Successful sports scheme to go?

MANY valued sporting activities, events and competitions could be taken away from North Somerset children following a Government announcement that it will be axing a successful school sport programme.

Teachers and school sports coordinators (SSCs) in the district have been left with huge concerns since the Government’s Education Secretary, Michael Gove, announced plans to slash a �162million scheme that has run for 10

years, seen the levels of pupils participating in sport soar and boosted standards of PE teaching.

Under the Schools Sports Partnership programme in North Somerset, five SSCs have worked to increase the opportunities youngsters have to take part in PE and school-based sports, including rugby, football, badminton, netball, cross country, cricket, dance, orienteering, swimming and skiing.

Since the scheme began, the successes throughout North Somerset have been profound and now nearly 100 per cent of primary school pupils have had the chance to represent their school in at least one competition.

SSC Shane German is a teacher based at Gordano, Clevedon and St Katherine’s schools and works with the primary schools in those clusters to encourage children to take part in sport and provide guidance to PE teachers.

He is one of five SSCs based in North Somerset.

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He said: “North Somerset’s partnership has been successful from the outset.

“Most of the teachers know what will happen when this funding is cut but we want the parents to know.

“If this programme goes, your child will miss out on opportunities they would have had before.”

Michael Gove has said he will take away the targets and structure applied to the 450 partnerships nationwide and give schools a free rein on how they provide sport and PE. He also hopes to encourage more competitive sport through an Olympic-style competition.

At the same time, �162million in national funding will be withdrawn and North Somerset’s five SSCs, along with the strategic manager, will be out of a job.

SSC Tim Malessa said: “There is no specific budget for PE in a school’s budget so if they have gaps to fill, PE probably won’t come first.

“Many schools have said their staff would come first. The Government says it has not made any cuts in education but it has.”

Shane added: “Michael Gove hopes to increase sport uptake and the quality of PE teaching but this is going to do the complete opposite.

“The obesity and health in schools issue is massively high on the agenda and if this happens children will have less access to sporting events and competitions.”

In North Somerset, seven per cent of reception children and 16 per cent of year six children are classed as obese. Access to PE and sports has the obvious benefits of providing youngsters with exercise but it has also been shown that it can help to focus children in the classroom.

A spokesman for the Department of Health South West said: “Being active is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

“Although only a third of kids are active enough to benefit their health, levels of PE and sport in schools have been steadily rising.

“Evidence shows that active kids learn and achieve more in the classroom.”

Some of the many successes of the North Somerset School Sports Partnership:

? Seven years ago only one school from the district entered the National Primary Football Competition. Most recently, 65 teams took part.

? It’s a Knockout began with 180 pupils taking part in multi-skilled challenges in a one-off event 10 years ago. Now, 10 events are held at local level catering for more than 850 children.

? An inaugural primary cross country competition was held in 2003 for year five and six pupils, with 80 athletes taking part. In 2010, more than 1,000 children represented their schools.

? Close links with Somerset County Cricket Club and community clubs has seen consistently high participation in the Kwik Cricket program of coaching and competition for years five and six. After cluster competitions and SSP finals, teams now have the chance to play at a top class venue and attend the county finals.

? The North Somerset partnership annual Dance Festival has grown from to two to four nights to cater for increased demand and this year saw more than 35 schools taking part.

? Through the partnership, secondary school pupils have the chance to take part in a leadership programme, helping to organise primary school events they may have even taken part in when they were younger. Leaders have gone on to work in sport in North Somerset and have attained degrees in sporting subjects.

? North Somerset Athletics Academy has identified a high number of gifted athletes through events held by the partnership. Without the partnership, their talents may not have been noticed.

? The partnership runs a Gifted and Talented programme giving enrichment and development opportunities for more than 800 children. A Gifted and Talented Academy began with 38 year five students and now has 240 active members in years five to seven.

These are just some of the many milestones achieved by the North Somerset School Sports Partnership. Without the partnership, the SSCs and the Government funding it is unlikely this would have happened.