HC Deb 23 March 2000 vol 346 cc1099-100
5. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What further plans he has to encourage sport in schools. [114601]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

The Government are committed to extending the range and quality of sport available to all pupils, and believe that two hours of physical activity a week should be an aspiration for all schools. Our specialist sports colleges and the first school sports co-ordinators, who will be in post from September, will encourage that development. The Government's sports strategy, which will be published shortly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will detail our plans for sport in schools and how they will link to the wider community and local sports clubs.

Mr. Coaker

That reply shows that we are clearing up yet another mess that we were left.

There is an awful lot of work to do in rejuvenating sport in our schools. Will my hon. Friend consider whether, in the partnership that she described, we can extend the range of support from professional football clubs and other sports and youth clubs? Will she ensure that, from the funding going into schools, we get capital works to improve sports facilities as well as to improve teaching?

Jacqui Smith

During our teaching careers, both my hon. Friend and I had the pleasure of standing on windy sportsfields and encouraging young people. I strongly agree that we need to develop partnerships to get the most out of school sports. That is why we especially welcome the opportunities offered by out-of-school-hours clubs. The £160 million made available by the new opportunities fund and the £80 million from our standards fund are being targeted on communities with the greatest need and on building partnerships to provide more opportunities for young people both in and outside the curriculum.

I also agree that we must ensure that our schools have the sports facilities that they need. That is why Sport England is being encouraged to ensure that its lottery funding gets into schools and why we will work with our DCMS colleagues to find new ways of improving facilities for schools.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

We are all grateful for that helpful reply. I fully endorse the view that the Minister expressed about the importance of partnership, especially between football clubs such as Macclesfield Town and the community that I serve. Does she agree that physical team sports are important and that they require grass pitches? Unfortunately, despite the efforts of successive Governments, schools are still selling off playing fields. Will the hon. Lady give additional emphasis to the need for schools to retain their grass playing fields for physical team sports, which I personally believe—I think my view is shared—are important to young people?

Jacqui Smith

I entirely agree. I wish that the previous Government had put the effort into that that we have. In our first major education legislation, we introduced the strictest criteria for local authorities to limit the sale of school playing fields. We have reduced the applications for sale from 40 a month to three a month. We are safeguarding those provisions for young people as well as providing, through the new opportunities fund, the chance to develop new facilities, sportsfields and grass areas for the use of all communities and schools. We expect the first of those grants to be made available this summer. We are not only defending sportsfields for our young people in a way that the previous Government never did but looking to develop those opportunities in our communities.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does my hon. Friend believe that it is important to enable the education system to give all our young people the opportunity to be taught to swim?

Jacqui Smith

Yes. That has remained an important part of the national curriculum and we think that all primary school children should have that opportunity. We have worked with swimming organisations to develop that further.

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