Physical education

More investment in sport and PE requires more accountability

Renewal of the PE and Sport Premium for another academic year is welcome, writes Gary Palmer, but we need greater scrutiny given the sums involved

Renewal of the PE and Sport Premium for another academic year is welcome, writes Gary Palmer, but we need greater scrutiny given the sums involved

9 Jul 2022, 5:00

summer schools

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the London 2012 Olympics and last week, the government announced that it has committed to investing a further £320 million into the  PE and Sport Premium designed to secure the event’s legacy by supporting primary schools to increase physical activity.

Any such investment should be commended for its commitment to improving young people’s health and wellbeing, and especially so after the toll of pandemic. With the level of funding being so high, I’m sure the PE and school sport sector will be unified in welcoming this investment.

Legitimate concerns have been voiced about the announcement coming so close to the end of the academic year, and the fact that it is only confirmed for a single year. But the sheer fact is that this does still present a fantastic opportunity.

Since 2012, it brings the government’s total investment into primary school sport to an impressive £2.2 billion. It’s a mark of ministers’ ongoing commitment to the 2012 London Olympic Games legacy and the intention to improve PE teaching in England’s primary school sector that forms an important part of it.

However, a recent article by Dr Vicky Randall and Gerald Griggs that explored the delivery of that intention concluded that the investment had failed in one key respect. Because a significant number of schools have chosen to outsource their PE delivery to sports coaches and instructors, the sizeable investment has not translated into an increase in the “confidence, knowledge and skills of all [primary] staff in teaching PE and sport”.

Investment has failed in one key respect

To see the real value of this investment, therefore, and secure long-term funding from government, we must learn from what has gone before and take corrective action. Without sustained and sustainable change in the profession’s capacity, it’s unlikely the treasury tap will stay open indefinitely.

So first, there needs to be greater accountability. I was part of the Active Partnerships network tasked back in 2014 with reviewing school websites to ensure schools were reporting how they had allocated, or spent, the investment. 

A painstaking and at times painful task without the required capacity or mandate to visit and/or challenge schools on their spend, this monitoring process was removed altogether in 2018. Since then, schools have been required to publish details of how they spend their PE and Sport Premium funding by the end of the summer term. This is now monitored by the Department for Education, who have taken on the unenviable task of sampling a selected number of schools in each local authority to review what they have published on their use of the funding and their swimming attainment.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that a number of schools continue to slip past DfE monitoring and accountability checks. Surely the time has come for greater levels of scrutiny, given these considerable sums of money?

Secondly, schools should be reminded of their duty, and held to account for how they are using the investment, to address each of the five key indicators in a targeted way. It simply isn’t good enough for schools to use this funding however they choose, and those who do put the future of this funding at risk.

In collaboration with the Youth Sport Trust, the Association for Physical Education produces an excellent reporting template that schools can use to report on the impact of their spend. So there is really no excuse to get that wrong.

Primary schools play a significant role in helping to achieve the Olympic legacy of driving up engagement in sport and physical activity. In turn, this has the potential to be transformative for young people’s wellbeing, not just for the Covid recovery but for life.

So I hope they will take full advantage of this continued investment to truly embed positive experiences for all their pupils. And from now on, to ensure the investment is well accounted for and leading to a transformation in teachers’ capacity to do this work themselves.

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