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Sports Participation in Schools

Volume 814: debated on Thursday 9 September 2021


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to Team GB’s success at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, what steps they plan to take (1) to raise sports participation levels in schools, and (2) to provide additional funding to support this.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton.

My Lords, the Government are, along with noble Lords, extremely proud of the success of Team GB at the recent Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. We are committed to raising school sports participation by investing through the primary PE and sport premium and funding to open school sports facilities. On Monday, I had the pleasure of visiting a new free school—Coombe Wood School, in Croydon—which puts health and fitness at the heart of its educational approach.

My Lords, I pay tribute to all our Olympians and Paralympians in Tokyo; not all returned with a medal—though of course many did—but all returned, I think I can safely say, with the enduring respect and admiration of those of us watching at home, in recognition of the clearly tremendous efforts they put into training over years. This is surely a carpe diem moment for the Government to ensure that participation levels in sports increase in all schools, but particularly primary schools. Habits gained at an early age are more likely to be carried into adult life. In June, the Secretary of State announced, in respect of the PE and sport premium for primary schools, to which the Minister has just referred, that underspends for the two pandemic years could be carried forward into this academic year but must be spent by the end of it. Why should such a limit be imposed when primary schools need additional resources to increase and maximise sports participation levels?

My Lords, the PE premium is in fact a ring-fenced grant that normally has to be spent within the academic year that it is given. This was an exceptional relaxation, and we are keen that those pupils whom it was intended to benefit have the benefit of that money, and therefore it should be spent by the end of this academic year.

My Lords, I totally echo the words of congratulations to Team GB and ParalympicsGB. Critical to the future improvement of sports participation in schools is teacher training. Some student teachers get as little as six hours of training on PE, and there are many examples about resulting problems with teacher confidence and competence when it comes to delivering a minimum 60 minutes of sport and physical activity a day. How do the Government propose to tackle that?

My Lords, in relation to the spending of the premium, a survey was done by the department in 2019, and we are aware that schools are spending a proportion of it on scaling up their workforce. Over 97% of those who teach PE have the relevant level 4 qualification, but I will take my noble friend’s comments back to Minister Gibb in relation to the reform of PE that he announced to my noble friend’s Select Committee back in July.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed by noble Lords. There are sports facilities that stand unused when schools are not in session. Can the Minister look to putting in place arrangements by which all schools in the maintained sector—including of course academies and free schools—are required, and where necessary funded, to make sure that those sports facilities are available to their communities?

The noble Baroness is correct that 39% of sports and recreation facilities in England are on school premises. That is why, over the last two years, we have invested over £11 million to enable those facilities to be used for extra-curricular activities for pupils and by communities. We have seen nearly 100,000 community users benefit from that, as well as nearly a quarter of a million pupils in extra-curricular formats.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the athletes of Team GB and ParalympicsGB. Beyond sports participation, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the stories of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and their ability to act as role models, should, alongside the Olympic and Paralympic values, run through our education system like a golden thread of possibility? Would she also agree to further consider how we can make even more use of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes and their stories, to drive potential right through our education system?

My noble friend is correct; these stories are inspirational, and your Lordships’ House benefits from the presence and participation of people like my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I am pleased that, on Monday, the Youth Sport Trust announced precisely this: it will have a programme of events, to make sure that Olympians and Paralympians can tell their stories in our schools.

My Lords, we found out in 2012 that it is incredibly difficult to translate the excitement of the Games into greater participation. We also know from experience that, when people leave education—at 16, 18 or 21—if that is where their sporting activity is, they tend to stop. What positive steps are the Government taking to make sure that, before they leave school, people are playing sport in amateur structures outside, which will lead to a continuation of activity?

I have outlined to noble Lords the increase in the extra-curricular participation that we have funded, by way of premises being open. On 16-plus, as part of Ofsted’s inspection of FE it considers personal development. The matters that the noble Lord refers to are of course part of our overall emphasis, through health and well-being, on active participation for adults.

I, too, add my congratulations to Team GB and their great achievements at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Given our shared ambition to leave a legacy post Games, does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is now time to make sports, and physical activity, a higher priority in schools, given that it fosters long-term physical, emotional, social and positive well-being, and to consider making PE a core subject?

I agree with my noble friend, and that is why, back in 2017, as a result of the sugar tax, we doubled the PE and sport premium for primary schools to enable them to do just that. In fact, when looking at the number of hours per week on average in our schools, PE has the third highest number of hours after English and maths and it is the only foundation subject in the national curriculum that is mandatory at key stages 1, 2, 3 and 4.

My Lords, I count it a privilege to be able to associate myself with the expressions of congratulations to both the Olympic and Paralympic teams. I hope that I can easily persuade the Minister and the House to reflect on the fact that, for most of the members of these teams who are not medallists, the fact of selection and participation in the Olympic Games will be the high point of their sporting careers. The British Olympic Association has a saying: “Once an Olympian, always an Olympian.” Would that not be a very effective saying to use in the encouragement of sports in schools?

I can only agree with the noble Lord. It is pleasing to note that 20% of the athletes we sent to Tokyo are alumni of the DCMS 2010 initiative of funding School Games, so we are seeing that graduation from participating in School Games to being an Olympian. I agree with the noble Lord that everybody who participated, particularly in the difficult circumstances this time round, deserves our congratulations.

Speedy access to a defibrillator saves lives. A decade ago, the budding sportsman Oliver King, aged 12, suffered a cardiac arrest during a swimming lesson and, sadly, passed away. It happened at my old school, King David High School in Liverpool, in the pool where I learned to swim. Oliver’s dad, Mark King, has campaigned for 10 years, via the Oliver King Foundation, for defibrillators to be in all schools. I attended a meeting a few days ago with the Secretary of State, along with Mark and the charitable and legendary former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher. Surely legislation is not needed. Can my noble friend the Minister assure me that defibrillators will be placed in all schools urgently?

I am moved to hear of my noble friend’s experience. I think that those of us who watched the Euros were aghast at the events there, which showed us that the speed with which Christian Eriksen was resuscitated is vital in such circumstances. I can assure my noble friend that all new free schools and refurbished schools—the 100 schools we have announced—will have AEDs as standard, and we encourage all schools to have them as part of their first aid equipment. In health education at secondary school, students are taught how to use that equipment, as well as how to perform CPR.

My Lords, given the noble Baroness’s obvious commitment to school sports, can she tell me why, since 2010, 215 school playing fields were sold off? Will she put a stop to the practice?

My Lords, on school playing fields, there is a policy only to permit; the Secretary of State has to give consent. There is a variety of circumstances in which the policy allows playing fields to be sold, but there is a recommended allocation which every school should have, and the department benefits from the advice of the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel on any suggestion. But the policy is to retain land within the school estate wherever possible.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. In my part of the country, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and across the whole of the north of England, rugby league plays a huge role in communities. But for most young people, especially those from less well-off backgrounds, entry into the sport is predominantly through schools. Can my noble friend therefore assure me that support for rugby league in schools remains a priority for the Government?

In the School Sport and Activity Action Plan, flexibility is given to schools to deliver what is appropriate for their communities. To develop that plan, which will be updated this year, we have a forum where the department takes advice. I can assure my noble friend that the Rugby Football League is part of that forum and makes its views clear to the department.