Create a gold standard for school sport
When David Cameron last month unearthed #163;150 million a year over the next two years for PE and school sport, the move was welcomed by schools, sports governing bodies, Olympians and by us at the Youth Sport Trust. It is important that the money is ring-fenced within school budgets, meaning heads are obliged to spend it on increasing opportunities for their students to take part in high-quality PE and sport.
Since the announcement, schools are likely to have received a flurry of emails, fliers and advertisements from private enterprises, offering a variety of services in the delivery of PE, sports coaching and sports development in schools. While this is to be expected given the well-publicised investment, it is critical that headteachers think carefully about how this funding can best support the development of their students before making decisions on where to invest.
The greatest fear is that schools will be inclined to completely outsource their PE and school sport provision without thinking of the longer-term impact. Regrettably, it is inevitable that this will happen in some cases. While this may benefit some students over the next two years, what would happen if funding were to cease in 2015? What evidence will there be that the investment - roughly #163;9,000 per primary school - has made an impact on attitudes to PE and sport, or that teaching delivery has improved? Will the investment have made a sustainable impact?
We believe this substantial amount of money should not be seen as a quick fix and should instead create a lasting return in years to come.
To achieve this, headteachers should use the new investment to develop their own teaching staff rather than simply commission external practitioners to replace them in delivering lessons and leading clubs. Enhancing a school's in-house expertise is far more likely to increase motivation and enthusiasm for PE and school sport and thus provide longer, more sustainable benefits. This investment is, after all, intended to be part of a lasting London 2012 legacy.
Alternatively, primary schools could work together to make this investment work even harder for them. If, for example, just four local primary schools were to pool their resources, they could invest in a full-time highly qualified school sport specialist to work across the sites and mentor teachers in their personal development. This option has the potential to significantly improve the quantity and, importantly, the quality of PE and sports provision.
Applying funding in this way will help primary headteachers to value the contribution PE and school sport can make to the wider education, health, development and well-being of young people. It provides a unique opportunity to develop positive sporting values such as fair play and respect, but it should also be considered as integral to the social, cognitive and physical development of every young person. As such, sport should sit at the heart of school life.
PE and school sport provide access to learning for students through the development of self-confidence, communication and other key thinking skills, all of which can be used for learning in subjects across the curriculum. During my frequent school visits I have seen for myself just how effective this can be.
It is very positive news that from September the government is to undertake a pilot that focuses on improving initial teacher training in PE. The Youth Sport Trust has for some time talked about the importance of improvements in this area, especially at primary level. Indeed, in our official response to the government announcement, Baroness Sue Campbell, our chair, highlighted that "for too long a child's first experience of physical education has been delivered by teachers who lack the confidence and in some cases the competence to deliver PE well".
Earlier this year the government published a new draft national curriculum, including draft programmes of study for PE at all key stages. It is pleasing to see that the importance of PE is recognised by ensuring it is a compulsory subject alongside English, maths and science. It is also very positive to see that the PE programme of study supports our belief in and work around ensuring that all key stage 1 students develop physical literacy to progress in physical education.
However, it is essential that there is some stability in school sport after the changes of the past four years, and it is important that any new strategy has a long-term focus. If you look at the successes of Team GB in elite sport, much of that has been down to a consistent strategic approach over a period of many years. That consistency is what is also needed in PE.
John Steele is chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust.