School Sport Partnership cuts will affect Olympic legacy

With just 10 days to go until the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games, education correspondent Victoria Leggett looks at the impact funding cuts to school sports could have on that all-important Olympic legacy.

Funding cuts to School Sport Partnerships will result in a 'patchy' Olympic legacy for youngsters in Norfolk, it has been claimed.

As part of the government's 2010 spending review, SSPs saw the money they received from Westminster dramatically reduced and were forced to take a long, hard look at the service they offered local children.

From a successful scheme encouraging access for all, running a series of activities and funding transport for schools to those events, the partnerships found themselves with around a fifth of the funding from government to cover a School Games Organiser three days a week.

Even the money for 'teacher release' posts – where a PE teacher at each high school is funded to spend one day a week working on cluster-wide sport – is only guaranteed for another year and is not ring-fenced meaning schools can choose to use the money elsewhere.

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While some schools have rallied round, using money given directly to them to buy extra services from their local partnership, others unable to spare the cash have been left to accept a severely diminished offering.

Now, with just days to go until the start of the 2012 Games, representatives of some of Norfolk's SSPs have warned of a significant impact on the government's much-talked-about Olympic legacy.

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Jo Dickson, School Games Organiser for the West Norfolk SSP, said provision in his area was 'patchy'.

Around half the area's schools now buy in to the additional services offered by the scheme – like paying for transport to sports events and access to training – while the remainder have chosen to only be involved with the Norfolk School Games.

He said: 'Some of the legacy will be hung on to but, for schools, it will be on a much smaller scale and not an inclusive legacy.

'Half the schools are in and half are out. Where's the legacy in that?'

Across the county, school sports partnerships had to decide on an approach to take following the cut in funding.

Some, like West Norfolk, West Norwich and Dereham, and Norwich SSPs, introduced a 'buy-in' scheme.

Take up has varied but organisers believe, where schools have found the funding, provision for youngsters is as good – or even better – than ever.

For the Norwich SSP, based at City Academy Norwich in Earlham, about 88pc of primary schools have paid �10 per pupil over the past year to benefit from those additional activities.

Jon Osborne, partnership development manager, said the changes had forced his team to offer a more tailored service.

He said: 'We have asked schools what they want and they have told us – and we deliver it. It means we get better buy in and we're not trying to encourage schools to do things they don't want.'

But Mr Osborne said that against-the-odds success would not have been possible without a lot of commitment from the partnership and schools.

'They recognised the importance of PE and sport and supported us to do something about it,' he said.

'It could have been a lot worse. It could have gone horribly wrong. While I don't support the cuts, the government said 'if communities want it, they will make it happen'. Begrudgingly, that is what we have done.'

But other parts of the county have not been so lucky.

Rob McCombe, partnership development manager for West Norwich and Dereham SSP, said the Olympic legacy was becoming a 'postcode lottery'.

Even in areas like his, where 78pc of schools are buying back in to the partnership, he believes the absence of some of the services they used to offer – like dedicated coaches and more contact time with schools – means their ability to increase and maintain an interest in sport is being diminished.

'The longer term legacy is very uncertain in terms of what we are supposed to do to sustain it now,' he said.

Before the funding cuts, Mr McCombe said 100pc of schools in his area were offering at least two hours of PE to pupils every week but, 'within three or four months', that was dropping off.

But Shane Bretts, North Norfolk School Games Organiser, said the impact of the School Games should not be underestimated.

Although his area has chosen not to introduce a buy-in service for schools, he believes the recent Norfolk School Games will succeed in encouraging participation.

'Those children directly involved in the county event will go back to their schools and talk about the great event we had,' he said.

Last night Ben Jones, sports development manager for Active Norfolk, said one obvious impact of the SSP funding cuts was a shift from partnerships encouraging 'access to all' to a more competitive focus in the form of the School Games.

He added: 'High school provision continues to be relatively well served but I think the big impact is at the primary level.

'Without specialist sports teachers, and with access to school sports co-ordinators being reduced, it is having a big impact on the primary participation.'

But he stressed the SSP offering was not the only work being done to leave an Olympic legacy.

From Active Norfolk's Get Into scheme and Fit Together for older people, to Sport England's Sportivate programme, Mr Jones said there were still plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Last night South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said encouraging participation did not need to be something driven by government and she was aware of a number of schools in her constituency working hard to maintain levels.

Norfolk County Council said its Norfolk Community Fund hoped to be able to support some local sports partnerships in the near future.

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