate it and cannot wait for other professional sports to follow. There may always be challenges around body image for young girls but we can make it cool for girls to be sporty and competitive, and what the ECB has done is very powerful.

What we can change relatively easily is how we deliver physical activity in schools. Young people need to be physically literate. If they are taught good, basic skills, they will be able to take part in a wide range of activities with increased confidence and think more positively about participating and competing. For me, the solution is simple: we need to help teachers to deliver physical literacy. The investment that the Government have made is incredibly useful, but think what we could do if we took a radical approach and changed initial teacher training. Can the Minister update us on what plans Her Majesty’s Government have to look at teacher training, especially at primary level, so that a lot of women teachers who may have dropped out of sport between the ages of seven and 12 can understand the principle of physical literacy and are better able to teach core skills? It is not about measuring how far children can jump, run or throw. We do not expect children to do long division without teaching basic maths skills, but that is what we are doing to our children in PE.

None of this is easy to get right—if it were, we would have done it a long time ago. If this were a school report, it would read that we have shown some progress but we could do a lot better.

My Lords, my background is a career that started in the steel industry in Scotland when I was 17 and has spanned more than 40 years working in business, broadcasting and the media, but I am delighted to be able to make my maiden speech on a subject that I am equally passionate about. I had the privilege of chairing the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, was vice-chair of the London 2012 bid and was Mayor of the Olympic Village. Visiting thousands of grassroots clubs as chair of nations and regions has fuelled that passion. I remember vividly one particular visit to the Percy Hedley Academy for Disability Sports in north Tyneside where I was asked to play wheelchair football, demonstrating that this sport is not for the faint-hearted as I sped around at 20 mph much to the amusement of the young, elite athletes.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, an athlete of distinction, a friend and a great inspiration, for her kind words of introduction. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, a cricketing legend, on securing such an important debate.

Today is my first time at the crease on an unfamiliar pitch. I have yet to become familiar with the House but my own fitness has improved as, many times, I have gone down the wrong corridor or up the wrong stairs. In this, I have had great assistance from the wonderful staff and Peers alike, and I am very grateful to them for that. I also pay tribute to my sponsors, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and thank them for their patience in answering my many “daft laddie” questions such as, “Why do we say ‘Good morning’ in the House when it is 2.15 in the afternoon?”.

Although feeling humble and, as you can see, slightly nervous in the presence of such distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House and so many sporting greats, today is an opportunity for me to highlight and honour the 2 million heroes who give up their time each week to help sports clubs in their communities.

In 2012, the world witnessed how London made the two greatest sporting events, the Olympics and Paralympics, even better. Seventy thousand Games makers and London 2012 volunteers around the country played a huge part. Every competitor I spoke to told me how important volunteers are at grassroots level: it had been volunteers who had inspired them, volunteers who had coached them and volunteers who had raised money for their equipment and training. We therefore need to encourage disabled and able-bodied people from all walks of life to join this army of volunteers: the Ritas who, after a gruelling shift at work, turn up even on the wettest Wednesday evening in Wigan, Winchester and Wishaw to coach the under-12s; the Roys who give up their time to repair and maintain the club houses; the Alans who do the fixtures and the transportation; and the Amys who spend many hours doing the accounting and the administration. These heroes are contributing to the many benefits that sport brings and, most importantly, to improving the health and life expectancy of our young people.

Data from Public Health England show that 30% of 10 to 11 year-olds are overweight or obese. Diabetes UK warns that type 2 diabetes—normally associated with obesity and inactivity in middle age—is now becoming prevalent in children, with around 1,400 children diagnosed with this condition. We need urgently to address and reverse those trends if we are to avert an obesity and chronic health time bomb. Getting kids into sport will play an important part but we need to build capacity, and that means more volunteers. Sport England reports that seven out of 10 clubs need more volunteers. I am honoured to be chair of the Join In Trust, which aims to match grass-roots clubs with the thousands of people who are looking to find rewarding and interesting things to do in their communities. Last year we signed up more than 100,000 sports volunteers. This is a good start, but we must do more.

May I say to my noble friend that I seem to be always doing “firsts” with him? I met him on the first day when he started at Granada and now I am following him on his maiden speech. He has a lot to offer this House, and I hope that it will not be the last that we will hear from him; I know that it will not.

I thank my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint for initiating this debate because it is very interesting. In field sports, it is often the adult motivation we are looking at rather than that of the children who are participating. We should start from that kind of standpoint. I will explain what I mean by that. Very often, many of the practices that adults expect of children are too difficult for the children themselves to do. They are expected to win at all costs. Every Saturday, I take our dog for a walk and I go past schools where they are playing football. I tell you as an engineer that the language that I hear there frightens the dog—and the dog is a Rottweiler—never mind frightening me. The other problem, which has been mentioned before, is about not being good enough, because, as has rightly been said, kids are at different stages of development. Very often, it is the most physically developed who get on to the team, and that is a detriment to the others.

Given my connection to rugby league, I want to talk about what we are trying to do there. We are running a new pilot scheme. In 2011 we decided to look at what was happening with seven and nine year-olds and see what we could do about it. We looked at the existing practices that were taking place, and from that a pilot scheme has evolved. It is designed to make playing itself more fun for the children—to make them enjoy it and want to do it. It is designed also to give them more time on the ball and to develop their skills. It is absolutely providing that. To give them an opportunity to develop skills is very important.

We called the new format we developed a festival format, and it is getting more and more children to participate. That in itself is very important. It is a modified game so all children can play. No child is left out: there are enough teams to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate in it. There are no substitutes either, so they all get a chance to develop their skills. Even when they have not been interested, we are finding that there is an interest that children take. More importantly, we are finding that this interest is being carried on later in life, so that the interest in sport continues.

The pilot scheme itself was launched in Leeds and was particularly successful in east Leeds, which is one of the more deprived areas of the city. We saw a dramatic increase in under-sevens who are participating in the game and registering to be in it. It is a new step forward, as far as we are concerned, in getting children involved in the game. I will finish on this because my time is up. Having been rolled out in Leeds, it is now being rolled out across Yorkshire and that will be followed by Cumbria, London and the north-west, so I hope noble Lords will wish it every success in the future.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, for sponsoring this debate, and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Allen, on a wonderful maiden speech, which we all enjoyed.

I agree with other noble Lords that dads can be a bit of a problem. They are standing there yelling their heads off and trying to fulfil their own dreams; normally they were not very successful themselves. I remember one friend of mine pulling his youngster off the field and saying, “You little blankety-blank coward”, which I did not think was very helpful for a 10 year-old, and that is the sort of conduct that you see. I have been there refereeing, controlling dads on the line, coaching and trying to get parents to realise that little Johnny may not have been picked for the very best of reasons. The problem is that children feel that they have failed, and become disillusioned.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, talked about rugby league and outlined the programme that the RFL has carried out. The one area that he did not refer to, however, was north Wales. I declare an interest: my son is the chief executive of the North Wales Crusaders. The club started up two and a half years ago, and rugby league is now the most delivered sport in schools in north-east Wales. It is simple and inclusive. Coaches focus on the physical literacy to which the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, referred. It encourages them to run, pass, catch and dodge with the ball in hand, and promotes the fun aspects of the game before anyone gets hung up on winning. This is done first in school sessions and then encouraged at larger mass participation events. The North Wales Crusaders’ “Give & Gain Day” brought 400 children together from 20 schools to attend one event, where players from the professional team, who had qualified as coaches especially for the event, ran different “skill stations”, encouraging the children to develop that physical literacy before being introduced to a competitive environment.

Competitiveness is introduced in a controlled and inclusive way so as to avoid the “biggest/strongest/fastest” issue that my noble friend Lord Addington talked about. I recall that when I was in school, one Kilblinski—known as “Killer Kilblinski” to his friends—was playing with us in the First XV aged just 15. The Crusaders have developed some simple strategies; for example, if a child scores a try, he is taken off the pitch for two minutes and given a break. This means that those who hog the ball spend less time on the pitch if they simply try to score every time they touch the ball and do not include those around them. That is a very sensible way of getting more involved.

In the past 12 months the Crusaders have held 578 coaching sessions, with 95 schools or clubs involved; 2,800 children aged eight to 17 did on average nine sessions each. However, the local council and Sport Wales—which is focused on the union game—provide minimal funding: between them, they do not even cover the cost of one community coach’s salary. That has to be addressed if this sort of participation is to be encouraged.

The absolute key to all this is bridging the gap between school and the community game. Sport does not end when the school gate is closed. North Wales Crusaders are developing a network of “doorstep” clubs, which can be easily introduced into all communities. Who knows? Rugby league may dominate the north of Wales as union does, very successfully, the south.

My Lords, in 2006, Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, wrote an outstanding Olympic manifesto. In an article titled My Fight to Get Britain Fit for the Olympics, he outlined the following measures: to offer children four hours of school sport by 2010; to lead the world in 2012 as one of the fittest and most sporting of nations; to offer after-school sport and links to all local sports clubs; to have every school playing competitively in local leagues; to increase sports volunteering in schools and communities by 1 million; to provide every potential young sports star with extra support to help them train and develop; and that every school should have access to playing fields and better sports facilities.

It would be good to report that one of these laudable sports legacy initiatives had been achieved. Sadly, I cannot report that any of these measures have been delivered because the necessary building blocks for an Olympic sports legacy for young people were absent. The hard evidence, as evidenced in the recent Select Committee report, excellently chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, who I note is in his place today, highlighted that. The reality is that work for young children must start now, but how?

First, I applaud the approach taken by Scotland in its “Excellence” curriculum for physical education in primary schools that calls for all subjects to be delivered in a physically active way—not always through competitive sport. A step change is also needed at the Department of Health towards preventive health rather than having clinical targets, and recognition by the Department for Education that physical education has a distinctive and vital role to play in education. As has been rightly pointed out, primary school teacher training in sport is in need of far higher prioritisation.

The biggest neglect in national strategy during the past two decades has been the lack of focus on how local authorities can assist. In the main they provide most of the facilities that clubs and national governing bodies need to support young people and they often finance the most accessible first-stage coaching opportunities across a range of sports. The Government need to support local government, making spend on recreation and leisure mandatory, not discretionary. They need to invest in incentives for local authorities to use for clubs and their members; for example, a more systematic provision of rate relief.

The School Games initiative was the silver bullet in the mind of Jeremy Hunt in the run-up to the London Olympics. That was thought to address competition in sport. It was a good idea in principle but I regret that it has become in many respects a complex and unwieldy bureaucratic structure of activities ranging from level 1 up to level 4. I well recall going to a county level 3 in Kent where “Splat the Rat” and golf with giant plastic clubs and foam balls were in evidence on a hard tennis court. That was not competitive sport between teams representing their schools. Everybody enjoyed themselves but the reality is that funding, as recognised by the Government, should go first into schools to improve delivery. It needs to be directed towards the governing bodies of sport that for decades have built the expertise and experience in delivering competitive school sports. We have the Rosslyn Park National Schools Sevens, the National Schools’ Regatta, and the evidence of my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint, in her excellent speech, on ECB initiatives.

I shall close by quoting the interesting article by David Walsh that some of your Lordships will have read in the Sunday Times yesterday. He said:

“If one wish transcended all others in the aftermath of London 2012 it was that more young people, especially girls, would see sport as something they wanted to do and levels of participation would rise”.

Sadly, it has not happened.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint on initiating this debate, albeit a short one, but because of the importance of the subject, I hope that there will be a major debate on the Floor of the Chamber in the future.

I make no apologies for raising the question of boxing in schools, and its importance. I wish to illustrate the beneficial side of competitive sport, particularly boxing at school and amateur levels. Certainly at these levels, boxing is not harmful, yet some of my so-called friends, knowing that I started my boxing at school, think that it did some damage to me, finishing up as a Member of Parliament and a Peer of the realm.

They may well also say that about the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who, like me, boxed at Oxford although, I must say, in different years and at different weights.

Seriously, though, boxing in schools promotes skill development and a structured pathway leading to competition and coaching. Some who contend that boxing is a dangerous and inappropriate sport for youths are, in my view, misinformed. Boxing is not only about fisticuffs and strength but is a sport based principally on skill, structure, rules and discipline. It is also a sport that appeals to both boys and girls, and is less dangerous than many sports as defined by Sport England.

Intersport boxing competitions have taken place in various schools near where I was an MP, in Manchester, but also in London, the south-west and other areas of the country. I argue that in those schools, competitive boxing increases fitness levels and promotes a healthy lifestyle. Many teachers have witnessed increased motivation in disengaged students, improvements in self-confidence and self-esteem, greater enthusiasm and positive behaviour. Boxing teaches both girls and boys about the value of respect, sportsmanship and self-worth. In my view, teachers and parents heavily support competitive boxing in schools, with schools such as North Chadderton School in Oldham, which I recently visited, allowing students to be assessed practically on their boxing skill as part of GCSE and A-level studies. At one of the schools I went to recently, in fact, the Ofsted inspector was quoted as saying that,

“it was a refreshing change to the normal PE curriculum and an excellent lesson”.

As I have a minute or so left, I shall simply say that the current debate brought about by the Minister for Sport underlines the need for a more appropriate approach to sport. What planet is Helen Grant on when she advocates young girls to take up more feminine sports like cheerleading, ballet and roller skating to make them look “absolutely radiant”? Tell that to Nicola Adams, the boxing gold medallist, or Gemma Gibbons, the silver medallist in judo, or indeed our speakers today: the noble Baronesses, Lady Heyhoe Flint, Lady Massey and Lady Grey-Thompson, the greatest Olympian of them all. They are all feminine and all radiant.

I would go on complimenting noble Lords but my time is up. I hope that we have a bigger and longer debate in the other Chamber soon.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, on securing this debate and warmly welcome the maiden speech by my noble friend Lord Allen of Kensington and his welcome attention to volunteers in the world of sport, without whom, of course, much of what we enjoy in sport today in the UK would not be there. As my noble friend Lord Hoyle said, he clearly has a lot to offer the House and we look forward to hearing from him in future.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, despite the title, most noble Lords who have spoken in this rather excellent debate have challenged the binary assumption of the title and drawn attention to the need to think much more widely about the question of how we locate competitive sport within sport in the context of other issues, such as the problems with obesity in the population; issues about body image, which affect boys and girls; the role of physical literacy, which is important across many ways in which we engage with the world; and the role of elite sports men and women in our society, possibly in combination with the way in which the media relate to them.

As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, the situation that we face at the moment is pretty dire because we have not achieved the aspirations that we all had when we engaged with the Olympics. Indeed, the situation has got worse since the end of the previous Government. In 2009-10, more than 90% of pupils were taking part in two hours of PE and school sport a week, up from an estimated 25% in 2002. In competitive sport, 78% of pupils—77% of girls and 79% of boys—took part in intraschool competitive activities. In 2009-10, 49% of pupils took part in interschool competitive sport; again, up significantly. That was a reasonable starting point and it was largely down to the success of school sport partnerships, which have not been mentioned much today but were a notable feature of the past decade or so, which increased participation for both men and women and did not pose the question of whether it was competitive or encouraging participation—it was both.

Recent research has shown a 60% decline in the number of schools involved in organising school sport partnerships, and that is to be regretted. We now read in the papers that more than half of children fail to get at least two hours of physical education every week. The Education Select Committee published a report in July that criticised the Government’s approach to school sport, saying:

“There is clear evidence that the ending of the school sport partnerships funding has had a negative impact, including on the opportunities for young people to access competitive sporting opportunities in school”.

I would like the Minister to reflect on what we were told in 2011 by the then Secretary of State, Mr Jeremy Hunt, who said that he was,

“banishing once and for all the left-wing orthodoxy that promotes ‘prizes for all’ and derides competition”,

and that he could sum up the Government’s sports policy in three words: more competitive sport. Is that really the answer? Does it not need, as we have heard, a more nuanced response, from local authorities, schools, health and education, all working together? I would be grateful if the Minister could answer that question.

My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate and thank noble Lords for a lively and well supported exchange of views. It has been very much enriched by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Kensington, who brought his very considerable experience of these matters. The noble Lord definitely hit a six with his maiden speech, and I congratulate him.

The summer of 2012 showed us that there is a tremendous appetite in this country for sporting competition. In the past year, 83% of children aged five to 15 reported that they had participated in some form of competitive sport—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and I need to go over our figures together—with 79% taking part in school and 37% outside of school. We want these figures to increase.

Competitive sport plays an important role in a child’s development. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Lords, Lord Allen and Lord Stevenson, said, it is all about improving health and well-being, but it also helps to teach children how to deal with the ups and downs that life undoubtedly brings. I was very struck by what IOC President Thomas Bach said last night in the closing ceremony about recognising victory and defeat with dignity. It also teaches children how to work in a team, which is extremely important, and many of your Lordships have been involved in very senior team-making. It also improves confidence and increases concentration.

Furthermore, it is a widely held view that children should be physically active as early as possible so as to gain the skills and confidence they need to compete in sport—as well as life skills—and take them on into adult life. That is why the Government are committed to reviving competitive sport and why we have given it a much needed boost by establishing the School Games and investing in the PE and sport primary school premium. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, that it must be delivered in the right way.

Launched in 2011, the School Games features more than 30 sports, many of which have been raised during this debate. It is sponsored by Sainsbury’s and run by the Youth Sport Trust, and has already transformed competitive school sport. It is designed to give every child the chance to play more competitive sport, regardless of ability or disability, across four levels.

At level 1, pupils compete against their peers in school, culminating in an annual school games sports day. At level 2, schools compete against each other. Level 3 features the best athletes from levels 1 and 2, who represent their school at a county festival. Last year, more than 100 summer and winter festivals took place, involving more than 100,000 pupils, about 10% of whom were children with disabilities, and 36% of whom were of primary school age.

Level 4 is the pinnacle of school games. It is predominantly for secondary school children, and gives the best athletes the chance to compete at a major sporting event. About 1,400 athletes competed in Sheffield last year. Manchester will host this year’s finals.

My noble friends Lady Heyhoe Flint and Lord Addington had somewhat differing views about rugby in Surrey. I understand that the RFU, the national governing body for English rugby, remains committed to providing more opportunities for children to compete. Almost 17,000 schools are voluntarily taking part in school games—nearly 70% of all schools in England—including approximately 13,000 primary schools.

Our aim is to have 80% of schools signed up by this time next year and, ultimately, for 100% of schools to be signed up. Our commitment to school sport does not stop at school games. The Prime Minister recently announced another year of £150 million of funding for the PE and school sport premium, which my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint outlined. That funding is now in place up to 2016, and the Prime Minister has said that, should he remain Prime Minister, it would be in place up to 2020.

This ring-fenced funding goes directly into the hands of every primary school head teacher in England to spend on improving PE and sport. Heads decide how to spend their premium, but they are free to use it to get involved in school games and to take advantage of the free support that that provides, including access to one of the 450 school games organisers in post throughout England.

Ofsted has produced guidance for schools on what good PE and sport provision looks like, and inspectors will be looking for good practice during their inspections. This includes paying staff or coaches to run competitions, or increasing participation in school games. In addition, PE rightly remains a compulsory part of the curriculum and has a greater emphasis on competitive sport.

We want all primary schools, large and small, town, suburban and country, to benefit from school games. Schools can spend their premium on training teachers and/or bringing in coaches to give them expertise to teach. Several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Moynihan and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, raised the issue of teaching, particularly in the primary school context.

The new PE curriculum specifically places greater emphasis on pupils’ development of physical literacy at key stages 1 and 2. In addition, with funding of £750,000, the National College for Teaching and Leadership is running a pilot programme to train 120 primary specialist teachers in PE in three teaching schools. Obviously, we need to build on that, and I should very much like to have a discussion with several of your Lordships about the teaching experience, because that will clearly be essential.

Does my noble friend agree that the Government in Wales ought to take note of the investment that this Government are making in sport for children?

My Lords, I would go further than that. I think that all home nations should think about that carefully, for the reasons outlined by your Lordships, the key points about the health and well-being of children, so I very much endorse what my noble friend said.

On facilities, the Prime Minister recently announced a new £18 million fund to help about 600 primary schools that are most in need. We know also that secondary schools open their facilities to help primary schools that require additional space for competitions. I hope this will be an expanding feature, because this is another key sector where there are facilities in the area from which we must make sure that all school children can benefit.

Sport England has commissioned Fit for Sport to run a pilot exploring how schools in Somerset could get more involved in School Games, for example by posting their results online against which other schools could compete. The result was increased participation.

I want also to refer to Project Ability—a bespoke project within School Games, which has helped to introduce around 25,000 young disabled people to competitive sport. A good example of this is in Gloucestershire, where a sailing event was an inclusive competition with special educational needs or disabilities children and non-SEND pupils from different schools competing in joint teams, with the winners awarded combined medals. This is another example of ways in which we should be working.

I also wanted to raise an issue that has obviously been a matter of some discussion in the newspapers, and I think it quite rightly belongs in this debate. This is about ensuring that girls are given as many competitive opportunities as boys. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, particularly raised this, as did my noble friends Lady Heyhoe Flint and Lord Moynihan. I was interested to be briefed that now more girls than boys are competing at the School Games county festivals. I very much hope that this will be a feature of a continuing competition between the boys and the girls to ensure that the girls are in the lead on this.

I turn now to volunteering. School Games is about more than just competing in sport. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, who chairs the highly successful Join In programme, will know well that School Games is also helping to build teams of volunteers. Volunteers in sport are crucial: without them, most sport simply could not happen. School Games is supported by a range of volunteers, including non-teaching staff, parents and the children themselves. I must also refer to referees, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford raised referees as a very important feature of any sport. The county festivals alone benefited from more than 12,000 young volunteers giving up their time to support the athletes and spectators, while the majority of volunteers at the national finals were young people, with over 500 involved in Sheffield last year.

Children should be able to enjoy and participate in competitive sport from a young age, and take those skills with them on into secondary school, the community and beyond. The important word that came out was “fun”. My noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint mentioned the “fun environment”; the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, mentioned the word “fun”. It is very clear that rugby league in his part of the world is in very good heart as it is in Wales, in my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford’s part of the world. Boxing is a game which the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, has mentioned. They are all very much part of the community. That is why, in addition to the School Games, and the premium and the curriculum, we have our £1 billion youth and community sport strategy for 11 to 25 year-olds, which includes specific programmes for Sport Activate and community satellite clubs to help children make the transition into community sport.

I want to reassure your Lordships that the Government are taking serious steps to encourage younger children to participate in competitive sport. The advantages of children participating in the right way and volunteering are recognised, as evidenced by the involvement of four government departments in this work. This debate has illustrated the firm commitment of so many of your Lordships to take this matter further and quite rightly so; it has highlighted the immense practical experience and truly exceptional sporting success your Lordships bring as we all seek a healthier and more fulfilled life for the children of our country.

Committee adjourned at 7.24 pm.