Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Before going any further, let me get a confession out of the way: I’m a big fan of the Youth Sport Trust. Not just because your work to give every child access to sport - and change their lives through sport - is essential - but because your passionate belief in the power of sport can be - and often is - an inspiration to others.
Because any sports fan can remember those defining moments when we were inspired to go and compete.
I remember mine.
It was 1982, and I was excited. My dad was running the second ever London marathon, and I was standing with my family along the Mall, waiting for him to come cantering past. If anyone recalls Hugh Jones - one of our best runners back then - he dashed past in first place, the crowd erupting as this blur of red hair flew by, a human gazelle speeding towards British glory - and with unrivalled anticipation I waited for my dad to come through behind him.
And waited. And waited.
Two hours later, there he came, running around the corner.
Well, I say running - staggering would be more accurate.
So it maybe wasn’t first place - but I went wild as he plodded past. And over 30 years on, as I try and knuckle down to training for my ninth London marathon this year, it inspires me still.
And that’s exactly what you do - inspire and encourage and train and support - and give young people access to sport. It’s great work, and it’s great to be here today.
Collaboration in government
And the theme you’ve got for your conference - excellence through collaboration - it made me think.
It made me think about the culture that surrounds sport - its special nature - and what those 2 ideas really mean.
And I came to the conclusion that we’re probably on the same page.
For instance, collaboration is at the heart of our approach at a national level.
We all know that school sport is important for so many different things.
It’s important for health.
I’m not sure if anyone saw the figures on child obesity released before Christmas. Obesity rates in children fell to 14% in 2012 - the lowest level since 1998.
That’s encouraging, though it’s certainly not enough to be complacent. But we’re so used to bad news on child health - a creeping barrage of headlines about an inactive, inert generation. These numbers show it just isn’t inevitable.
We all know that school sport - getting children active - is an essential weapon in the fight against obesity.
And I’m sure I don’t need to convince you that sport and PE have a real and lasting positive effect on pupils’ wider attitude towards school.
Sport offers children something quite distinctive. A chance to compete, to push yourself - but also lessons about teamwork and people. We even have a word - sportsmanship - for the particular respect and ethos that sport, at its best, creates.
Whether it’s generosity in victory, discipline in training - or simple humility after an absolute thrashing at the hands of a better team - sport isn’t a bad way to learn about life.
Put that way, it sounds like quite good training for politics, too.
So sport is about health, and about competition, confidence and character. And if it’s something that affects so many aspects to growing up - often referred to as our physical literacy - then we need to get the health, education and culture departments all working together.
That’s why we set up a cross-ministerial working group last year, so that different departments are all working together - really working together - for the first time. It’s collaboration, at the heart of government.
We meet every month, bringing together colleagues from across government and real experts from the sector - including, of course, Sue and John from YST.
Sport for all children
And we don’t just want sport to be for the minority, either.
Many of you I’m sure will know of Rachel Yankey. She plays for Arsenal and England.
She’s the most-capped England player of all time - beating Peter Shilton by just 1 game - which is fine by me, because anyone who’s talked to me for more than 5 minutes will know my hero is the goalkeeper Joe Corrigan, and Peter Shilton kept Joe out of the England men’s team for most of the late 1970s.
So, that 1 extra cap makes all the difference.
Anyway - when she started to play football aged 7, Rachel and 2 male friends tried to join a local club.
Except the club was boys-only.
So she said her name was Ray - which was near enough the truth - and cut her hair short to fit in.
And she got away with it for 2 years. I’m not sure her parents approved of the new hairdo.
But she went on to become England’s first ever female full-time professional footballer.
I think we can all agree that it’s just wrong if ambitious girls like Rachel have to fight against the system to get a chance to play. About two-fifths of all boys over 14 play sport each week. But for girls, it’s just a third. That’s such a waste of talent.
But if we look over the Atlantic to the USA, we see the rewards for letting that talent blossom and grow into a national force. There are now 1.7 million women registered with US Soccer - not far behind the 2.5 million we have. It can be done.
That’s why Maria Miller, the Sport, Culture and Media Secretary, set up a group to look specifically at how to encourage more girls into sport - bringing in high-profile businesswomen, athletes and sport experts.
And that’s why Sport England’s Active Women campaign got £10 million from the lottery to work with low-income women. There’s a £2.3 million project in Bury, too, called ‘I will if you will’, seeing what sort of activities would bring more women and girls into sport. And we funded the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation to understand where future efforts should be directed.
And the same goes for disabled sport. It’s wrong for special educational needs or disability to prevent access to sport, or physical activity.
So 10,000 disabled children now have the chance to play meaningful, competitive sport . Fifty schools - like the Marjorie McClure School in Bromley that I’ve visited - 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.
Now, everyone remembers the Olympics opening ceremony, with Sir Tim Berners Lee sending a tweet that flashed around the stadium - saying ‘this is for everyone’.
He was of course talking about the internet - but he may as well have been talking about sport.
Because not everyone will win an Olympic medal. Only a few will ever score for Arsenal. Or win the London marathon.
But everyone can get excited about sport if we encourage them - and if we give them the opportunity.
That, to me, is what collaboration really means - working together, government departments and sport experts, so that the passion and excitement and sheer fun of sport is accessible to every child, at every level, from every background.
So collaboration is a principle that runs through our work.
Excellence in sport
But what about the other theme of this year’s conference - excellence?
Well, we’re backing excellence through competitive sport.
With your help, with substantial support from the National Lottery and from Sainsbury’s, the School Games are growing year on year.
Last year, around 16,000 schools took part - that’s almost two-thirds of all schools.
I’ve met headteachers and children who took part in the finals in Sheffield, and the excitement and pride was obvious. The games really were the talk of the playground and staffroom alike.
We want them to go on, growing each year - so that every child, in every school, has access to competitive sport - to have the chance to excel on a national stage, to have the chance to surpass their personal best.
And as you know, PE remains very much part of the national curriculum - and compulsory for children at all 4 key stages.
We think PE teaching is a specialist role too. So it deserves bespoke support.
That’s why we’ve invested three-quarters of a million pounds in creating a new intake of specialist primary PE teachers. The first 120 trainees will be qualified to teach from this September - and it’s already attracted some high-calibre graduates who want to share their love of sport.
But it’s not just about what we do in central government.
We want to see these principles at a local level, too.
Local lead for school sport
Look at the primary sport premium, for example. We’ve committed over £450 million up to 2016. It’s the only money for schools that’s ring-fenced.
But it’s up to schools to work out how to spend it. Whether it’s bringing in specialist sports experts to work alongside staff, or buying new equipment, investing in facilities, or using that money for continuous professional development or staff training - we’ve given real discretion over how it’s used.
And across the country, with the help of the Youth Sport Trust and others, we’re seeing some schools taking some really imaginative approaches.
Some are pooling their money, for example. They realised that they get better economies of scale for buying equipment, or benefitting from a PE specialist. That they can share facilities, or staff. So they’ve joined forces, and created their own local networks.
And again, it’s not just about education. Health and wellbeing boards are getting involved too - because in health, like in education, local conditions vary - so local organisations should lead.
And it’s not just primary schools benefitting.
We’ve always been eager for schools of all ages to work together.
Projects like Access to Schools in Birmingham are trying to find ways to get better use of secondary school facilities by the wider community, while Sport England aims to have 4,000 ‘satellite clubs’ at secondary schools by 2017.
And we’re now seeing that the sport premium is bringing primary and secondary schools together.
In Southwark, for example, Bacons College has taken the lead in setting up a network, the London PE and School Sport Network. They work with YST and 72 primary, 17 secondary, 5 special and 4 independent schools across the borough - working together to give the best PE teaching possible, and make the most of that premium money.
So we might be keen on collaboration at a national level.
But I’m even more delighted that schools have taken it on at a local level.
There are no one-size fits-all policy solutions for school sport.
And this sort of local energy and teamwork is exactly what we hoped the premium would foster.
Tribute to the Youth Sport Trust
And in that context, I want today to pay tribute to the work of the Youth Sport Trust.
Because you’re at the forefront of grassroots work. Your help with using the premium wisely. Your sessions for cluster co-ordinators. Your essential work with the School Games. Your training for PE coordinators in schools, National School Sport Week, your sport camps and more - all these things drive up interest and participation in sport.
And nowhere more so than with the Youth Ambassadors programme.
It’s so important to make sure the memory of that amazing summer in 2012 doesn’t die. I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the hugely impressive ambassadors who, up and down the country, are keeping the spirit of 2012 alive.
And today, I’m delighted to announce that we will be renewing the funding for the programme.
We will extend funding for an additional 12 months - £250,000 for 2014 to 2015 - to help continue the Ambassador’s efforts - and get more and more children into sport.
So at a national level, at a local level - collaboration and excellence - that’s what we want.
I think we all agree on that.
Now arguably, in sport, collaboration can go too far.
At the first ever London marathon - the year before my dad raced Hugh - the first 2 people to cross the line, American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen held hands in a public display of sportsmanship.
Now I’ve run a marathon with my wife. We ran the London marathon together in 2012, the Olympic year. And I’m ashamed to say that, although we ran stride for stride the whole way, as we came to the finish line on the Mall - almost on the same spot I’d stood and cheered my dad on 30 years before - rather than grab my wife’s hand in a gesture of solidarity, mutual respect - and dare I say, love - I grunted a self-motivating ‘come on’ and did a Linford Christie style dip - in order to come 7,836th rather than 7,837th.
My excuse? On the field, collaboration sometimes has to take second place to excellence.
But when we’re talking about how all of us can inspire the next generation - about how we build up and maintain active, healthy kids who enjoy sport and get everything it has to offer - it’s a different story. Collaboration and excellence are 2 things we should insist on.
And as we move forward with a sustained drive to push them both through the power of sport, I thank you for your help, and commitment, in making it happen.