Mo Farah’s former PE teacher has warned of the potential damage to the physical and mental health of children if the Government does not provide urgent clarity on £320 million of funding to promote sport and physical activity in primary schools.
With a crisis of inactivity further worsened during lockdown by the closure of sports and schools to most children until at least September, fears are mounting over the possible double-whammy of the PE and Sport Premium being cut from the 2020-21 academic year.
This is an annual payment since 2013 which is ring-fenced to improve the provision of PE, whether through equipment and facilities, staff training or specialist coaching. Alan Watkinson, who was Farah’s PE teacher in Feltham and won a Pride of Britain Award for his inspirational work in the sector, said that the funding was vital at this moment of acute need.
It was worth £16,000 to individual schools in the previous academic year but, with no word from the Government, some are already taking the decision to end vital services.
“Schools are at a critical point of planning – the lack of clarity is putting immense pressure on the whole system,” said Watkinson, who is now the partnership director at Sport Impact, a not-for-profit organisation that works with schools to enhance their PE provision. The Youth Sports Trust and the former education secretary, Baroness Nicky Morgan, have also both written to the Government to seek urgent clarity.
The chief medical officer recommends that children complete an average of at least 60 minutes of activity every day and 47 per cent were achieving that in 2019. That figure, however, had fallen to between just 14 and 22 per cent during lockdown. Most alarming of all, around one in 10 children reported doing no daily activity at all during lockdown.
“The really worrying thing is that the gap will have grown so much over these four or five months,” said Watkinson. “We have so much to offer and the danger is that they are going to push PE to one side at a time when it is potentially needed most. If that money stops, then there will be a whole lot of jobs that aren’t going to carry on, but the bigger picture is that we have a network that can really help.
“This funding gives us the opportunity to make sure PE, sport and physical activity is for everybody. It gives a really a clear message to schools that it isn’t right to cut physical activity and sport.”
The Youth Sports Trust will launch its first remote National School Sport Week on Saturday and have stressed the importance of the premium. “There are a number of people’s jobs at risk because of the delays and some who have already been made redundant, and it’s about not losing the capacity,” said Ali Oliver, the YST chief executive.
Speaking on Wednesday to the YST podcast, Nigel Huddleston, the Sports Minister, acknowledged the value of the premium and said that the treasury, the department for education and the department for digital, culture, media and sport were all in talks about its future status.