Investigation: Schools accused of fudging sport premium funding

The government has been urged to plug the holes in its sport premium cash scheme, with teachers claiming schools are fudging their funding.

The call comes as the education secretary Damian Hinds announced this week a new “school sport action plan” to get more pupils to play competitive sport.

National sports organisations, including the Premier League, the Football Association, England Netball and the Rugby Football Union, will contribute to the plan. It will be published next spring.

My last headteacher went for copying and pasting last summer term’s report from an older year. Totally gobsmacked by her brazenness

But school sport experts have called on the government to instead concentrate on implementing its current strategies to boost school sport and tackle childhood obesity.

Teachers claim PE and sport premium funding – introduced in 2013 as part of the London 2012 Olympic legacy – is being misused. This year the government doubled the amount it gives to primary schools each year to £320 million, with schools receiving up to £27,510 each.

Schools must use the ring-fenced cash to make “additional and sustainable” improvements to the quality of PE and sport.

But in comments submitted to the Active Matters website and shared with Schools Week, one teacher said the funding was a “Wild West” where “anything goes on and you can spend your money on whatever you want”.

School leaders are expected to publish details online of how the money is spent. Ofsted will check this during inspections.

One teacher told Active Matters: “My last headteacher went for copying and pasting last summer term’s report from an older year. Totally gobsmacked by her brazenness. However HMI didn’t spot it.”

Another said the online plan was a “complete work of fiction on our website. The money has [instead] been used to prop up TA salaries”.

An analysis of 86 primary schools in the London borough of Croydon, seen by Schools Week, found a quarter had no evidence online for how the funding was spent last year.

Four in five of the schools (79 per cent) had yet to provide the completed statutory performance report.

A report by the all-party parliamentary group on a fit and healthy childhood, published earlier this year, said a “lack of rigorous audit has increased the undesirable likelihood of the money being hijacked from its original purpose to ease shortfalls elsewhere in school budgets.

“The intention behind the premium is laudable, but its operation is in urgent need of close scrutiny and comprehensive, widespread evaluation.”

The Department for Education (DfE) has the power to recoup funding – or withhold future payments – should any school be found to have misused the cash.

But a freedom of information request earlier this year revealed the government has not docked funding from any school since 2013.

A spokesperson for the Active Matters website said this was despite findings from the parliamentary group, its members own meetings with MPs over funding misuse, and data evidence submitted to the DfE.

The site was still receiving “worrying feedback” over “extensive ongoing malpractice”.

A PE consultant, who did not want to be named, told Schools Week that misuse of funding was “regrettable, but understandable”, given funding pressures.

But he added that it was “short-sighted to not use the funding as it was designed”.

A government survey found 55.6 per cent of five to ten-year-olds took part in organised sport competitions in school last summer, down from 62.4 per cent in 2016.

An Ofsted spokesperson said it took the misuse of premium funding “seriously”. “If we find that funding is not being used for the right purposes we will make this clear in the school’s report and take it into account in coming to a judgment.”

The DfE said it trusts schools to decide how they spend the money, but added government officials check published details of premium spending through random samples of schools.