Thanks John [Driscoll, Executive Director, sports coach UK], it’s great to be back.
And it feels like we couldn’t be gathering at a better time. It’s been an incredible bonanza of sport so far this year peppered by a string of heart-stopping and breath-taking moments. Okay, so Andy Murray couldn’t repeat his heroics of last year, and we’ve all had to adopt a team at the World Cup, but we’ve once again seen the power sport has to move and unite us like nothing else on earth.
Just witness the cacophonous crowds crammed all along the route this week for that well known Yorkshire showcase of cycling, the Tour de France. It’s done wonders in reigniting that London Olympic vibe and will have, I’m sure, and most importantly, inspired many more children to want to ‘zoom like Froome’.
And, in amongst it all, I’m pleased I’ve found the time to continue getting stuck in on and off the field, doing my best to lead by example as well as stave off the ravages of turning 40!
I ran my ninth London marathon in April and, while I was just pipped to being the fastest MP, I did achieve a personal best time - which made up for reaching a birthday milestone! And in need of another goal to aim for, I followed it up with my first stab at tackling a proper triathlon - gruelling, gut-busting and, ultimately a great sense of achievement.
I also recently had a tennis knock-about with the Speaker at a Lawn Tennis Association event for schools to play in the heart of Westminster.
It was of course wonderful to see the children enjoying themselves in such a setting, but I’m afraid that the Speaker had, rather sneakily, got the upper hand on me. He had his tennis whites to change into, while I found myself serving and volleying in my suit on one of the hottest days of the year. It clearly took a lot out of him though, judging by his overly relaxed pose whilst watching the men’s final on Centre Court on Sunday!
And like the Speaker and so many of you, I’ve been avidly following the World Cup and Wimbledon. But as fantastic as it is watching world’s top sports stars at their peak, we know it can be even be more rewarding seeing a field full of children in action at their own level, having the time of their lives.
That was certainly my experience at this year’s School Games that I went to see in Bedford, which - with your backing and that of National Lottery and Sainsbury’s - continues to go from strength to strength.
17,500 schools are taking part this year - that’s almost 3 quarters of all schools.
There were some exceptional performances, but more than anything, it was the passion and pride of the children taking part and that of their teachers that I took away.
And I saw this same passion and pride a few days ago when I visited a number of schools in Manchester with a great track record in PE and sport.
We want many more children to have these sorts of opportunities to have fun, get fit and compete. Which is why - in keeping with today’s theme - we’re taking action on several fronts and can see this starting to have an impact.
Just last week, whilst in Manchester, I announced that we’re extending the programme to develop specialist primary teachers. It was a pleasure to meet some of the first intake of 120 trainees whilst there and I’m pleased to see that we have some 40 or so of you here today as well.
They include some really high-calibre graduates and will be qualified to teach from this September. And I know from speaking to them that they’re raring to go, ready to pass down their love of PE and sport to the next generation, and so I’m delighted that we’re now recruiting more bright, committed professionals to join them.
And this comes on top of the £450 million we’ve already committed to PE and sport in primary schools up until 2016 - a major recognition of the vital job that you do, as well as the Prime Minister’s own personal commitment to continue to fund the primary PE and sport premium until 2020.
Primary PE and sport premium
But the money only works if those on the ground spend it wisely and demonstrate the difference it makes. And so to that end I want to thank you all for the hard work and dedication you put in, day in, day out, to help young people raise their game and experience the power of sports for themselves.
As you know, the primary PE and sport premium is the only money for schools that’s ring-fenced; reflecting our commitment - right across government and at a time when money’s tight - to school sport.
And also reflecting our trust in you, in your schools; to decide for yourselves how to best spend this money to boost PE teaching and participation levels.
When I spoke to you last year, I talked about ways in which you could go about doing just this - whether by bringing in specialist sports experts to upskill staff, by buying new equipment, investing in facilities or otherwise investing in continuous professional development and training. Or, as some schools are doing, pooling the money and using their collective buying power to get a better deal.
And a year on we can see these efforts beginning to bear fruit.
Like at Our Lady’s Primary School in Manchester, who’ve decided to invest in the professional development of all staff, including teaching assistants and lunchtime organisers. They’ve also focused on good PE provision for children with SEN and social, mental and emotional needs.
And also in efforts made by Chellaston Infant School in Derby to ramp up participation in sports clubs and competitions and encourage pupils to take part in active lunchtimes with new play leaders.
I’m reliably informed that both schools are represented here today and are among over 80 schools that have been awarded AfPE Quality Marks in recognition of their achievements - brilliant achievements that I hope will inspire others.
Primary and secondary schools working together
And it’s not just primary schools benefiting - we’re seeing the sport premium bringing primary and secondary schools closer together.
In Richmond, for example, Brompton on Swale primary school is working closely with a local secondary to provide training for staff in netball and hockey. The school’s also using their premium money to support newly qualified teachers and lift participation in after-school clubs.
And more generally, I know of emerging networks of primary and secondary schools in regions as diverse as Devon, Manchester, Southwark and Leeds.
But as well as supporting schools through the premium, we’ve underscored the importance of PE in the new national curriculum whilst ensuring it remains compulsory at all 4 key stages. And so I want to thank AfPE, and the PE subject expert group - which is represented here today - for their sterling work on helping pull all of this together.
I also want to thank AfPE for their efforts to not only support schools through the Quality Mark, but also for their commitment to improving the quality of teaching. 70 centres across England have been approved to deliver AfPE’s new level 5 and 6 qualification - a significant step forward for the profession.
And Sue (Wilkinson), in particular, deserves huge credit for the work she’s done to get the British Gymnastics Association and Football Association on board as part of our work to train more specialist primary teachers. No mean feat, and testament to Sue’s tenacity and enthusiasm to bring everyone along with us.
Need to serve children of all abilities
And it’s also important to acknowledge that, at the same time as the new curriculum kicks in this September, we’ve also got major reforms to special educational needs getting underway.
These reforms aim to put parents and young people in the driving seat as never before and require education, health and social care to work together much more closely to improve outcomes.
Opportunities to enjoy and achieve in sport - as other children do - are very much part of this push. That’s why we’ve introduced requirements for schools to make public, online, information about their SEN provision and also their PE and sport premium offer, so schools will have to actively show how they’re serving pupils of all abilities and needs.
And I’m pleased to report that they’re increasingly stepping up and doing just that.
50 schools - like the outstanding Redwood School in Rochdale, that I visited a few days ago - run the Project Ability strand of the School Games, which aims to increase sporting opportunities for disabled young people. And for the first time, Change4Life clubs now offer the Paralympic sports, boccia and wheelchair basketball. That’s an important development.
Because we’re particularly keen to drive up opportunities for pupils - disabled and otherwise - to take part in competitive sport - not just to nurture those with natural talent to elite level and win more medals - as welcome as that is.
But, by being ambitious for all children, instilling in them a life-long love of sport and physical activity, with all the benefits this has for their health, for building character and confidence, for improved concentration and behaviour. For higher aspiration and achievement all round.
Competitive sport and school achievement
This link between excellence on and off the field was underlined just a few weeks ago by Ofsted, which found that state schools that do the best in competitive sport also tend to do score highly overall. And where competitive sport is at the centre of school life and embedded into everything, we can see that this helps build a strong ethos that lifts the entire school.
But to fully reap the rewards, to really make this good work stick, we must engage parents to spark the passion that gets children active an early age - and that keep them active as they grow older.
It’s too easy to talk about children who are sporty and those who aren’t. I believe there’s something for every child; be it a ball game or ballet, gymnastics or jiu jitsu, rock climbing, or even marathon running, that will leave them raring to go - now and for life. We just have to find it.
And I have no doubt that you all have an essential role to play; in harnessing the power of sport to change young lives and helping us achieve a legacy worthy of the 2012 Olympics.
So, I hope I’ve demonstrated that we’re eager to do everything we can to support you - through the premium, through the drive for more specialist teachers and, of course, through our work with AfPE and all of you.
Now, of course, there’s clearly always more we can do, particularly to celebrate and spread good practice, especially in areas where the market is developing quickly.
So as you look to the year ahead, you might want to think about what innovative ideas you could share with colleagues in areas with less well-established PE provision. Or consider how schools can best verify the quality of external coaches, if they choose to employ them.
But, overall, I’m confident we’re on track. The action we’re taking together is having a real impact. And I want to say, once again, how grateful I am for everything you’re doing to give the next generation the chance to be the best they can be. And who knows where it could take them?
Mo Farah’s journey to Olympic gold started with an inspirational PE teacher who saw how sport could help a boy who couldn’t speak English find his place in the world.
And while not every child will win the Olympics, or the Tour de France, or the World Cup or Wimbledon, they certainly deserve the chance to aim for those heights. To go further and faster than they ever dreamed possible. To achieve their personal best.