Norfolk schools dig deep to save sports scheme that helps thousands of children

Norfolk schools are set to dig deep to help save a threatened sports scheme that has given tens of thousands of the county's children a chance to boost their fitness and have fun.

Earlier this year, school sport partnerships (SSPs) were in jeopardy when the government axed their funding from the coming September - sparking fears that 'non-sporty' youngsters would pay the price.

But the eight SSPs in Norfolk are set to continue, thanks to a combination of the determination of the staff and the generosity of some schools, who are preparing to pay towards them.

The picture is not clear across all of the partnerships, with some likely to provide almost the same service when the new funding regime starts and others still locked in negotiations and likely to have 'reduced capacity'.

The government previously provided two days'-worth of funding for school sports co-ordinators in each of the cluster high schools, which is being reduced to one.

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Also, funding covered a full-time partnership development manager and a full-time competition manager. Now it will encompass three days' funding for a joint role which is competition-based.

In Norwich SSP, which includes 38 primaries and five high schools, most of the schools have agreed to pay �10 per pupil to keep many of the activities going.

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Jon Osborne, partnership development manager (PDM), said: 'We've had a great response from schools. We've put a proposal to them, and fortunately they are prepared to back us.

'It's an annual membership fee, based on �10 per pupil. The cost ranges from �500 for smaller schools to �4,000 for the larger ones.'

He added: 'If we had to revert to the worst-case scenario of school games, the sporty kids would play all the sport and the others would miss out.'

He said there would be a 'slightly reduced capacity', with staff dropping from nine to seven.

Helen Dolding, PDM for South Norfolk, said: 'Everyone has been shocked and horrified by the government pulling the funding.'

She said three of the high school clusters in the area had 'shown a commitment' to paying towards the retention of the SSP.

She said: 'Initially we thought everything was going. But it's better than it was.'

Paul Hunter, partnership development manager for East Norfolk SSP, said: 'We will keep it going and keep improving it.

'We are asking for some minor contributions from our 31 primaries and five high schools to help with what we can offer. We are very confident of providing the same coaching and leadership.

'We've put up some additional money up front to provide some coaches. That, plus the financial contributions from schools, who see this as a resource they cannot do without.'

Rob McCombe, PDM for West Norwich and Dereham SSP, said: 'We have put together a package of services for the schools to buy into the SSP to continue to receive benefits.

'As it stands we have approximately 75pc of schools signed up for next year, with a few schools still waiting to make a decision. This means we will be able to exist as a partnership to provide the majority of services we offer now.'

He added: 'It is inevitable that we will do less, and fewer opportunities will exist for the young people of Norfolk, but we are doing everything we can to ensure we continue to offer meaningful opportunities in the area.'

Carol Stewart, PDM for Norwich East, said the SSP would continue on a reduced scale.

The other PDMs, for SSPs at Breckland, West Norfolk and North Norfolk, could not be contacted.

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