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Westminster Hall

Thursday 17 January 2008

[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair]

Participation in Sport

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I welcome the opportunity to debate this important topic and I thank hon. Members present for their interest. [Interruption.] A crowd is gathering as we speak, which is very welcome news. It is appropriate, at the beginning of a new Olympic year, for us to be getting together to discuss participation in sport and, in particular, sport in schools. Obviously, in 2008 sport will not only be showcasing some of the best young sporting talent from around the world, but will be bringing together the international sporting community in a spirit of friendship and competition.

The Olympics will inspire not only the competitors. They will inspire people around the world—as I am sure many of us in this Chamber were inspired by the Olympics when we were younger—to rediscover their old sporting passions, to take up new ones and even perhaps to learn a little more about other cultures. More importantly, the Olympics will, we hope, inspire our young people to get involved in sport. I was pleased to visit just yesterday Millfields community primary school in Hackney, where people proudly told me that the school had been named as one of the partners for the Olympics this year in Beijing and for London 2012. They were proud to have been selected to be involved in that way.

Sport is a motivational force that brings people together, and its power to transform people’s lives should not be underestimated. That is particularly true for children in our schools, where sport forms a very important part of their education. It can inspire young people and motivate them to achieve, with a very positive knock-on effect in the classroom. Already we have evidence that some of the best improvements in academic performance are being made in schools that have sport as a specialism. Through sport, children are learning valuable teamworking and leadership skills and a sense of fair play and integrity. All those are valuable qualities that future employers will want, and valuable qualities for life in general. Young people benefit greatly from a boost in their confidence and self-esteem, which is essential to personal relationships and to a sense of personal well-being.

It goes without saying that one of the most important benefits of sport is improved health. I am sure that all of us here could benefit from a little more exercise from time to time. One of my officials recently informed me that if I were to walk up the stairs to my office on the seventh floor of Sanctuary buildings once every day for a week, that would be equivalent to walking to the top of the “gherkin” building. I am
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trying to take that on as part of a new year’s resolution. I am not sure what the answer would be in this building. We cannot all fit into the tower of Big Ben, but certainly there are many ways in which we can get more active in our lives. At a time when we face the unprecedented challenge in modern life of obesity, it is vital that we try to instil healthy habits in children and young people early on to get them in the habit of taking care of themselves and to get them to set their sights on achievable goals and becoming physically fit.

For many young people, participating in sport is extremely important. The Government have been working hard to try to extend those opportunities to more and more young people. I pay tribute to the hon. Members here for this debate, to previous Ministers and to everyone out in the country—the volunteers, teachers, school sports co-ordinators, coaches and so on—who is involved in trying to extend opportunities to more and more young people. That has been a key feature of the Government’s policy over recent years, which has not always been recognised. We still hear in the media and read in the newspapers from time to time a debate that people will find is rather out of date if they go around the country and talk to people about sport, physical education and physical activity among our young people and in our schools.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): As my hon. Friend knows, one of the driving forces behind this has been the Youth Sport Trust, based in my constituency. The growth of the trust, with the backing of Sue Campbell and Sir John Beckwith, from being a very small charity turning over something like £1 million a year through the BT programme and others, to what it is now, a multi-hundred million pound programme that delivers sport across the country, probably encompasses exactly what he has been saying. I am sure that he would want to pass on his particular congratulations to the Youth Sport Trust for its work.

Kevin Brennan: Yes, there is no question but that one of our key partners in increasing the participation of young people in sport and particularly school sports has been the Youth Sport Trust. I shall refer later to what Sue Campbell has said about the development of PE in schools. I am very pleased to pay tribute to that organisation and the remarkable work that it is doing across the country, much of which I have seen in my time as Minister with responsibility for sport in the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

The Government have worked hard to extend opportunities. It is not always recognised in the debate out there that that has happened, but in reality a quiet revolution has been going on in recent years in school sport. For the world, 2008 is an Olympic year, but every recent year has been a tremendous year for school sport in this country. Ten years ago, direct investment in school sport was sadly lacking. A consensus has emerged that that was the case and that for too long, PE and school sport was left to languish. No schools officially specialised in sport at that time, and the facilities—the sports halls and gyms—in schools throughout the country were often housed in fairly shabby and dilapidated buildings.

Now—with £1.5 billion of investment over the past five years, with the support of our prestigious champions of sport, including Dame Kelly Holmes,
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and with a network of more than 450 school sport partnerships throughout the country—we have 438 specialist sports colleges and academies, which have much better, often state-of-the-art, equipment; we have introduced the first ever national strategy for PE and school sport; and, most importantly, we have had significant success in increasing the number of pupils doing at least two hours of PE and sport in a week in our schools. I am happy to say that the figure for that has risen to 86 per cent. We are confident that it will rise even further, but that 86 per cent. represents a breaching a year early of the target of 85 per cent. that we set for next year. That has been an extremely important development. Participation in at least two hours of PE and sport in schools is up by nearly 40 per cent. since 2003.

Those targets were ambitious but, as I said, we have surpassed them a year early and pupils are benefiting hugely from access to improved support, better facilities and increased choice in sport and PE in our schools. I do not know about other hon. Members here, but at the school that I went to—St. Alban’s R.C. comprehensive school in Pontypool—the choice that we had in PE was rugby or rugby. Others may have had a similar experience. I should point out that that suited me fine, but obviously it may not have been everyone’s cup of tea. There has been a transformation, a quiet revolution, in the variety of sports that are available to children and young people. They are offered sports that are much more appropriate to their individual needs and the variety of modern activities that are available. I shall say more about that later.

It is not only the Government saying that that has happened. Sue Campbell of the Youth Sport Trust, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) mentioned, recently said:

That is an important endorsement. In a meeting with Sue Campbell, she told me how she has even been out to Australia, to tell people there about the national school sports strategy that we have, and I think that we would all recognise the Australians’ reputation as a significant sporting nation.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): My hon. Friend is quite right to extol the virtues of community sports colleges, two of which are in my constituency at St. Mary’s high school and Priesthorpe high school. They have been an enormous success in terms of cascading their expertise out into surrounding schools. However, they consistently make two points to me. First, despite the comments that were made about facilities, there is still a dearth of facilities for some of the partnerships in a range of sports and there is a need to target investment to deal with that. Secondly, they tell me that, sometimes at local level, there is not sufficient co-ordination—there is not a single responsible group to co-ordinate the activities of these specialist sports
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colleges, the community sports clubs and the local authorities, which obviously have a key role to play, for example in pitch provision.

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. That is why a strategy is required. One cannot rely just on the schools to join up all those important and different needs. A network of competition managers, for example, and school sports partnerships, must be put in place, and that is our intention. Also, there must be investment in order to provide the facilities. There is a need ever more for investment and we have listened carefully to what some of those sports academies and schools specialising in sport have told us. I am looking again to try to see what we can do about accelerating the refurbishment, replacement and renewal of the types of facilities that my hon. Friend is talking about. I hope that perhaps we will have something more to say about that in the near future.

In addition to what I was just saying about the Youth Sport Trust and Sue Campbell’s endorsement, I had the great privilege of walking around the UK School games with Dame Kelly Holmes last summer and I saw the remarkable impact that she has on young people. I know about the remarkable work that she does, often with people who are not naturally motivated, particularly girls, to participate in sport. I pay tribute to her for the work that she does in that respect and also the work that she does as our national school sport champion. Referring to the strategy, she said:

So I think that there is justification for the claim that there has been a quiet revolution, and it is not justification that comes from the mouths of Ministers; it is actually out there, if one talks to people involved at the front line, including PE teachers, school sport co-ordinators and young people themselves who are involved in sport.

Increased participation in sport has also reached beyond the bounds of the school playing fields, which, of course, we are now protecting in a way that they have never been protected before. It is reaching into local communities, where sports clubs and facilities are springing up, organised by creative and committed volunteers. I recently went along to the new Wembley stadium to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the playing for success project, which I know many hon. Members have experienced in sports clubs in their own constituencies. I went there to open the new playing for success centre at Wembley stadium, which is a wonderful facility. Furthermore, that means that, for the first time in my 17 years in public life as a local authority member and a Member of Parliament, I now have a plaque somewhere with my name on it. The centre with the plaque in it is in Wembley stadium and, although it doubles as the coach drivers’ common room when matches are on, I am still very proud of it.

The 10th anniversary of the playing for success project celebrated the project right across the country, which involves bringing learning centres into sports clubs; very often, it started with the Premiership, but
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other football clubs, rugby clubs, even race courses and other sporting venues are now involved. It has used sport, if you like, as the magnet for young people who are perhaps underachieving in school in the basic skills, in literacy and numeracy, to bring them into another setting and the transformation that I have witnessed and heard about from teachers and young people themselves is very significant indeed.

I have visited a number of these projects around the country, not just the one at Wembley, since I was appointed to my current position. What always strikes me is the incredible commitment of the people running them; the importance of the partnership between local sports clubs and local schools and what that partnership can achieve; the passion for sport and learning of both the young people themselves and the people involved in teaching them, and also the impact that these projects have on the young people themselves.

I recently visited a project at Cambridge United, a football team that is no longer in the Football League although it is doing very well just outside it. I was really struck by what the teacher there told me about the impact that the playing for success project had had on the young people themselves, not just in terms of the improvement in their literacy and numeracy skills but in terms of the improvement in their attitude, their behaviour and attendance at school at quite a crucial time in their school career, in that transitional period between primary and secondary school. So that type of state of the art resource, in an inspiring sporting location with the learning materials that young people can relate to, is not only improving attainment but bringing improvements in behaviour and attendance.

Last summer, the Prime Minister announced £100 million of additional funding that will see not only all five to 16-year-olds benefiting from the two hours of quality PE and sport each week at school as part of the curriculum but all five to 19-year-olds being able to access a further three hours of sport outside of school time during the week. That scheme will include over-16s who are in employment or training as well as those who are still at school.

That is the next tremendous challenge for us. I recently met Sue Campbell of the Youth Sport Trust and we were discussing how we were going to meet that challenge, and I also recently attended a meeting with all the governing bodies of the various sports associations, along with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, where we discussed how we will make that offer a reality.

Building on the successful national strategy for PE and sport, the additional funding will provide sporting provision outside school; widen access for disabled children, and extend our existing school sports partnerships into the further education sector. It will also provide children and young people with more opportunities to be trained by qualified sports coaches and to take part in competitive sport.

If I may say so, we all know what the value of healthy competition is; I suppose that all of us in politics understand the value of healthy competition. More than a third of pupils are now participating in inter-school sporting competitions, but we must raise that number even further. That is why we are setting up a network of 225 competitive sports leaders who will help schools to organise new competitions between schools. I am delighted to be able to tell the House
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today that we have met early our interim target to have 90 competitive sports leaders in place by the end of the month and we are working towards having that network complete by the end of January next year.

To inspire more young people to explore new options and challenge themselves to great heights, we will also have a national school sports week and we will recruit more coaches in schools and in the community who can help to offer expert training advice to aspiring athletes.

I have already mentioned the success of the UK School games, which I attended last August in Coventry. This year, the games will be held in Bristol and Bath, in the west country, and the following year, completing the mainland Great Britain trio of venues, it will take place in Cardiff; I am happy to say that the athletics event will be taking place in my own constituency. It is an event that provides additional motivation to budding athletes and it is a multi-sport event, which is very important. Anyone who has been to the UK School games will realise just what a huge event it is now becoming. It is akin in size to the Commonwealth games—a multi-sport event for school children from across the United Kingdom, with fantastic facilities, which mirrors the kind of provisions that we see in international sporting events. In that sense, we can be very proud of it. It will be a tremendous lead-up to the Olympics in 2012. We have already seen much success, and we want to see it replicated at every level and in every school, although perhaps not on such a grand scale.

Offering less traditional sports will be an important part of raising participation. Many people do not necessarily see themselves as sporting. About a quarter of youngsters will participate in any sport put before them, about half will get involved with a bit of encouragement, and the other quarter or so will need a lot of additional attention and help to get them involved in sport and physical activities.

Some may be put off by the idea of track running, hockey or football, but they might participate more readily in cycling or golf, going to the gym or becoming involved in some of the newer street sports. I have had the pleasure of meeting Darren Campbell several times in the course of my duties, and I know that he and others like him are very keen to promote that.

Increasingly, schools are offering more of the less traditional sports to pupils. I would like to see more of that throughout the country, extending to club and community provision. We need to think about the potential contribution of sport and exercise in the widest possible sense, and not as an afterthought or restricted to traditional activities.

Getting young people involved in activities such as cycling is also of great value in promoting habits that are environmentally friendly and that do not place a strain on our environmental resources. Schools should think about the environmental implications in their planning—for example, for green gyms, cycling routes and so on.

It will be a challenge, but widening the sporting opportunities available for young people even further is crucial to extending participation. Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust are valuable partners and are geared up to work with us towards that objective.

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Mr. Truswell: A few moments ago, the Minister mentioned the importance of coaching. Does he share my view, gleaned as a parent and a sport fanatic, that coaches can be important as a catalyst for engaging and enthusing young people in sport irrespective of their level of ability. I give an example. The Aire-Wharfe cricket league in my area has been very successful in developing a girls’ cricket section, many of whose participants play with their male peers in the under-15 matches. Much of that has been generated through a dedicated and enthusiastic female coach, who has been able to engage girls at school in the sport, through quick cricket and other means, and get them involved. What are the Government doing to ensure that we continue to make that sort of coaching provision available to schools, possibly through community sport clubs and other organisations?

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): That was amazingly close to a speech.

Mr. Truswell: I apologise, Mr. Hancock.

Kevin Brennan: I thank you, Mr. Hancock, for giving us appropriate coaching on procedure.

We have met our target to establish 3,000 community sports coaching posts; it was to have been achieved by the end of 2006. It is a significant achievement; 17 sports have been endorsed to deliver UK coaching certificate qualifications at one or more levels, with more to follow. We have developed a network of coach development officers across the country. The coaching project is transforming coaching in the UK by creating real step changes in the recruitment, education, employment and deployment of coaches. Over the past few years, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and my Department have invested more than £60 million implementing the key recommendations of the coaching task force. My hon. Friend is right, and coaching remains a key part of our strategy.

As well as school teams and structured activities, it is important to allow young people to explore games, and to become involved in less structured activities such as pick-up games in the park, playing basketball or even knocking a ball around in the local park. However, they need safe places to do so. I know that that is a major concern among hon. Members, but particularly so for the parents of younger children, who want safe places for their children to play.

I have said before that we want to see a generation of free-range organic children, not battery-farmed kids who are kept at home and never allowed out. Young people themselves consistently tell us that they want more places to go, better facilities, better youth clubs and open spaces where they can skateboard, play football or whatever.

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