The Battle of Waterloo wasn’t won on the playing fields of Eton – they didn’t have any playing fields in 1815. However, it’s arguable that success in later conflicts did owe something to the values of teamwork, co-operation and courage in adversity fostered by school sports. The value of PE and team games was an unquestioned part of school life until the 1970s.
However, there was then a period of decline especially in the state sector due to an increasing focus on the league tables of exam results and a decreasing willingness of staff to give up their free time to coach and manage teams.
In 2002 the then Labour government launched its Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links strategy which establised local school sports partnerships. These created suportive links between primary and secondary schools and between these schools and local clubs. This provided greater access in both directions to facilities and coaching expertise and enhanced opportunities all round. The proverbial “no-brainer.” The driving force behind the initiative was Sue (now Baroness) Campbell of the Youth Sports Trust. Under her leadership the number of secondary school pupils enjoying 2 hours of weekly sport or PE rose within the partnerships from 20% to 90%.
Then came the financial crisis of 2008 and a new austerity government in 2010 and funding for school sport partnerships was slashed. What money was still available was given directly to schools with little monitoring of how it was used or how effective it was.
Now a number of factors have come together which may provide hope. First of all, England’s success in the Women’s Euros has made sport fashionable again. The team has written an open letter about the importance of school sport. This has been backed up by the England Women’s Hockey team who won gold in the Commonwealth Games. Secondly, there will be a new Prime Minister in September looking for new, popular initiatives. As this article (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2022/aug/16/prime-minister-sunak-truss-sport-in-schools ) shows it will be possible to jump on the sporting bandwagon with no requirement for more cash. Another no brainer to score the open goal presented by England’s success.
Let’s hope whoever wins is able to see the community and political benefits from improving school sports and the links to local community clubs.
The featured photo was taken at a school/club/community sports initiative between Hutton CC and local schools in Shenfield, Essex.