Monday, 22 November 2010

Sport For All?

One of the most mean-spirited cuts by the coalition government is the plan to abolish the School Sports Partnership (SSP). The scheme costs £162 million a year and helped to ensure that the children in the 22,500 state primary and secondary schools (attended by 93% of the population) received high quality PE teaching. Secondary schools also organised excellent events for partner primary schools. Yes, there are some centrally funded schemes that are useless, a waste of money, this wasn't one of them, emphatically not. There's an excellent campaign on Facebook to save SSP.

The abolition of the School Sports Partnership flies in the face of all the rhetoric about 'widening participation', the obesity scare and winning medals for the London Olympics 2012. On the other hand maybe it isn't such a surprise when you consider the background of the people responsible for the cuts – education secretary Michael Gove (Robert Gordon's), culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (Charterhouse), sports minister Hugh Robertson (King's, Canterbury) and prime minister, David Cameron (Eton).

A survey by the Independent Schools' Council in 2006 found that 50% of private schools had their own swimming pool; 37% their own astro-turf pitch and 31% were equipped with squash courts.

A report for the British Olympic Association revealed that 37% of the medallists at the Beijing Olympics were privately educated. Of the rowers and sailors 50% were educated at public schools and this also applied to every medal winner in the equestrian events.

So how did public schools acquire these tremendous facilities? In some cases it's due to our old friend state subsidies. In 1995 the National Lottery granted money for a £4.6 million sports complex for Eton, this was in addition to the two swimming pools, 30 cricket squares and 24 football, rugby and hockey pitches. In their bid for funding the bursar claimed (anyone caught laughing will be given a sound thrashing by the prefects) they were 'deprived' because they didn't have a world class running track. In return for use during the day they promised to open the track to the great unwashed during evening hours.

In 2002 'The Guardian' revealed that St Aubyn's school in Essex received £500,000 from the lottery fund for a new sports hall and Bradfield College near Reading also got £500,000, this time for a tennis centre. In both cases they had to demonstrate how local members of the community would benefit. Rather difficult in Bradfield's case because the school is miles away from Reading in a secluded setting and is not on any regular bus route.

Sport is full of fictional characters like Alf Tupper, 'The Tough of the Track', who succeed against the odds. In real life there are examples like Steve Redgrave who was educated at a state school. However, with the excellent sports facilities that public schools enjoy it isn't a complete surprise that they dominate sports like sailing, horse riding, cricket and rowing. Maybe we should also think about all the other children that could have succeeded if they had had the opportunity. Sport for all?

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