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Youth Sport Trust Report

Volume 824: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of report by the Youth Sport Trust PE and School Sport in England: the Annual Report 2022, published on 26 May, which showed declining participation rates for young people in sports; and what discussions they are having with Sport England and other sports bodies to address this issue.

Sport and physical activity are incredibly important to our physical and mental health. This Government are committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of background and origin, has access to and benefits from quality sport and physical activity opportunities. There is no doubt that the pandemic has had an impact on participation rates for young people and we will outline the Government’s plans to address this in the coming months. We continue to work across government, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust to tackle this important issue.

My Lords, words are fine and yesterday the Minister spoke in glowing terms of the legacy from both the Olympics in 2012 and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. But the report paints a very different picture. What exactly does the noble Lord think has gone wrong? It is brilliant that elite sports produce role models but where is the effective follow-through in our schools to enable the simple pleasure of sport for all and the next generation of sporting legends?

In my early discussions with officials from the department and talking about it not only within DCMS but across government, we have been looking at a number of the blockages, as it were. One of the schemes we are looking at is making sure that schools can open up for longer—the schools opening scheme. We are also making sure that the DfE and schools are in partnership so that they feel comfortable opening up and are able to staff those facilities. We are looking at other partnerships within communities—with private clubs et cetera—to make sure that we make as much use as possible of assets that are already there as well as upgrading existing ones.

Have the Government noted that there are now more than 2,350 sports partnership schemes which bring together state and independent schools to their mutual benefit? Will the Government encourage a further expansion of these partnership arrangements, which are so valuable, to enable as many pupils as possible to achieve their sporting potential?

My noble friend raises a very important point about the partnerships. We want to learn from what has worked in the previous partnerships and make sure that we continue to expand them, not only with this scheme but looking at how we address those who have trouble getting kit, for example. We are working with charities such as Sport for Change to make sure that we do it across government. We are also working with the voluntary sector as much as possible and using existing infrastructure.

My Lords, it is well known that people drop out of sport at the various stages of education—at 16, 18 and 21—and that people who take their sport predominantly through small clubs, because they have better linkage to them, remain active. What are the Government doing to actively support the small club sector for the amateur sports that we are talking about, particularly considering how hard they have been hit by the pandemic?

During the pandemic a lot of local community sports clubs relied heavily on volunteering. We are looking at some of the challenges that they face, for example, with increased energy bills, and how we can support them. We are also looking at how we can encourage the incubation of far more projects and make far better use of existing facilities. It must not be just about elite sport, and not just about sport but about physical activity. Sometimes, children who are not so good at sport may feel a barrier to taking part, so we must find some physical activity such as cycling or walking.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that during the Covid pandemic, it is estimated that over 200 swimming pools were closed, never to reopen? Given the impact on young people’s ability to swim, can he assure me that in the latest round of cuts that the Treasury is insisting that Whitehall embark upon to enable the ludicrous mini-Budget to develop he will protect children’s sports facilities?

My department is having a number of conversations, particularly on the issue that the noble Lord raises, but also on understanding the challenges of rising energy prices and those that the sector faces. In September, the Government announced an energy bill relief scheme offering support, and during the pandemic the Government prioritised physical activity, providing £1 billion of financial support to sport and leisure. We will continue to review that to make sure that we are targeting that support as effectively as possible.

My Lords, for girls, sports inequality starts in schools, because they are not given access to sports that they enjoy, such as football. The situation is likely to be worse in deprived areas. The Lionesses have inspired girls across all communities. What more can be done to ensure that all girls, regardless of their background, have equal access to football and other sports that they want to play? Girls also want to enjoy the beautiful game.

I think that we are all very proud of the record-breaking success of England’s Lionesses this summer. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were delighted to meet some of the Lionesses yesterday, who are extraordinary ambassadors for sport. However, we must not mandate which sport is played in schools or pick one over the other. We have to make sure that there is a wide variety of sports and physical activity. Some children are put off sport at an early age because they do not feel that they are good enough and there is elite sport even within school, so we have to make sure that we increase walking, cycling and other types of physical activity.

My Lords, primary schools have very few sports activities and the younger you start in sports, the better, particularly for integration. A lot of children find it difficult when they first go to primary school to integrate with their peers. Yet sport often brings them together and teaches them how to integrate and make friends. Will the Minister work with the Department for Education to make sure that something is done about sports in primary schools, because as far as I can see very little sport is played?

My department is working with the Department for Education to make sure that there is school sport and activity. On the wider point, it is important to recognise that, sometimes, sport is not just about activity and getting fit but about bringing communities together where there are divisions. There are a number of projects involving people who have been excluded from school where sport is brought into the classroom to encourage them to get better results at school. A few years ago, I went to see a project where sport was used to stop young kids being radicalised. Sport is a powerful force for bringing people together and addressing some of the problems we see in our society.

My Lords, I am delighted to echo some of the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, regarding girls’ sport. What are the Government doing about the fact that one in three children leave school without learning to swim, and what will the Minister do to ensure that all sports bodies reflect this country’s diversity?

The noble Baroness makes a very important point. We have to make sure that sports bodies represent the whole range of our communities and are not focused on elite sports or one particular community. I was contacted last week by a project that wanted to help more Afro-Caribbean people to swim— I think it is called Black People Can Swim. It is a fantastic project. I have asked my department to look at how we can have discussions with them to help make sure that we encourage more people from different communities to get involved in physical activity and sport.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the authors of the report, the Youth Sport Trust, and its chief executive, Alison Oliver. They certainly know what they are talking about. Since there is to be a new regime at the National Lottery, would this be a proper moment to suggest that the focus of grants should be on young people in general and youth sport and activities—as the Minister rightly said—in particular?

The Government are refreshing the sport strategy at the moment. Noble Lords who took part in debates on the Health and Care Bill will remember that we talked about the cross-government approach to sport and physical activity. We are looking at a number of initiatives for improving it. We welcome reports such as this, as they highlight the areas that we need to focus our efforts on as we work out what has worked in the past and what we need to improve. We hope to fill those gaps where they exist.

The Minister referred earlier to part of the Government’s strategy being to engage schools to try to get them to open for longer. This is a noble aspiration. However, he will be aware that school budgets were under pressure long before the energy crisis hit. They are now under much greater pressure from that and from other initiatives that the Government are requiring them to undertake. Can he give us an assurance that, if this thinking is taken forward, it is not simply added to the other burdens on schools without any additional resource to support it?

We are working across government on this. With DfE, we are looking at opening up existing sports and leisure facilities, including schools. We have to work with schools to work out what works for them and how we share the cost, to make sure they do not have an unfair burden on them. We are now working on the third phase of the opening school facilities programme to meet those needs. This phase will look at consistency in the school system and how to connect schools to national and local sporting activities and providers, as well as making sure that children get access to extra-curricular activities, whether at school or local sports clubs.

The Minister referred to the importance of making use of existing systems and spaces. He may be aware that 80% of public space in London is made up of streets, a figure that is reflected in many other cities around the country. He may be aware of the play streets scheme, whereby neighbours get together and close streets to allow children to play out in them—and adults to get together and mix. There is also the school streets scheme. As part of Learn with the Lords, I recently visited Challney boys’ school in Luton. It is desperate to get a school street outside it so that pupils can walk and cycle to school more often. Should we not ensure that those streets are far more often spaces where children can take physical exercise and play informal sports?

The noble Baroness makes a very important point about the use of streets. A number of countries do this across the world. I remember going to Guyana as a young boy in 1976 and playing cricket in the street. That was the culture of sport in those days. There are also a number of existing playing fields and facilities that we want to take advantage of, but I would be far more interested in play streets. If the noble Baroness could write to me or meet me to give me more details, I would be very interested in learning more.