'Insulting' School Games catch up with Mo's teacher

5th October 2012 at 01:00
He turns to after-dinner speaking circuit to plug sport funding gap

This summer's Olympic Games were supposed to leave a sporting legacy that would inspire millions of schoolchildren to get active. But the PE teacher who discovered double gold medal winner Mo Farah has labelled the government's school sport programme an "insult" and revealed he is being forced on to the after-dinner speaking circuit to scrape enough money together to provide proper coaching.

Alan Watkinson, who taught the 5,000m and 10,000m champion in West London, has criticised the newly created School Games, introduced by the government as a replacement for the popular School Sport Partnerships (SSPs).

The #163;162 million scheme was scrapped by Michael Gove back in 2010, only for the education secretary to salvage #163;47 million for the project after a campaign by teachers and top athletes.

But the money has since dried up, forcing Mr Watkinson (pictured right) to explore new avenues for funding, including the well-trodden path of former sports stars, the after-dinner speaking circuit.

The former PE teacher, who now runs the SSP in West London, managing sports provision for more than 70 schools, said he was facing a cash shortfall of nearly #163;100,000 a year. "After-dinner speaking is just one area I'm looking at to get the money together," he said. "It is something I will do if it means helping to get the money together to provide schools with a service that is as good as it was before the money was pulled."

Schools, PE staff and sports coaches had always anticipated that the generous funding for SSPs would eventually run out, he added, but none believed it would be cut just before the country hosted the Olympic Games. "We hadn't accounted for Michael Gove," Mr Watkinson said.

However, he was more concerned about what was brought in to replace SSPs, namely the School Games. The new scheme is intended to boost the number of pupils participating in competitive sport by organising competitions within schools, between schools and at district or county level. It culminates annually in a national Olympic-style tournament, held for the first time this summer at the Olympic Park in London.

But Mr Watkinson - who was Farah's best man at his wedding - claims the new set-up has left schools with a disjointed sport system. "People are fighting to keep what we used to have," he said. "We have a School Games programme that as a stand-alone programme really isn't good enough; it's an insult compared to what we had in the past."

When Mr Gove announced his intention to scrap funding for SSPs, he described the system as overly bureaucratic and of "variable quality". The decision was greeted by a public outcry, with former Olympic champions Denise Lewis, Tessa Sanderson and Jason Queally branding it "ill conceived".

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "We want more young people to take part in competitive sport. Schools are part of the answer: that's why we are putting competitive sport at the heart of the new primary school curriculum and extending the School Games.

"But this can't be driven by top-down Whitehall policies, as we have seen previously; it must be led by parents and communities creating a culture where competitive sports can thrive."

See pages 52-53

To see Alan Watkinson in a TES webchat, go to bit.lyRYC1Kl

Testing, testing

The School Games were introduced earlier this year by Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary at the time, and education secretary Michael Gove as an attempt to boost competitive sport in schools.

The inaugural School Games finals were held at the Olympic Park in London in May and were used as the final test event for the Olympic venues before the 2012 Games began.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, along with the Department for Education, pledged #163;50 million for the 2011-12 School Games. At their peak, the School Sport Partnerships were given #163;162 million.

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