Speech to the School Games Conference

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY It’s a real pleasure to be here with you all today. The power of sport You’ll probably all agree that we’ve just enjoyed…

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

The Rt Hon Maria Miller


It’s a real pleasure to be here with you all today.

The power of sport

You’ll probably all agree that we’ve just enjoyed the greatest summer in our sporting history.

Thousands of young people saw the very best that sport can be. Now we must stretch every sinew to convert that enthusiasm into an enduring shift in their relationship with sport.

Sport has an inherent value - the acts of participating, competing and spectating form an important part of our culture. Our sports are national passions and commercial assets. But sport is also about so much more.

Sport teaches us incredibly important lessons about life. It teaches us about the joy of triumph, but also about learning to be resilient when we lose, and to lose with grace.

Consider for a moment what our Olympic and Paralympic heroes had to endure to get to the Games, never mind win a medal. The average athlete has been working towards their goal for over eleven years.

And sometimes, the difference between winning and losing can be keener than a razor’s edge - something I heard about from the British cyclist Joanna Rowsell last week.

British Cycling believes in a strategy of “the aggregation of marginal gains” - a strategy that focuses on the small changes and improvements that can be made to effect a significant change in performance overall.

This attention to detail, this looking for even the slightest edge, can make all the difference. A case in point is Laura Trott, who won the first event in the Women’s Omnium by just one thousandth of a second.

Not everyone will be an elite athlete. But everyone can benefit from that approach - continuous improvement is relevant in academic work and everyday life too.

Because of this - still heady from the Games with sport still centre-stage - my priority is making sure we don’t miss this wide open goal in front of us.

Of course, it’s for schools to decide what’s best for their pupils but I think the very best schools have sport at their heart. Their Heads understand all the benefits that flow from embedding sport in the daily life of the school.

Signing up to the School Games is a great option. With 15,000 schools now signed up, there’s no reason why we can’t push for every school in England to be involved in the coming years.

I have talked to the Education Secretary to see how every school can realise the benefits of sport. And yes, part of this means making sure schools have the support they need to deliver school sport effectively, particularly at primary level - where we know there are some specific challenges. We’re consulting a range of people to help inform our thinking and we’ll make an announcement on next steps later this year.
But I tell you today: I’ll leave no stone unturned in looking at new ways to support schools with the firepower they need to strengthen both PE and sport.

So, to all of you involved: thank you very much for making the first year of the School Games such a great success. And I pay particular tribute to the sterling work of the Youth sport Trust and Sport England.

The importance of participation

You will have heard today that I want there to be a real focus this year on Level 1 of the School Games, particularly within primary schools.

Of course, getting the school signed up is just the first step. We also need to offer children, whatever their age or ability, a real choice of sports, which is why the School Games is so important. There are already 38 different sports on offer as part of this programme: from netball to new-age curling, from badminton to boccia. 

There has long been a misconception that some girls “don’t do sport”. The London 2012 Games has gone some way to bust these prejudices. However, I’m going to continue to press hard to raise participation levels among girls - particularly teenage girls, where the drop off is especially pronounced.

Getting more girls into sport brings specific challenges, often based around complex and sensitive issues like body image and confidence. However, if delivered right, there’s no reason why just as many girls as boys can’t get involved, and prosper, in their chosen sports.

We need to think about the barriers girls face. Evidence suggests that some girls are keener on individual - rather than team - sports and want to do them in less formal and traditional settings. Girls might also be put off by something as simple as the kit they’re asked to wear.

We’ve already begun to put in place systems and structures to move things along, such as ‘girls only’ satellite clubs in schools and Change4Life Sports Clubs.

Then there’s the other misconception that really bothers me even more - that disabled people don’t - or even can’t - do sport.

The Paralympics have helped to bust these myths.  We need to build on that momentum to generate lasting societal change.

Thanks to the work of Sport England, National Governing Bodies for sport are opening up new opportunities for those with disabilities to enjoy sport. For instance, I know that the FA, the British Equestrian Federation and the Royal Yachting Association are doing great work to integrate disability sport into their wider activities.

I have been particularly interested in the work many of you have been doing on the Project Ability programme. Fifty hub schools have helped more than 5,000 disabled young people enjoy high quality sporting competition in the last year.

That is truly inspirational and an excellent example of how the School Games programme is really making a difference.

The year ahead

As you’ve heard today, I want School Games Organisers taking responsibility for driving the School Games forward and addressing these challenges.

No one School Games Organiser or school should have the monopoly on brilliance. We need to build expertise from the ground up - and through new media is one of the best ways to make that happen.

About ten thousand schools are now registered on the School Games website, sharing ideas, networking, learning from others. I’d like all schools to sign up and help us build that knowledge base.

And let’s promote and champion what we do well. I am delighted that over 1,600 schools have already applied for the kitemark award, and 66 of the best-performing schools will be receiving the coveted gold kitemark. 

This is recognition that they are doing more than just providing sporting opportunities -they are building into the fabric of their schools that culture of respect, team-work and individual aspiration that I mentioned earlier.

So, in a year’s time, let’s have hundreds of schools achieving the gold standard, and showing that quality lies at the heart of the School Games.

I am also delighted that we have a top venue for the 2013 National Finals in Sheffield - in the wonderful sporting facilities that were part of the legacy from the 1991 World Youth Games. It seems entirely fitting that the legacy from one youth event is offering this wonderful opportunity to the next generation.

Sheffield is a city that knows about developing sporting talent - with its very own poster girl, Jessica Ennis. And going a bit further back, the Hallamshire Harriers remember with pride how they nurtured a young athlete called Seb.

So let’s do Sheffield proud by honouring that tradition and hosting a School Games Finals even better than this year’s.

Let’s use sport to transform children’s lives from their very first day in school. And let’s make sure that quality and equality, inclusion and inspiration, are the benchmarks by which we conduct ourselves.

That’s a great legacy to take from a great summer - and you’re on track to deliver it.

So thank you again, and I look forward to working with you in the years ahead.

Published 16 October 2012