Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. Coming back to the point various colleagues have pinpointed, that probably your best hope is to recognise that you are not going to alter the patterns of life of the majority of the older members in the population, you are going to have to take the long-term view and start with the young, I know it sounds very old-fashioned to talk about it, but what about such changes in the school curriculum as the loss of things like home economics and the cutback in PE teaching? How many pure PE teachers do we have at the moment?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I do not know but I can happily find that figure for you.

  161. If you could, over a 20-year period.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) Yes.

  162. Do we have such things as home economics teachers now?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) Food technology. I can give you those figures in a note.

  163. That is the same thing without the textiles, is it?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) Indeed.

  164. They know how to cook but they do not know how to sew. The point various colleagues have touched on about the lack of getting into an active lifestyle as a child and as a youngster. We have to recognise the impact of television, it is foolish to pretend that has not led to a much more sedentary existence, but there just is not the opportunity for the activity. You agreed with the figures Barry Gardiner gave us that now playing fields are being sold at the rate of three a month but they were being sold at the rate of 40 a month. That is virtually 500 a year school playing fields being lost. For how long? How many school playing fields have been sold off over the last 10 years, 20 years? Do you know?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I think you misunderstood the answer. Since 1998 we have received 107 applications relating to the disposal; not all of those have been agreed. About 81 of them have been agreed but of those nearly one half were in respect of schools which were closing. The actual number of playing fields which have been sold has reduced.

  165. You and Mr Gardiner agreed that the figures had fallen massively. What worries me is that when we were at the level where we were losing 40 a month, how long had that level pertained? Was that an actual decline or was it a peak? Over the last 10 or 20 years how many school playing fields have been sold?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I can let you have the figures. The Government were concerned about the growing number of applications they were receiving which is why the legislation was introduced in 1998 to tighten up on the criteria. If you want a 20-year graph, then I can provide it.

  166. That would be very useful because it would help to explain why ... It is not just a matter of the unwillingness of teachers. Several of my family are or have been teachers. It is not just a matter of the unwillingness of teachers to take on work outside school. A lot of them would now say that they are doing enough work at school because of the changes we politicians have imposed on them; change often for the sake of change, rather as an alternative to putting money in. Without the playing fields the opportunities are not there anyhow, are they? How do you replace them?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) It depends what sort of exercise you are talking about. Clearly playing fields are important, but I am not sure we have evidence to suggest that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of opportunities if children and parents value those opportunities. Maybe Mr Young has information which I do not have, but we have been trying to encourage people to value exercise, sport of all sorts, more.

  167. A lot of new building is going on at the moment. If Government policy is implemented there is going to be a lot of new building in the South East which will involve in some cases building considerable private estates. In planning terms are you encouraging local authorities to build into planning consents requirements for the provision of recreational areas and recreational areas such as parks and so on?
  (Mr Rickett) I referred earlier to the guidance which requires local authorities to assess recreational needs across their areas and to set standards of provision and to make provision for that in their development plans. It is the development plan which is the primary consideration in considering planning applications. Local authorities can also either attach planning conditions to particular developments or seek planning obligations—some people call them developer contributions—from particular developers where they think that for instance the provision of open space would mitigate any adverse planning effects which go with those applications. They have guidance which tells them they may do this and they have a range of powers which enables them to implement it.

  168. Paragraph 4.57 on page 44. We see here that the consumption of fruit and vegetables by youngsters between the ages of four and 18 is well below World Health Organisation recommendations in this country. Back in 1998, in the early part of the paragraph, we are told that there is a recommendation from a study on inequalities in health that there should be a provision of free school fruit. Then lower down in paragraph 4.58, we are told, "The Department is examining the practicalities of providing every school child aged between four and six with a free piece of fruit each school day". So we have gone three years from recognising the importance of fruit to young people; we are still, now, three years later, instead of looking at it in the universal context of youngsters of school age just examining the practicalities of one piece for children between four and six. Why has it taken so long to get this far?
  (Mr Crisp) Life has moved on since this report was published. We actually do have this being piloted in 500 schools with 80,000 children. It is happening in 500 schools.

  169. Out of how many?
  (Mr Crisp) It is deliberately happening as a pilot. I do not know how many schools there are but it is happening for 80,000 children as a pilot which we are evaluating.

  170. Evaluating against what criteria?
  (Mr Crisp) Against a whole series of criteria as to whether or not it is being taken up and what effects it is having thereafter on people's diet, whether it is countering some of the issues to do with whether people discover they like fruit or not. There is a whole series of evaluative approaches, including whether it is being delivered in the right way, with the intention to roll it out over the country by 2004.

  171. When will the study finish?
  (Mr Crisp) I was asked this question earlier and I am not sure of the staging posts for the rollout from 500 schools to the country as a whole.

  172. In the paragraph 4.58 we see regulations are being implemented setting minimum nutritional standards for school lunches and all school lunches will have to meet the new standards. How are you defining a school lunch? The old school lunch as most of us knew it when we grew up as children hardly exists nowadays. More often than not it is a snack provision rather than a full lunch provision. How far is how you define school lunch going to make much impact at all on the nutritional requirement of youngsters? What is the uptake of school lunches as against the school population?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) Alongside the new nutritional standards we have also introduced a requirement for schools to provide school lunches where parents want them. That may well affect the number of school lunches provided. We are also researching why it is that people do not take up the facility as much as they did. A school lunch is anything which the school provides for children. I agree with you that it takes different forms now, but we can send you a copy of the nutritional standards and they spell out in some detail what we expect to see provided in any lunch which is provided for a child at school. It breaks down the categories of food into five and makes clear that at particular ages we expect a certain proportion to be made available to children in the lunch.

  173. But since school lunch uptake is relatively low ...
  (Sir Michael Bichard) It is relatively low. It is lower than it was when you and I were at school.

Mr Burns

  174. If I remember rightly, I asked Mr Young what happened in the rest of Europe on where sport was allocated in government departments. You said that two European countries put it in the Health Department and intimated that the rest basically put it with departments similar to your own at Culture.
  (Mr Young) No.

  175. What did you say then?
  (Mr Young) I hope first of all that I offered you a note saying exactly where they did go. In fact I know I did that. Secondly, I said they were distributed between Education Departments and other departments which had all or some of the DCMS responsibilities. In fact it is a mixture of Education Departments, Interior Departments, Sport Departments which have some or all of other aspects of DCMS. I repeat my offer to the Committee.

  176. I do not remember the Education part of your answer but I shall take it and obviously look at the transcript. Would you confirm to me if one is being generous that there are one and a half departments in the other 14 countries which are Health Departments, two and a half are Culture and the rest are not, that is ten are nothing to do with Culture, Media and Sport? I believe we have the same chart.
  (Mr Young) Let me offer it to the Committee later. I was counting in the ones either in DCMS or Sports Ministries which have all or part of DCMS.

  177. The question I asked you was how many countries in Europe have a Sports Department within a Culture Department?
  (Mr Young) I was trying to answer.

  178. The basic answer is that the vast majority of European countries do not.
  (Mr Young) Yes, but—

  179. Contrary to the impression you gave me in your answer to me.
  (Mr Young) I certainly did not mean to mislead and I know I offered to circulate the paper so there was no intention.

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