Despite naysayers declaring the demise of school sport partnerships (SSPs) in anticipation of an imminent cut in central government funding, one of the country's less celebrated sporting centres has seen the partnerships go from strength to strength.
Across Berkshire, a county renowned more for its commerce and Windsor Castle, the area's eight partnerships have carried on or been reborn under a different guise since education secretary Michael Gove announced in December 2010 his intention to withdraw their £162m funding.
While Grove relented amid huge public outcry, the comparatively small £112m pot he found to maintain SSPs ceases in July. The impact nationally has been catastrophic, the Youth Sport Trust claiming half the partnerships have perished in the wake of this reduced revenue stream.
Yet Berkshire has resoundingly bucked the trend through a combination of commercial savvy and bona fide belief in the power of sport for school children, typified by the Sky Sports Living for Sport award recently bestowed on Wexham School, a specialist sports college in Slough.
Wexham School is the bedrock of the Slough School Sport Network, born in September 2011 after funding for the Slough and Wexham School Sport Partnership was cut. Besides lamenting the looming cut in teacher release funding, which allows a specialist secondary school PE teacher to spend time in primary schools one day per week, the network's manager Laura Brookstein has actually found upsides to less central government bureaucracy.
"It's allowed us to meet the needs of our schools. Where we might have had programmes that were given to us to deliver, they didn't always meet the needs of Slough's young people. Now we very much work towards what headteachers want for their young people," she said
"There was always going to be the negative feeling when they cut the partnership funding but it has allowed some flexibility to meet the needs of our local schools."
Someone a little less enamoured with government policy is Emma Fitzgerald, the partnership development manager at nearby Ascot & Maidenhead School Sport Partnership (AMSSP), who describes the initial decision to axe SSP funding as a "bolt from the blue". As recompense, Gove recently announced a £150m joint venture between the Department of Health and the Department for Education for sport in primary schools, the first flagship announcement of substance post-Olympics by a government that spent all summer insistent upon inspiring a generation.
Fitzgerald said: "It's been extremely challenging since the funding was cut as we've had to move into a more commercial service, and the latest announcement has been a long time coming. For whatever reasons there's been a delay, and I can't help feeling they missed the boat in building off the back of the legacy, but this is big money."
Exchequer funding to SSPs is an option by no means out of the race: £22m has been pledged by the Department of Health and Sport England to fund 450 school games organisers - who help deliver national competition the School Games - until 2015, while SSPs can collaborate with County Sport Partnerships in delivering well-backed schemes such as Sport England's Sportivate, a £32m lottery programme that delivers courses in a range of sports to those aged 14-25, and the £7.5m Club Link Makers initiative, where clubs can create satellite facilities at particularly well-equipped schools.
Yet moving beyond solely government backing is imperative. AMSSP now runs as a buy-in service where the partnership's 37 schools pay a fee to be included, which 100% of schools once in the partnership for free chose to do, while its recent Primary Dance Festival for 700 children had half its running costs paid for by a local surveying firm.
"The biggest thing is our ability to hunt down and seek out external funding," said Fitzgerald.
"That's what we're so good at here in Berkshire. It might not be large amounts, but it all adds up. We have got some extremely good contacts, and it's all about pressuring and convincing them to support us."
Brookstein also insisted she had received "terrific support" from businesses and local sports clubs, but said that teachers' efforts were also extremely important.
"The headteachers in Slough value physical literacy. I think it's very different in every area, but I don't think it's a coincidence that across Berkshire we have eight school sport partnerships who are still here. It comes down to the team you have on the ground, the headteachers and the PE teachers. Fortunately, the ones here are very passionate about sport."Suggest a correction