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Child Health: Physical Education

Volume 777: debated on Monday 5 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their long-term plan for physical education as part of a holistic strategy for child health and well being.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood.

My Lords, we want all pupils to be healthy and active and to have the opportunity to engage in sport and physical activity from a young age. That is why PE remains a compulsory subject at all four key stages in the national curriculum. In 2017, we will be doubling the primary PE and sport premium to £320 million a year. A number of initiatives are also under way across government to improve physical activity levels in children.

My Lords, Britain has some of the most unfit children in the world. The latest report from the All-Party Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood shows the urgent need to revise the teaching of PE, which has not changed since the 1940s, if PE is to play a part in children’s well-being. There is no overall strategy for teachers to deliver PE, a subject often sidelined in the curriculum. Will the Government consider establishing a national PE task force to collate examples of good practice and reset training for PE teachers? Will the Minister agree to meet to discuss the recommendations in this constructive PE report?

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her work in co-chairing the all-party parliamentary group and to the other members of it. We will definitely take what they have to say into account, and I would be delighted to meet with her and them. However, we do not think that a new PE task force is necessary. Officials already work closely with partners such as the Association for Physical Education and the Youth Sport Trust, and my colleague Edward Timpson has, for a number of years, chaired a cross-ministerial board to inform the Government’s strategy for PE, working with organisations such as Sport England and county sports partnerships. We have no plans to review the curriculum. It was last reviewed in 2014 and developed with a range of sector experts, and we will be reviewing the activity list again in 2018 following the first exams.

My Lords, has not our obsession as a nation with funding excellence in sport led to a dramatic cut in the amount of money available for grass-roots sport? Would it not be better to spend our money there rather than on excellence?

We have substantially improved the funding for school sport, which has had a dramatic effect on the number of pupils participating in primary schools and on the number of qualified specialist PE teachers in primary schools, which has gone up by 50%. We regard this as very important in all aspects.

My Lords, yes, of course physical education is hugely important, but should we not also be thinking of parity of esteem for mental health? If that is to be achieved, how do the Government plan to ensure that schools treat mental well-being on an equal footing with physical well-being?

The noble Baroness raises a very important issue. We know that mental health is an increasing issue in schools. Last year we funded the PSHE Association’s guidance on how to teach about mental health across all four key stages. A range of training on specific issues is also available through the MindEd website to all professionals who work with young people. We have been testing in a number of places the concept of a single point of contact in schools and CAMHS to improve collaborative working across schools and mental health services.

My Lords, the Minister said that physical education is compulsory for all children between the ages of four and 16. That is of course correct, but rather at odds with that is the fact that Department for Education guidance merely recommends a minimum of two hours of curricular PE for each pupil each week. I may be anticipating something that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, is about to say, but independent schools would laugh at the suggestion that there should be only two hours of PE for pupils each week, and the Government should not be prepared to accept anything less in respect of state schools. What proportion of schools meet that DfE recommendation, and what role does the physical education and sport premium for primary schools have in increasing that figure?

The law specifically prevents the Secretary of State dictating how much time schools should spend on PE or indeed on any other subject; that is entirely a matter for them. I do not believe we have a figure for how many schools are meeting the recommendation, but we anticipate that most of them are. On participation, it is clear that the sport premium has had quite a substantial impact on primary schools. Some 87% are reporting that it has led to a substantial increase in the number of activities engaged in, including extracurricular activities, and there has been a 50% increase in the number of specialist PE teachers teaching in primary schools.

In a recent Written Answer I was told that school playing fields are subject to strong statutory protections. However, have not sales of school playing fields been increasing in recent years? Is that compatible with the strategy for child health and well-being for which the Question asked?

My noble friend makes an extremely good point. I am the Minister who signs off on playing field disposals, and we feel strongly that this should not happen except where absolutely necessary. We have a very rigorous process in place, and most disposals occur where schools have either closed or merged—a lot of them involve very small bits around playing field land. We are very clear that we will not allow playing fields to be disposed of unless it is absolutely necessary.

My Lords, given that only 18% of girls and 21% of boys achieve the Government’s recommended level of physical activity, and in the light of the cuts to local government in recent years, including shrinking sports programmes, do the Government have any plans to expand the range of opportunities not just in schools but in local communities, so that all children can have several opportunities to participate in physical activity?

I am sure the noble Baroness will be pleased to hear that we fund Sport England to decide how to invest the National Lottery funding, and as part of its strategy its Inspired Facilities scheme has invested over £100 million to allow clubs to make major improvements in more than 2,000 facilities. As part of its strategy towards an active nation it has set aside a new £40 million investment, which it will use to get more families and children active. It has also set up a dedicated fund of £120 million to tackle inactivity over the next four years.