Blow for school sports scheme as funds axed

THOUSANDS of schoolchildren across Suffolk are to lose their extra-curricular sports sessions after the Government announced it was axeing a national funding programme.

Every school in the country is part of a School Sport Partnership (SSP), which organises competitions and training sessions for gifted and talented pupils, those lacking self-esteem, disabled children or those just looking to try out something new.

There are eight partnerships in Suffolk which also offer training to teachers at both primary and secondary schools. They are overseen by a team led by a Partnership Development Manager (PDM).

The managers attended a regional meeting in Cambridge this week to discuss the cuts proposed by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The Government plans to scrap the programme and give funding directly to schools to encourage more competitive sport.

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The partnerships are currently funded in two instalments, paid in September and February, but it is unclear whether the SSPs will receive their next instalment – meaning many competitions and events planned for the summer term will have to be cancelled or scaled-down.

The High Suffolk SSP, based at Hartismere High School in Eye, includes 55 schools and by offering new and alternative sports such as archery, cheerleading, ballroom dancing and judo, has been able to target pupils who may not always participate in the traditional sports.

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Steve Parry, PDM, said he was “deeply disappointed” that the Government had cut the funding.

He said: “I understand that in this age of austerity the level of funding could not continue but to end the whole structure seems very short-sighted.

“A whole generation of youngsters will now be unable to gain from the various schemes and initiatives that we have worked so hard to put in place over the past six years.

“The reason why the Government put funds in initially was not for the sake of sport, but there was so much evidence that physical education helped raise attendance, improved behaviour and self-esteem, developed leadership skills, tackled the obesity problem and got children off the streets by giving them something worthwhile to do.

“So much for the coalition Government’s idea for a ‘Big Society’.”

When quizzed about the cuts during Prime Minister’s Questions this week, David Cameron said the partnerships – introduced by the previous Labour administration – “simply did not work” and had a terrible record.

He said the Government wanted to put money directly into school budgets, encourage them to hold a “school Olympics” and release teachers from “red tape”.

He said: “Everyone wants to see an expansion of competitive sport in schools, and I feel absolutely passionately about the issue.

“There is a choice in politics: To go on with an approach that is failing or to make a change and do it differently.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the SSPs were “highly successful” and called for the Government to reverse the decision.

There is now a Facebook Save School Sport partnerships page and a campaign with a petition aiming to encourage the Government to reverse the decision.

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