Government eases cut to school sports funding

LONDON (Reuters) - The government staged a partial retreat on the scrapping of 162 million pounds of annual school sports funding on Monday after a wave of protests from teachers, pupils and Olympic athletes like diver Tom Daley and heptathlete Denise Lewis.

Prime Minister David Cameron points at an event, in central London on December 8, 2010. Hiking student tuition fees is the fairest and most sustainable way to fund university education in Britain, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday, a day before a key parliamentary vote on the issue. REUTERS/Oli Scarff/Pool

Education Secretary Michael Gove said schools would instead be given 65 million pounds to cover two years of additional sports teaching after existing funding ends in the summer.

Gove sparked outrage in October when he said he was cutting funding for 450 School Sports Partnerships (SSP), which organise PE, sports clubs and competitions at schools where there are no specialist sports staff.

Gove believed the 2.4 billion pounds spent on the scheme over the past seven years had brought some benefits but said it was overly bureaucratic and that too few children were taking part in competitive sport.

Prime Minister David Cameron had called the scheme a “complete failure” but earlier this month adopted a more conciliatory tone after public criticism of the move.

More than 70 British Olympic athletes wrote to Cameron last month warning that the “ill-conceived” ending of funding for the sports partnerships would risk the future of children’s health.

They said the move would destroy any hope of delivering the promised legacy of wider participation in sport promised in London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics.

Earlier this month, around 500 pupils delivered to Cameron’s Downing St office a petition with half a million signatures appealing for the scheme to be saved.

Funding for the sports partnerships will continue to the end of the school summer term next year but will be reduced to 118 million pounds, Gove’s education department said.

The replacement funding of 65 million pounds, spread over two academic years to 2013, will allow schools to pay for one PE teacher to spend a day a week out of the classroom, allowing them to organise more competitive sports.

Labour education spokesman Andy Burnham said the move was an embarrassing climbdown by the coalition government.

“They spent weeks trying to justify a bad decision with dodgy statistics and they have finally given in today,” Burnham told BBC television.

“It’s a victory for thousands of young people, teachers and athletes... But I’m still worried that fewer children will be playing sport in the run up to 2012,” he added.