Be a sport and give us more cash, says head

8th February 2008 at 00:00
Soggy pitches and cramped gym - facilities at a specialist sports college are 40 years out of date.

Visit a school with "specialist sports college" in its title and you might expect to find a shiny new gym and a wealth of modern facilities.

But not at Longfield School in Darlington, County Durham, which has not been able to update its sports facilities since the 1960s.

Alongside the cramped gymnasium, big enough for just one badminton court, are a series of soggy pitches that do not drain properly, and a shale hockey pitch that cuts pupils when they fall over. There is also a cinder running track that was state-of-the-art when it was built, but that was almost 40 years ago.

"If we were living in the early 1970s, our facilities would be pretty good," said Keith Cotgrave, the school's headteacher. "We are one of a very small number of sports colleges that has not received any dedicated facilities. I'm amazed at how well our students achieve considering what they have to put up with."

The school, where 94 per cent of pupils taking PE GCSE last year achieved an A-C grade, is hoping to be near the front of the queue for a new wave of government money announced last week.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, has promised pound;30 million over the next three years to improve facilities at the specialist sports colleges most in need of refurbishment.

The schools have yet to be named. But Longfield has already estimated that it would cost pound;5.4 million to bring its facilities up to date - more than half the national annual funding package, and far more than the pound;100,000 it has received as a specialist college for school building projects.

Without that money, the school would have to wait for money to upgrade its facilities until 2013, when it expects to become eligible for cash under Building Schools for the Future, the schools re-building and refurbishment programme. It would then be 2016 before any new facilities were open.

Longfield is not the only sports college with poor facilities. St Paul's Academy in Greenwich, south-east London, does not have a single blade of grass and has only two small gym spaces.

The academy's move to a new building has been delayed and will now go ahead in January 2010, more than four years after it won its sports specialism status.

But poor facilities have not prevented the school from succeeding in the sporting arena, including producing championship-winning Gaelic football teams.

Longfield won its specialism three years ago, with the intention of using sport to raise standards across the curriculum. Even with their old-fashioned facilities they manage to provide a choice of 17 sports for their 920 pupils.

After-school and Saturday morning sessions already bring pupils close to the five hours' sport a week target set by Gordon Brown last week. Other departments in the school are now building on its sporting success. "All departments now include sport somewhere in their teaching," Mr Cotgrave said. "It is a real motivator and makes the subjects relevant."

Sport is used in maths to measure speed and distance, and in the study of physiology in science. In French lessons last year, the Rugby World Cup provided a focus.

Keith Gilbertson, the school's director of specialism, said the junior sports leader approach - where pupils are given skills to organise sporting events and mentor others - had spread to other subjects, with students coaching younger pupils.

The school is expecting 60 per cent of pupils to get five good GCSEs including English and maths this year, up from 38 per cent three years ago.

Figures released by the Youth Sport Trust show that sports colleges are improving their results faster than other schools.

The proportion of pupils at England's 430 sports colleges achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths stood at 42 per cent last year, up from 40.1 per cent in 2006. But while their results are improving faster, sports colleges still have worse pass rates overall. On average, 48.8 per cent of pupils at all specialist schools achieved the five good GCSE benchmark.

Alan Milburn, MP for Darlington and the former health secretary, said he had spoken to the headteacher and knew Longfield's "pressing need" for new facilities. Mr Milburn has been talking to the council and Government about providing extra funds.

From this summer, all schools will have to hold a series of sporting events during the same week to promote competition and help get pupils active, the Prime Minister has announced.

Gordon Brown said he wanted all primary and secondary schools to take part in a National School Sports Week, which will be held for the first time from June 30 this year.

Young leaders and volunteers will run sports competitions for primary schools. And specialist sports colleges will hold events for secondary schools.

"It will provide a showcase for school sports, culminating in annual UK school games," Mr Brown said.

Schools will also be able to organise fun events such as three-legged, egg and spoon, and sack races, he added.

The initiative will be led by Dame Kelly Holmes, the Olympic double gold medallist.

A national school sports website will be created, where schools will be able to post results, photos and video footage of school competitions.

The Government has pledged pound;775 million towards all pupils being able to take part in five hours of sport a week by 2012. Currently the target is two hours a week, with 86 per cent of pupils reaching that level.

Mr Brown told the annual conference of specialist sports colleges last week that sport was an important way to develop young people's academic potential, as well as benefiting their health.

Speaking to The TES, Mr Brown said that sport was one way to re-engage white working class boys who continue to perform badly in GCSEs.

Professor Margaret Talbot, chief executive of the Association for Physical Education, has called for local authorities to work more closely with schools to deliver a range of non-competitive sports for children who are turned off by team games.

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