Only two years ago, sport for young people in this country really seemed to be going somewhere. The School Sport Partnerships had helped to increase the quality and range of sports available and in eight years had taken the number of UK children playing at least two hours of sport a week from a quarter of the school population to almost nine in 10.
Trained as a secondary school PE teacher, I was part of the drive for improvement and developed a programme to encourage every child to engage in sport. Its success was heralded at conferences and government talked about a nationwide roll-out. Then the funding was axed.
But a positive has come from the negative. In 2009, I joined Loughborough College and helped to devise a scheme that would put our sports students into 22 schools in two counties - and eventually across the country. Backed by primary PE teachers and elite athletes, the programme launched in August 2011. The PE apprentices are each allocated to a primary school to assist with lessons, lead lunchtime and after-school clubs, develop community links and organise sporting guest speakers.
Broom Leys Primary in Coalville wanted apprentice Jordan McIlwraith to join the staff after just three weeks. The quality and diversity of PE teaching at the school has soared: it has introduced same-sex clubs and now has gymnastics, handball and dodgeball, along with hockey, netball and football. Pupil participation has rocketed, particularly among older girls and boys from low-income families. Jordan now has a full-time job.
A key element of the programme is to identify and nurture potential elite athletes. Loughborough College has now launched the country's first Elite Athlete Performance Centre for 16- to 18-year-olds. We are also working with children as young as 7 to find out which sports they enjoy and are good at, so we can direct them to local clubs and national bodies that will develop those skills even further.
Once again, we have 22 schools participating this year across Leicestershire and Norfolk, and the scheme is to be rolled out across the country next year. The aim is to drive it through county sport partnership funding, with primaries appointing their own apprentices. We train them each summer and support them through the academic year. With dwindling school sport partnerships, our roll-out cannot come soon enough.
Rob Jarram is sports development officer at Loughborough College and oversees the sports apprenticeship programme. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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