The future of school sports is under threat as £162 million worth of dedicated school sport funding is to be scrapped by the Coalition Government.
School Sports Partnerships (SSPs), which will face the brunt of the cuts, have grave concerns about what this means for the boroughs along the east London line.
Local community groups, headteachers and over 75 British athletes – including Denise Lewis and Tessa Sanderson – had appealed to Prime Minister David Cameron to save the funding, arguing the proposed changes were “ill-conceived”.
School sports tackle childhood obesity and will mean that the 2012 Olympics will have a lasting effect, they said.
But the arguments from famous names and a petition signed by 500,000 were to no avail.
“The secretary of state believes that the former government’s PE and sport strategy was expensive and burdensome and deprived large amounts of young people the opportunity to play regular competitive sport. That is why we have decided to cut the £162m that the previous government allocated to its PE and sport strategy,” said the Department for Education.
One of the main reasons London was given the Olympics in 2012 was because of the ‘legacy’ it would leave, but there are fears it will be threatened by the cuts.
Chris Willetts, project manager of the Tower Hamlets SSP, pointed out:
“As a borough that was supposed to hold three Olympic events, which is now holding none, the only possible way of leaving a legacy is through school sport.
“However the mechanism for leaving that legacy, through training and competitions, will be lost,” he added.
This view is shared throughout the boroughs. Becky Forshaw, a coach for Croydon SSP, believes the government is undermining the Olympics.
“It seems that the government don’t think sport is a priority, despite it helping to foster confidence and combat obesity. They should be wanting more participation otherwise perhaps people will think the Olympics are not such a big deal,” she said.
Lisa Miller, a former athlete who took silver in the 4x400m relay at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, runs the S-Factor Academy in Lewisham, which is funded by SSP money. She believes the idea of a legacy could disappear completely:
“There is a high percentage [of athletes] coming through the Sports Partnerships programmes, there will be no legacy if they reduce the programmes.”
Schools and Community
Mr Willetts thinks the lost funding will have a massive negative impact on schools in Tower Hamlets: “The cuts nationally are hugely significant, almost an arrogant oversight, as things such as courses and training will be lost.
“When you think that primary school teachers sometimes only get six or seven hours PE training before being allowed to teach, then this would be a massive blow.”
“It is particularly significant to Tower Hamlets because of our geography, there is a small number of sports clubs and a lack of volunteers. This means that opportunities are limited without programmes in schools. Poor health and malnourishment are also concerns in the borough and sport in schools help fight that,” he added.
Mr Willetts also thinks removing the current responsibilities will mean culturally diverse boroughs such as Tower Hamlets will be affected in another way: “I think that people coming from other countries and cultures who are not used to a sports club culture see schools as a respected element in the community and if they say it is important then it is trusted.”
Any cuts could also damage relationships between schools according to Ms Forshaw, as the amount of competitions between schools, normally organised by the SSP, would be removed.
“It will also affect the quality of PE in schools as we give advice to schools on how to ensure everyone participates and stays active,” she said.
Ms Miller fears for the S-Academy and the system in general: “As an athlete myself I know the importance of sport. It would be a complete disaster to cut the framework.
“[Any cuts] will have a massive negative impact, 95 per cent of athletes on the programme I run come out of schools,” she added.
A spokesperson for the Hackney SSP said: “We are disappointed with the government’s decision given that Hackney’s young people benefit enormously from the high quality sporting opportunities that we provide.”
All of the SSPs across the boroughs realise that cuts to their programmes could mean job losses. But Ms. Forshaw is primarily concerned with trying to find a way for the programme to continue in Croydon: “At present we are looking into setting up our own trust to run the programmes, but it depends on budget. All schools want to continue with what we are doing.”
This view is reflected by Ms Miller: “I have funding from Lewisham SSP until March, but if that is cut then it will be very difficult to carry on for free, but I definitely want to keep it up”
Mr Willetts wants to see the good work the programme has done in Tower Hamlets continue: “[Job losses] are less of a worry as we attract young professionals, many of whom wouldn’t have too much trouble finding another job if required. But it is not about that, we get the reward of playing a significant role with the kids in our schools.
“The school sports programme is great because we get to work with so many kids, before the scheme only 15 per cent of children would be seen and coached, as that was the number that would go to sports clubs, but now 100 per cent of kids have access to sports and nobody is left out.”