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A Golden Olympics Legacy Under Threat

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JESSICA ENNIS
PA

At the heart of the pitch that won London the right to hold the 2012 Olympic Games was the sporting legacy for the next generation.

The games themselves were a roaring success but the legacy promised is at risk, as the report on PE in English schools by the inspectorate 'Ofsted' reveals.

First of all there is good news. The reforms the last Labour government brought in alongside the Olympic bid worked. There was a quiet revolution in school sports in the first decade of this century.

This occurred as a result of investment by the last government in school sports partnerships to arrest the previous decline in time devoted to PE and sports, and to increase participation and time spent on school sports. These partnerships were particularly helpful to primary schools which are often small and lacking in PE teaching expertise.

By 2010 the School Sports Survey, now scrapped by the education secretary Michael Gove, showed that 90% of children were doing two hours of sport per week. This was a massive increase in a short space of time. But recent surveys suggest that since the government cut funding for school sports partnerships and abolished the two-hour target, participation has fallen sharply.

A survey of parents by the 'Chance to Shine' campaign, late last year, showed that 54% said their children were getting less than the recommended minimum two hours.

Media coverage has highlighted the Ofsted observation that some PE lessons are not being delivered well enough, but in truth the overall conclusion of the report is that things have been getting better as a result of previous policies.

All that is now in jeopardy because of the decimation of the Schools Sports Partnership Programme.

Despite the well-documented evidence that it works, Michael Gove refuses to retain the ring-fence around its funding and prefers instead to leave it up to individual schools. This will lead to a decline in the quality and quantity of PE and school sport. It is also unhelpful when the prime minister mocks dance as part of the PE curriculum, when it is one of the most demanding physical activities and a particularly good way to tackle under participation by girls.

Some may question the value of PE and school sport citing their own school experiences of poor quality PE teaching in a bygone age. But research shows that physical activity can help to improve academic performance. Indeed specialist sports colleges were often the most improved schools academically in recent years.

This is nothing new. Even the ancient Greeks knew the truth of the mantra 'healthy body, healthy mind'.

Modern lifestyles make physical education all the more important. The Foresight Report on Obesity commissioned by the last Labour government provided us with the insight that we live in an 'obesegenic' environment.

We have designed much of the activity out of our daily lives with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Children are allowed to play outside less often than in the past.

We have a generation of battery-farmed kids when we need free-range ones.

The recent horse meat scandal has exposed the unhealthy processed foods, high in fat and sugar, that dominate too much of family diets. All this combined with our evolutionary instinct to feed in times of abundance are leading to higher levels of diabetes, heart-disease and other life-threatening conditions. The cost to society and the state in higher health bills is clear.

So a good early start in physical literacy is as important as a good start in reading and writing.
The Ofsted Report shows that we need to improve PE teaching for the youngest children and not put it under threat by dismantling a successful system. Labour's school sports action plan includes more Ofsted inspection of sport provision and that schools should tell parents how much PE they provide.

The warning signs are clear. If the coalition government blows the golden legacy of London 2012, it will have failed the next generation and broken the promise to them which was at the heart of the UK's successful Olympic bid.

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