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The need for greater opportunities in Bradford schools
The success of Britain‘s athletes in the 2012 Olympics, with more gold and silver than a Mansion House dinner, appears to have resulted in sport becoming a political football.
The Prime Minister’s call for a “big cultural change” in favour of a “more competitive sports ethos in schools” comes a year after the coalition Government scrapped the £162m School Sports Partnership in England.
Former Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, Labour MP for Bradford South, explained that this was a network of 453 partnerships linking schools and sports colleges and included a weekly commitment of at least two hours sport for 90 per cent of children, rising to five hours a week.
On local radio in London, David Cameron defended Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to kick this arrangement into touch, saying: “What the last Government did – which is not right – is if you sit there in Whitehall and set a target but don’t actually do anything to help schools meet it, you are not really solving the problem.”
Mr Sutcliffe said: “I asked a question about this in the House of Commons last year and David Cameron said he would look at it again because he accepted that school sport was important.
“I agree with the Prime Minister. He said we had to return to competitiveness. We were bringing that back. I introduced free swimming for all, but the coalition Government cut the money. We’re going back to that in Bradford.”
Sport in schools is not an issue that has been pumped up because of the Olympic success of the Brownlee brothers, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Nicola Adams and the other competing 541 Team GB Olympians.
On August 9, 1996, retired Bradford secondary school headteacher Keith Thomson, then a Labour councillor at City Hall, sent Labour Party leader Tony Blair a three-page letter on this very subject.
“The challenge for us,” he warned the future Prime Minister, “is to increase the level of coaching, or agents of change, or personal involvement of adults, and there is a simple way of doing it. The American High School ‘coach’ points the way.”
Mr Thomson went on to argue that at a cost of about £150m every school in the country could appoint two sports coaches, one male, one female, contracted separately from formal teaching staff.
“Their day would be from noon until 6pm, with activities in the lunchtime, the school afternoon session being used for organisation and administrative work, and then more activities after school. Their hours could involve some weekend sessions and perhaps one or two later evenings as well.”
But as Gerry Sutcliffe pointed out, the free schools that Michael Gove is so keen on are not obliged to adhere to the National Curriculum; they do not have to provide playing fields and sports facilities. Sport is not a statutory obligation.
Mr Sutcliffe advocates the creation of a Bradford sports trust, an umbrella body involving the Council, Bradford College, Bradford University, sports clubs and the NHS, to promote sport in the metropolitan district.
“Loughborough and Bath have this approach. They have the two most famous sports universities in the country. That’s where the majority of our Olympic athletes trained,” he added.
Ronnie Todd, Bradford College’s international projects manager, said the first independent leisure or sports trust was set up in Greenwich – one of London’s Olympic boroughs.
“A significant number of trusts have been set up among the 366 local authorities in England and Wales, including Rochdale, my home town,” he added.
A multi-agency approach generally allows for long-term planning free of the short-termism associated with local authority politics. They bring professional and amateur sports together.
Bath and Loughborough universities, which Ronnie said have been producing elite athletes for the past 50 years, are both part of the English Institute of Sport network. Leeds University, where the Brownlee brothers study, are part of it.
“More than half of our Olympic gold medalists come from colleges and universities. If you want elite athletes – and elite means the best, no matter what background you come from – you have got to combine education and sport from as broad a base as possible,” he added.
Gerry Sutcliffe said Bradford Council could start the ball rolling by upgrading its football pitches which, he added, hadn’t changed since he played on them 30 years ago.