Every primary school will receive at least £8000 to spend on PE and sport for the next two years. But is this enough to create a lasting legacy? Joe Carter seeks the view of the AfPE...
If the eight weeks of summer 2012 live long in the memory of the British public, it will be because of the seven years spent meticulously planning a sporting event worthy of the world stage. Preparation is why we were awed by the sight of black towers bursting forth from a country idyll in miniature during Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, rather than being left to witness a well meaning troupe of Morris dancers sheepishly waving their sticks at 80,000 crestfallen Brits and a global audience of millions.
But seven years is a long time to spend on a summer party, even one as uplifting as the Olympics, and the word on Lord Coe and David Cameron’s lips was ‘legacy’. Having cost circa £10bn, the Games would not only have to boost the economy, but start future athletes on the road to glory.
However, planning for this legacy broke down in 2010 when the current government came to power and promptly abolished the £162m of ring-fenced funding for the national School Sport Partnerships (SSPs). Schools, politicians and elite athletes – Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Dame Kelly Holmes among them – were united in their protests, forcing Michael Gove into a partial U-turn that rescued £65m for the programme. In an attempt to draw attention from the fact that the culmination of the Games would coincide with the sporting networks established by SSPs being dismantled, the government decided to beat the drum for competitive sports, which would replace activities it deemed less worthy, such as ‘Indian dance’. Thus the School Games was born and 450 School Games Organisers hired on a part time basis to promote regional competition.
Still, in terms of investment, the School Games was a weak substitute for SSPs, and the surge in sporting enthusiasm that followed the summer of 2012 was allowed to dwindle.
But all, it seems, is not lost. At a safe distance from its predecessor’s sporting strategy and under mounting pressure to create a genuine Olympic legacy, the government made its announcement in March that £150m of ring-fenced funding would be given to primary schools over two years to improve the delivery of PE and sport. The money - £8000 per year for each school, plus a premium of £5 per pupil – has the potential to kick-start primary PE, but just as with London 2012, it is only with careful planning that it will make an impact beyond its two year shelf life.
Pause for thought
Funds will likely arrive in schools by October this year and with SATs dominating the immediate future, time to plan how the money will be spent is short. But it’s a case of better late than never, a point made by the Association for Physical Education’s (AfPE) strategic lead Sue Wilkinson. “The timing can always be better,” she admits, “but I want to look at this with my glass half full and think this is really positive: let’s utilise it. At least it is timed so that the funding will go into schools at the start of the academic year. If I were a head, I’d be auditing my PE provision as soon as the SATs are over, looking at the staff and the resources I had and working out what we could do better.”
Levels of PE expertise among staff vary greatly from primary to primary, although, as Sue reflects, teachers aren’t to blame for this. “During initial teacher training there are 11 subjects to learn within 36 weeks. If improvements brought about by the funding are to be sustainable, headteachers need to invest in teachers and other adults to increase their subject knowledge.”
This, it seems, is the crucial point, both for Sue Wilkinson and Michael Crichton, who is learning and improvement adviser for Suffolk County Council and member of the afPE board. “I would suggest that schools do not look at this funding as a knee-jerk and quick fix opportunity,” he says. “Schools first of all need to think very carefully about auditing the priority of need in order to upskill the workforce involved in delivering and managing curriculum statutory physical education and school sport.”
Getting value from coaches
The most direct route to improving the quality of PE teaching is to bring in outside expertise. But the skills schools buy in should not just be for the benefit of the children. “A coach shouldn’t come in and work with the children without the teachers actually learning anything from that coach,” says Michael. It may be tempting to use the funds to bring in PPA cover, but Michael’s point is reinforced by Sue, who says teachers should not be displaced: “I tell the coaches we work with that their job is to go out there and make themselves redundant!”
A visiting coach doesn’t just have to provide CPD for a single primary either. “Headteachers need to look at building partnerships with families of schools in the local area so they can share best practice,” suggests Michael. “Pooling resources will allow the funding to be used to release teachers to go and work in other schools and pass on what they have learnt.”
Placing an emphasis on using the funding to improve teachers’ subject expertise is also about making a distinction between PE and sport – a definition that Sue is at pains to make clear. “Calling PE sport is like calling mathematics algebra. PE is the umbrella from under which sport, dance and physical activity emanate.” And in this sense, the freedom headteachers have to decide on how the £150m is spent is an improvement on previous models. “What you’ve got to do is explode a few myths,” says Sue. “School Sports Partnerships did great things for sport, but not always for the curriculum.”
As with the Pupil Premium, Ofsted has been charged with assessing whether or not schools are using the PE and sport funding effectively. The AfPE’s recommendation to HMI is that it should be looking to see if schools have used the funding to create a sustainable legacy. For Sue Wilkinson, the measure of success will not be in sporting excellence, although this must be considered. It’s about participation. “I just hope it means that kids are physically competent and physically literate, which will also have a positive impact on the rest of the curriculum. If I were teaching and someone said to me, ‘I don’t want to be in a club, Miss, but I am jogging with my mum every day’ or ‘I am riding a bike with my dad,’ that’s fine with me.”
Become a primary PE specialist
Together with the £150m PE and sport funding, the DfE announced that a cadre of 120 primary teachers with a specialism in PE would be trained as part of a pilot scheme. Following the announcement, Belleville Primary in London – a Teaching School – was one of three schools approached to run the new ITT course. At the moment, the structure of the training is still being decided, but director of teaching school, Charlotte Meade, says they’re looking to be creative. “For example, we might go for an intensive, front loaded model,” she says. The trainees will be dispersed throughout our alliance for their teacher training, but we might have them all at Belleville for the first half term.”
Teaching five year olds to talk
Should you let educational researchers into your classroom?