Edward Timpson: improving access to physical education and sports

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Children’s Minister addresses the Youth Sport Trust (YST) conference.

Thank you, Sue [Baroness Sue Campbell]. I’m delighted to be able to join you all this afternoon for what I know is a landmark conference.

Twenty years on, and it’s been another great year for the Youth Sport Trust in providing access to sport and inspiration to thousands of children.

And today, all of us here are united by a single belief - that sport changes lives for the better.

Whether you prefer a racquet to a rugby ball or a swimming cap to a skateboard - just getting involved can make you a happier and healthier person. And a big part of that is having somebody to inspire you as a youngster.

For me, as I’m sure I’ve told many of you before, that person was Big Joe Corrigan. This time, however, I’ve come armed with photographic evidence.

Growing up in the early 1980s, the Manchester City and England goalie was my sporting hero.

As you can see, even in snowy weather, I’d be outside, fielding shots from my big brother, pretending to be Big Joe - attempting spectacular finger-tip saves, and imagining, unlike him, I’d saved that winning and still-grating Ricky Villa goal for Spurs in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay.

Meeting him has got to be one of my top moments to treasure.

And when Tottenham Face Chelsea in the League Cup final next month, I’m sure there’ll be thousands of children, eagerly cheering on Petr Cech and Michael Vorm - if they’re picked! - in the same way I would have Big Joe.

Because, although certain sports and sports players will fall in and out of fashion, a passion for sport can be passed down, generation to generation, and should remain a feature of every child’s upbringing.

And we know that the early years of physical education are the most important - that’s why we chose to target primary schools with £450 million of premium funding, to improve PE and sport for children across the country.

And importantly, we’ve put the power in the hands of headteachers - those who know their pupils best - to decide what to do with the cash to maximise its impact.

But we also know that exercise faces huge competition when it comes to what children want to spend their free time doing.

It’s easy to see why so many young people live sedentary lives. The appeal of the newest computer game - Minecraft and Skylanders are current favourites in our household - or the magnetism of screen-time on iPads all contribute to children moving less and losing out - something the YST’s ‘Future foundations’ report called the “digitally distracted”. And this has real and lasting consequences:

Just the other week, we learned that children as young as 2 were being hospitalised for obesity.

And a recent King’s College report places a third of middle-school children in the obese bracket.

But the report also offers hope that these figures are levelling out.

With the help of programmes like Change 4 Life, which has attracted 350,000 pupils to take part in sports clubs, we’ve managed to stem the rise in obesity we saw in the preceding decade.

But maintaining a healthy weight isn’t the only spur to an active and sporty lifestyle - it’ll reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

And we know that regular physical activity goes further than just physical health, and can even guard against depression. Being active is central to good mental health.

For me, I run marathons not just for my body, but for my mind too.

Mo Farah’s trainer, Alan Watkinson, has said that the energy Mo put into his training also helped him focus on his studies. If it’s good enough for Mo, it’s good enough for me!

And children themselves know just how important sport is for a healthy lifestyle, so we need to set them up to succeed and not fail.

And that’s where the primary PE and sport premium comes in. It’s allowed schools both to invest and improve the quality of PE and sport as well as provide new opportunities for their pupils.

And we know just how important it is- that’s why it’s the only money for schools that is ring-fenced, to be spent solely on school PE and sport.

So how is it helping?

Well, since the introduction of the funding in 2013 around 18,000 schools have been in receipt of the premium, and an independent analysis of its impact clearly demonstrates that headteachers and their staff have started to transform PE and sport.

Cedars Primary School, in Milton Keynes, has decided to use their allocation - a little over £9,000 - to employ a specialist PE teacher, as well as working on greater participation in sports at lunchtime.

And just down the road at Glastonbury Thorn Primary School, they’ve put their funding of just under £10,000 towards a specialist teacher, too.

They’ve also expanded their extracurricular timetable, and purchased new equipment to broaden the curriculum.

Last week I visited the fantastic Brackenwood Junior School on the Wirral, where I met Kevin Byrne, Head of PE and the cluster group leader for 12 local primary schools.

Kevin told me that thanks to the premium, staff are more competent at teaching PE and - across the cluster - the number of children taking part in after-school clubs has more than doubled.

On the back of these changes, Brackenwood are now finally able to enter inter-schools competitions, and have given pupils access to new after-school clubs like basketball and hockey.

They’ve also introduced PE into other areas of the curriculum, with 1930s jive dance being taught alongside the Second World War - proving that cross-curriculum lessons not only work, but can be of benefit to your health, too!

As these and many other primary schools have demonstrated, the premium is having a very real, positive impact and - importantly - has been designed for the future to ensure a long-term, sustainable approach to physical education.

For instance, more teachers have been trained to take children out on to sports pitches and playing fields.

And the subject has been firmly embedded into the curriculum - something I sincerely hope will outlast parliamentary terms.

And perhaps most crucially of all, the Prime Minister has personally committed to funding the primary PE and sports premium into 2020 - an additional £750 million that will ensure the progress you have made will not be lost.

And with stronger Ofsted accountability over how schools are spending premium money, physical wellbeing is sure to remain a firm priority.

Victoria Pendleton, amongst our most illustrious Olympic gold medallists, has said that the premium “gives teachers an opportunity to get creative about the activities they offer”.

She added that “you can’t beat the life lessons that competitive sport offers”.

And I couldn’t agree more.

The premium will allow us to support budding Pendletons or Farrahs.

And as Jess Ennis-Hill has said, it will “spark an interest” in sports at a young age.

It’s great of course to know that these sporting stars and role models, who’ve achieved so much for our country, can see the good in what we’re doing.

But the people we really need to embrace and lead our work on this are headteachers and teachers - those who are bringing the funding to life.

None more so than the first 120 specialist PE teachers, trained through a National College pilot.

Since September, these highly trained graduates have put their expertise and love of sport into delivering the calibre of PE lessons we need.

John is one of those 120, and is now in place at Moorlands Junior School.

He used to be a professional rugby league player - representing Ireland and Oldham - and now takes part in downhill mountain biking and cross-fit.

He sounds less like a teacher and more like a professional trainer.

John says he’s excited by the new concept of specialist PE teachers, and that the experience at his training school, Ashton on Mersey, was he said “life changing”.

In helping make all this happen, the Youth Sport Trust has been a stalwart for schools seeking support with their funding and professional development, and I want to put on record my continued gratitude to Sue and the YST team in being such an integral part of our collective push on PE and sport in our schools.

Importantly, that work is complemented by other growing initiatives, like School Games, which has got nearly 30,000 disabled children involved, and is the only youth programme that has seen girls outnumber boys at last year’s games, accounting for 52% of participants.

We’ve also seen health and wellbeing boards, local councils and sports governing bodies take the funding very seriously too. And, for me, it’s these all-encompassing collaborations have contributed to such promising progress.

But, as ever, there is always more we can do. Particularly when it comes to encouraging more girls to take part.

Girls, and women, face a whole other set of inhibiting factors to participation.

YST’s own ‘Girls’ active’ report shows women and girls are put off sport because of fears about how they look or how they will be perceived.

It doesn’t help when top seed tennis stars are asked to ‘do a twirl’ at the Australian Open - reducing their incredible sporting achievements to the clothes on their backs.

Thankfully, most commentators found the request as patronising as the rest of us.

Because women and girls in sport deserve to feel that they are on a level playing field with their male peers.

And there are some incredible role models out there - women like Stephanie Roche, who narrowly missed out on FIFA’s prestigious Puskas award. If you haven’t seen her goal yet, watch it online - it’s an absolute cracker, one even Big Joe Corrigan would’ve struggled to save.

And Ebonie Jones, a British boxer who’s been crowned European Champion at just 16-years-old.

Some of you have also seen the This Girl Can campaign on adverts and posters around the country.

It’s a great, honest campaign led by my colleague Helen Grant, the Sports Minister, that’s inspiring more girls and women to follow the lead of Stephanie and Ebonie, and have a go at sparring, or joining a 5-a-side.

As research by YST has demonstrated, good leadership can help girls to see their bodies and aptitude for sport in a much more positive light - and even feel better about school in general.

So I hope This Girl Can, with its positive messaging, will go some way towards encouraging more women to discover the benefits of exercise.

We also want the legacy of the Paralympic Games to live on just as much as the Olympic Games - and our investment in Project Ability is helping staff to deliver better sports activities to thousands of disabled student students in both mainstream and special schools.

One teacher in North Warwickshire described inclusive competition in her area as “flourishing” and that Project Ability had increased opportunities for all young people.

I’d love for the teachers and headteachers among you to consider what your premium funding can do to enhance the activities on offer for young disabled students - and what a fantastic legacy that would be for your schools to leave.

To help you achieve just that, I’m pleased to be able to announce today the extension of the Project Ability programme for another year, with around £300,000 of additional funding to do so. The funding will ensure that Project Ability can grow and extend its reach, as well as to drive and test innovative ways of support for all disabled young people to access and excel at PE and sport.

So - what do we want the child of 2035 to look like?

Ideally, obesity in childhood will be a thing of the past.

Children will be eager to try new sports, and will be fulfilling or even exceeding their target of an hour’s activity a day.

Better yet, sports halls and fields will be packed with as many girls as boys, supported by encouraging and motivating teachers - because thanks to the premium, it’s down to the professionals, with even greater control, to help build a generation of fit and active children.

For me, 30 odd years ago, Big Joe gave me the inspiration to go on and play competitive football and run marathons.

But today, the inspiration need not be on a pitch a hundred miles away - but much closer to home, in teachers, coaches and club leaders. And of course, parents.

Parents like me and you - who are from a generation that has benefitted so much from having PE and sport as a constant feature in our lives.

But, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about our children and our grandchildren - ensuring they too get to experience, as a rite of passage, all that physical activity and sport has to offer, giving them every chance of leading healthy, active lives.

Children like my son Sam, seen here on sports day, straining every sinew to keep that egg expertly lodged on that spoon whilst hurtling full pelt towards the finish line.

I love this photo, because it reminds me of my own discovery of a lifelong love of sports that’s helped shape my future in so many positive ways.

Whether my son’s been inspired to do likewise, time will tell.

But what’s important is that we open up that opportunity to all children, regardless of their background, or start in life - to be inspired by sport, and see the real value in a physically active life - so that they, in turn, allow the pupils of 2035 to benefit from a legacy that we can be proud to call our own.

Thank you.