HC Deb 06 November 2000 vol 356 cc5-6
3. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

What steps he is taking to give schoolchildren greater access to qualified coaching in the major sports. [135338]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

We announced earlier this year that we would double the funding available for the school sports co-ordinators programme. The additional £60 million that we are providing over the next three years means that the 1,000 co-ordinators whom we will have in place by 2004 will also have funding to buy in coaches and officials. High-quality coaching goes hand in hand with our desire to see more competitive sports played in schools and between schools and to give many more pupils the chance to play sport.

Dr. Ladyman

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that, if we are to harness the talents and sporting enthusiasm of every child, we need more sports co-ordinators and fully qualified coaching staff in our schools as well as new and improved sporting facilities? Will he confirm that the money for the co-ordinators that he has just told us about will not be taken from the additional money announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for extending school sports facilities?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of ensuring that good-quality coaching is available to pupils. One of the great tragedies of school sport in this country is the decline that came about as a result of the dispute that the previous Government had with teachers in the mid-1980s. We are now in the process of putting that right.

I can indeed confirm to my hon. Friend that the revenue funding that we announced to double the schools sport co-ordinators programme is revenue from the Exchequer. It is not the same fund as the prospective lottery money that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced at the end of September. We will provide £750 million to improve school sport facilities from the new opportunities fund, and we are proud to propose today, in the consultation document that we have launched, that that money should be spent. We asked Conservative Members whether or not they would cut that money if they came into government.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Although I welcome the Secretary of State's comments about improving sports coaching in schools, does he not recognise that the biggest decline in school sports came about because, for about 30 years, Labour spokesmen and Labour activists were against all competitive sport in schools? The Government are now trying to go two steps forward when he and his predecessors took us three steps back.

Mr. Smith

No, I would not agree. The two major reasons for the decline of sport in our schools over the past 20 years are, first, the withdrawal of teachers from after-school sporting activity as a direct result of their dispute with the previous Government, and secondly, the previous Government's presiding over a bargain-basement sell-off of school playing fields.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

Although the interest given to sports in schools is encouraging and, indeed, welcome, quality coaching in some sports is done away from school—I am thinking of swimming. I have constituents whose children are making a wonderful grade in swimming but need assistance. Can we have some advice on how such people can obtain specialist coaching away from school in sports that are part of the school curriculum?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which, together with Sport England, we are addressing. Swimming, along with games, gymnastics, dance, athletics and outdoor-adventure activities, is a national curriculum entitlement for school children at key stages 1 to 4. That means that those activities are a statutory part of the education of every child in this country. We must ensure that that education, training and coaching are as good as possible.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Does the Secretary of State agree that fitter children get better examination results? If he does, does he further agree that it is unacceptable that children aged between 11 and 16 receive on average only 20 minutes' physical activity a week? If he agrees that that is so, as statistics show, will he explain how in an already overcrowded national curriculum more time will be found for children to undertake physical activity?

Mr. Smith

I certainly agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. Fitter children who engage in sport undoubtedly perform better in their academic work. That has been proved by study after study. Engaging in sport also makes children healthier and, incidentally, helps to curb anti-social behaviour. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and I are determined to increase the amount of sporting activity available to children, both within the curriculum and after school and at weekends. Both are important objectives. The school sports co-ordinators programme that we are implementing will help to achieve them.