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20 December 2010

Coalition backtracks on primary school sports cuts

The Schools Sports Partnership will no longer be scrapped, but will still have its funding reduced.

By Duncan Robinson

The coalition’s ill-conceived plan to scrap the School Sport Partnership has been partially reversed. Elements of the SSP will remain until at least the 2012 Olympics, after Michael Gove attempted to scrap the scheme back in November.

But the news is not all good.

The programme will still suffer heavy cuts: central funding will be reduced and staff will be sacked.

The compromise comes after pressure from high-profile athletes, such as the diver Tom Daley and the former heptathlete Denise Lewis, who criticised the scrapping of the scheme.

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The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (that’s Hunt, Jim Naughtie), lobbied from within cabinet against scrapping the SSP. He argued that cutting the scheme before the Olympics would damage the idea that London 2012 would increase public participation in sports.

Though not quite a U-turn (it could perhaps be labelled an R-turn, with the coalition heading off in a new, slightly less damaging direction), the coalition’s handling of the SSP has been less than exemplary.

David Cameron had previously labelled the scheme a “complete failure”. In one of the Prime Minister’s less fine moments at the despatch box, he said:

The number of schools offering rugby [sic – Cameron meant Rugby Union], hockey, netball and gymnastics actually fell under the previous government.

What Cameron failed to mention was that this negligible drop (of between 1 and 5 per cent) was more than compensated for by a huge uptake in less orthodox sports that did not involve chasing a ball around a field.

As Des Kelly pointed out in his fine demolition of Gove’s plan to scrap the SSP:

Cameron . . . blithely ignored the fact that the number of state schools offering Rugby League, football, athletics, cricket, tennis, basketball, cycling, golf, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, canoeing, archery, fitness classes, mountaineering, rowing, sailing, judo, karate, boxing, lacrosse, squash, equestrian sports, triathlon and even skateboarding, dance and orienteering had gone up.

In other words – no doubt thanks to a very dodgy brief – Cameron gave an extremely misleading impression of the SSP.

Before the SSP, each state school offered 14 sports on average – now they offer 19. So what if people play a bit less Rugby Union? The important thing was that the SSP worked: kids did more sport and got to try new things.

That the scheme will be reduced is not a good thing. But a limited SSP is better than no SSP at all.