A school sport strategy controversially axed by education secretary Michael Gove led to "considerable improvements" in PE and sport in schools, a major report by Ofsted has found.
The study, published by the watchdog yesterday, also warned that ministers must invest in a new school sport programme or they would fail to capitalise on the sporting legacy left by last summer's Olympic Games. The findings are the result of a four-year survey undertaken by Ofsted on PE and sport in schools.
School sports partnerships (SSP), a strategy introduced by the previous Labour government to boost participation, had a significant impact on the take-up of PE in schools, the report said. It was also "clearly evident in the vast majority of schools visited" that the initiative increased regular competitive sport - something that Mr Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron have said they want more of.
But Mr Gove axed the #163;162 million scheme in December 2010 as part of wider austerity measures, resulting in a backlash led by current and former Olympians and PE teachers. The scale of the uproar forced the education secretary into a partial U-turn, ensuring that schools will continue to receive a proportion of the funding until the end of this academic year.
An announcement from the Department for Education on the future of school sport funding is expected soon, but so far ministers have focused on increasing competitive sport in schools rather than widening participation.
The Ofsted report did show an increase in PE and sport over the four years but added: "A commitment from the government to invest in a new strategy for PE and school sport is needed if (the Olympic) legacy is to be maintained. This survey confirms that national funding over the past four years has led to considerable improvements."
The survey was welcomed by headteachers and the wider school sport community, which has continuously highlighted the role SSPs played in increasing the take-up of sport in schools.
Tony Draper, head of Water Hall Primary School in Milton Keynes, said the report's findings came as "no surprise" as SSPs were "fundamental" to increasing engagement in schools.
He said the approach taken by the government so far could put the Olympic legacy at risk. "In the summer we had all the energy that came with the Games, we just needed to capture it and release the potential that came with it," Mr Draper said.
"But we are now six or seven months on and that energy has not been caught by the powers that be because they have not put anything in place. For us to produce the Olympians of tomorrow we need to be investing in sport at a primary school level."
The Youth Sport Trust said the SSP programme had received worldwide acclaim for its capacity to improve the quality of PE. Baroness Sue Campbell, chair of the trust, said: "The previous school sport system... provided schools and teachers with the resource, direction and support to ensure young people across the country received the best possible sporting start to life."
The Ofsted report also recommended that schools should provide at least two hours of core PE every week across all key stages, a target the government scrapped during the Olympics. Mr Cameron defended the move, claiming schools were meeting the target by providing classes in "Indian dance".
"We welcome Ofsted's findings that there is more good and outstanding PE now than when the last survey was published in 2008," a DfE spokesman said. "The draft PE curriculum published last week is designed to put competitive sport back at the heart of school life and end the damaging 'prizes for all' culture. We are also extending the School Games and spending #163;1 billion on youth sport over the next five years."
Leaps and bounds
Main findings of Ofsted report:
- Considerable investment over the past decade has ensured that PE is a central part of the lives of pupils of all ages.
- A commitment from the government to invest in a new strategy for PE and school sport is needed if the Olympic legacy is to be maintained.
- The survey confirms that national funding over the past four years has led to considerable improvements.
- School leaders and staff must take a lead in securing the nation's sporting future beyond 2012.
- All school leaders should allocate two hours of core PE each week in all key stages.
- Heads should provide weekly opportunities for all pupils to participate and compete in school sport.