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Axed - but Ofsted says strategy to boost sport take-up was a winner

A nationwide strategy to increase pupil participation in sport, which will be axed in September, has been given a ringing endorsement by the schools watchdog.

School Sport Partnerships (SSPs) were introduced in 2002 to boost the take-up of sport in schools.

But the programme was scrapped by education secretary Michael Gove, who saw it as a poor use of public money.

A report by Ofsted published last week, however, found that in the "vast majority" of partnerships, pupils were participating in an "ever-increasing" range of PE and sport activities, which was also leading to improvements in other subjects.

The study, which looked at examples of good practice among SSPs, showed the programme was playing a "leading role" in the professional development of teachers, and was responsible for a number of after-school clubs.

Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said the SSPs studied in the report showed how schools could boost the take-up of sport by working together.

"This report shows that where secondary, primary and special schools can work together they can increase the quality and quantity of PE and sports opportunities on offer for young people," Ms Gilbert said.

"Partnership in teaching and leadership can have a positive impact on both pupils' participation in PE and sports and their overall performance at school."

Baroness Campbell, chair of the Youth Sport Trust, the body responsible for overseeing SSPs nationwide, said the report highlighted the "impressive" work the partnerships achieved.

"SSPs have been extremely successful and all those involved should be immensely proud of their achievements," she said. "However, we are living in very different and difficult financial times and this has clearly impacted on school sport in recent months."

Mr Gove had initially wanted to pull the plug on the #163;162 million-a-year scheme as of March this year, but heavy criticism from headteachers, the Labour party and even Olympic athletes forced the education secretary to make an embarrassing U-turn.

Mr Gove promised to find an extra #163;47 million to keep the SSPs going until September, and even pledged a further #163;65 million to allow schools to release one PE teacher once a week to boost the take-up of sport in the community until 2013.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham, who led a vocal campaign to save the SSPs, said the Government has failed to put in place funding for a proper replacement for SSPs.

"This report confirms that SSPs have not only transformed participation in sport, but contributed to improvements made in other subjects," Mr Burnham said.

"It is a shame that Michael Gove didn't take time to consider the evidence in support of SSPs before he scrapped the funding for them."

Mr Gove aims to replace SSPs with a school games programme, which he hopes will increase the amount of competitive sport.

A DfE spokesperson said: "Competitive sport should be at the heart of a rounded education - but the fact is under the previous strategy only two in five pupils played competitive sport regularly within their own school, and only one in five played regularly against other schools.

"This is a survey of best practice, so we would expect it to highlight all the positives - and we are ensuring the best in SSPs is embedded across the country."

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