Just over a month ago we were told that school sport had been saved! The Daily Mail’s headline was typical of many…“School Sports U-turn: Government forced into embarrassing back-track after public outcry at cuts”. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in a statement hailed as a concession said “I want competitive school sport to be at the centre of a truly rounded education”, something The Guardian described as “a large U-turn by a high profile minister”. The Labour opposition claimed this as “a victory for thousands of young people, teachers and athletes, and a warning to this government that it cannot simply do what it likes.”, although the Shadow Education Secretary, Andy Burnham, did say it “raises one cheer at best.”
But there were some more dissenting voices. Jim Cowan’s excellent Blogpost suggested that rather than a U-turn Gove’s announcement was “a temporary extension of funding while the fuss dies down”. The details of the announcement bore this out: funding of £47m to sustain the School Sport Partnership network until July 2011, then just over £32m a year to release one teacher per secondary school for one day a week for another two years. The £32m a year package represents an 80% cut from the previous annual School Sport Partnership funding of £165m, and many of the network’s staff have been served redundancy notices.
As Cowan predicted, the fuss has died down. A negotiated political settlement has been reached. Gove consumed a small slice of humble pie, the Opposition claimed a political win, the media printed it’s gleeful headlines, but in the end the government retains 80% of it’s cut and the ideologically driven abolition of the national network. None of the features of School Sport Partnerships that the evidence shows are most crucial will exist beyond July, but there are no more features on the Six O’Clock news, no more debates in parliament and, with a few notable exceptions (particularly Gareth Davies at The Telegraph), no more national journalists pushing the story. Undoubtedly, School Sport Partnerships are suffering from the spin of a political win!