**I must admit to being somewhat terrified standing before you.
I went to a sport-mad school. Sport was compulsory. And I was absolutely useless at it.
I never made a first XI or a first XV. In fact like many people who showed little promise, I was banished to the cross-country running team.
And then something strange happened.
We had an annual whole school cross-country race, divided into a senior and junior course. My birthday is in November and all my classmates with earlier birthdays were promoted to the senior school race, with just me left behind.
And to the total astonishment of everyone in the school, including me, I won the junior school race.
That was the high point of my sporting career.
But looking back on it, it was also a defining moment of my school career. Because the experience of unexpectedly winning a race transformed my confidence and in many ways turned me into a different person.
For better or worse, I doubt I would be standing here today had I not won that race.
**So let me start by saying this: thanks to your work, thousands of young people up and down the country are having similar experiences.
On their behalf I want to thank each and every one of you.
There was yet another reminder of the power of sport a few weeks ago, when Newsround asked young people to nominate their favourite role models and post them online.
You can probably guess some of the names that came up - Cheryl Cole, Justin Bieber, Emma Watson - but there were two things that I found striking.
First, the number of children who chose sporting role models - people like David Beckham, Rebecca Adlington, and Tom Daley - and who talked about how much they admired them for their dedication and hard work.
Second, the number of children who nominated not celebrities but the people who support and inspire them every day: their teachers, headteachers, and coaches - exactly those roles that many of you perform or inspire others to perform.
But in thanking you, I also want to recognise that the last few months have been extremely challenging.
I don’t want to rake over the coals of the debate we had in the autumn. Suffice it to say it has been an incredibly testing period across the whole of government as we seek to put our finances on a sustainable footing.
I want to thank Sue Campbell and Steve Grainger in particular for their powerful advocacy of the work you do.
Their enthusiasm and passion for school sport has been vital in helping us to create a structure that will retain and build on the best of what we have now.
Not without change. Not without improvement. Not without having to live with fewer resources.
But - yes please - with the extraordinary commitment and dedication so many of you have shown over many years towards getting more children and young people to play competitive sport.
The package we have in place will put £47 million from this year’s sport budget towards helping you to embed the best elements of your work and secure staff roles to the end of the summer term.
Even at a moment when he is actively looking to slim down other compulsory obligations on schools, Michael Gove has confirmed that PE will remain a core part of the National Curriculum.
And over a transitional period of the next two academic years, £65 million of funding from his department will allow secondary schools to release a PE teacher for one day a week - to help organise competitive sport in primary schools and foster good practice.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health will provide up to £6.4 million to secure the future of Change4Life Sports Clubs in secondary schools.
And to extend this model into primary schools - creating further opportunities for those children who are the least active.
At the same time, funding from my Department and from the Lottery will allow the establishment of a new nationwide School Games - opening up massive new opportunities for thousands of young people to take part in competitive sport.
And now there is new funding available - from the Department of Health and Sport England - which will pay for hundreds of new School Games Organisers working three days a week - or more if schools view this as a priority and are able to increase that funding.
Their role will be to help as many schools as possible sign up to the School Games.
They’ll help you to set up intra- and inter-school competitions - making sure that the links are there to Change4Life clubs and sports clubs, that there is a range of sports that all can enjoy, and that those children turned off by sport are turned on to it.
I hope and expect that many current competition and partnership development managers will consider taking on these roles.
And because you need to have clarity on this as soon as possible, we will announce more details on the funding mechanisms for these posts in the very near future.
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Delivering broader benefits
Why do we value school sport? Let me give you my top five reasons.
Firstly because regularly taking part in physical activity brings huge benefits in terms of health and wellbeing.
Secondly because with more than 1 in 7 children classed as obese, sport is a vital part of the drive against childhood obesity.
Thirdly because participation in sport has been proven to reduce the chances that at-risk teenagers will commit anti-social behaviour.
Fourthly because organised physical activity helps to boost concentration and feeds through directly into improved academic performance.
And last but not least because competitive sport in particular prepares people for life in a way that little else comes close to.
It helps young people develop confidence, the inner confidence that comes from stretching yourself to the limit and achieving what you never thought possible.
It teaches you teamwork and the notion of an identity that extends beyond ourselves as individuals.
And it teaches you to win with grace, yes, but also to lose with dignity. And in today’s highly competitive world, learning to lose is equally as important as learning to win.
Shakespeare said: “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” But I never forget Churchill who said that “success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”.
Quite a useful saying for politicians to memorise…
The ‘School Games’
It was the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, who said: “The important thing in life is not the victory but the contest; the essential thing is not to have won but to have fought well”.
And it will be our new School Games tournament - inspired by the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics - that will be at the heart of our new approach to competitive sport.
Of course, we are not starting from scratch. Thanks to you, there are already plenty of great examples of strong, well-developed competitions for children and young people.
Not least the UK School Games - where I enjoyed meeting many of you in Gateshead last year.
We want to build on this success rather than replicate it, and to do so in a way that allows every child the chance to take part, compete, and discover their hidden talents.
We want to do it with a new tournament that will help drive up interest in competitive sport right where it matters most - within schools themselves.
And we want to set this up in time for the Olympic and Paralympic Games as a key part of the sporting legacy they will leave behind.
Because this is not about a one-off event in 2012, but about what happens each and every year from now on.
Starting this academic year, all schools will have the chance to hold an annual _School Games Day _- the culmination of a broad-ranging programme of intra-school competition.
We expect around 500 schools to pilot a School Games Day this year, with a national roll-out in time for 2012.
And our goal is that these will be different - and better - than current school sports days.
Indeed our ambitions for the School Games are so high that some schools may not initially be willing to make the commitment to be part of them.
But let me give you three specific ways in which we want them to be a transformational shift:
Firstly we want each School Games Day not to be a “one off” event, but the finals of a broader programme of competitive intra-school sport taking place throughout the school year.
Secondly, drawing on the inspiration of the 2012 Paralympics, we want to make sure that this is a scheme that will offer disabled children as many opportunities as non-disabled children.
And thirdly, drawing on the nationwide festival of culture that will accompany London 2012, we want every School Games to have a cultural element.
Opening and closing ceremonies, for example, that could involve the school band or orchestra.
At the next level - what we call Level 2 - there will be a rolling programme of leagues and tournaments promoting more competition between schools at a town or district level.
As a former Shadow Minister for Disabled People, I am very proud of the fact that, for many areas, this will be the first time there has been an inter-school Paralympic-style competition in their area.
I had a chance to discuss this with some of you last night, and I was enormously impressed by your commitment to seizing this opportunity to take a huge step forward for the disability agenda.
From there, the most successful children and young people will progress to Level 3:
Up to 60 new, county or city-level ‘Festivals of Sport’ that will showcase the best of local competitive sport in the inter-school finals.
We will be piloting this in nine regions this summer: London, Manchester, and Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Cornwall and the Black Country, Hertfordshire, Kent and Tyne and Wear.
Finally - at level 4 - the most talented young sports people will have the chance to represent their schools in a high-profile, national event.
In the long term, this event will take place in September.
But next year we want to offer these young sports people the chance to compete in the brand new Olympic Park - even ahead of the athletes themselves.
That’s why the first national final will take place in May - precisely the moment when we can give your efforts the highest profile in the run up to the opening ceremony on July 27th.
By doing this we can create a direct link between the achievements of our most promising young athletes at the School Games and the achievements of Team GB in the Olympics and Paralympics.
And use their example to inspire all schoolchildren with the excitement and benefits of competitive sport.
I look forward to working together to create a fantastic legacy for young people through the School Games.