Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation

At the end of July this year, Tracey Crouch, along with the DMCS, opened a consultation with all significant bodies, parties and indviduals to develop a new sporting strategy. The findings along with the proposed strategy was released on Thursday 17th December: Sporting Future – A New Strategy for an Active Nation. The key headlines from the media were ‘Children as young as five targeted in new government fitness strategy‘ and ‘Sports minister sets goals for a fitter nation after Olympic legacy stagnates.’ This is my review on the document, looking at it through the lens of a secondary school PE teacher.
The Overall Aims

The strategy looks at redfining what success is in sport beyond mere particpation numbers and winning medals. It wants to concentrate on the value of broader engagment in sport and physical activity by developing a set of performance indicators for five new key outcomes:

  • physical wellbeing
  • mental wellbeing
  • indvidual development
  • social and community development
  • economic development

This will be done by replacing the Active People Survey with a new survey called Active Lives. Therefore all new government funding for sport and physical activity will go to organisations which can best demonstrate that they will deliver some or all of the five outcomes. Key performance indicators will be used, via the surveys, to see if their outcomes have been met.

The Government is keen to reduce physical inactivity by seeing engagement in sport and physical activity as a journey, there by trying to meet the needs of different groups on that journey. To do that it will focus on getting more people from under-representated groups engaging in sport and activity. One way of trying to promote this and a more active society is the brining togther of ‘sport’ and ‘physical activity’ to reach inactive people who do not consider themselves ‘sporty’ or enjoy competition. This I believe is a step in the right direction. Moving towards a shared and unified cross-party, cross-department and cross-agency long term plan that focuses on delivering a consistent message about the inherent value of all forms of physical activity, not just the promotion of sport is key in achieving the aim of a healthy and active nation. One that sees movement as inherently valuable and not a commodity to be bought.

Focus on Schools

At school/youth level there are a number of changes. To enable Sport England to have a greater impact across the whole of a person’s sporting life, the government has lowered the age from which they are responsible from 14 to 5. I welcome this change, as in the past I have found accessing funds and support difficult as I wasnt increasing adult particpation numbers. The DCMS, DfE and other public bodies like Public Health England will work with Sport England to ensure they have a deeper understanding of children’s development. The strategy mentions both encourgaing active play and building physical literacy, although in terms of a simple mechanistic understanding that lacks the behaviours that underpin the philosophy.

Swimming and Cycling are two key core activities that are specifically mentioned in the paper, where improving access for children is a priority. The amount of pupils arriving in my school that would be considered non or weak swimmers has been increasing over the last 5 years. The focus from Sport England was always to increase adult particpation numbers seemed to be a little short sighted so I am glad this is being highlighted as something that needs to be rectified. Active transport to schools is another area that has been highlighted. Safe and well maintained walking and cycling routes to all schools would have a big impact on healthy and active behaviours, along with reclaiming the playgrounds for purposeful physical activity at playtimes.

The Primary PE and Sport Premium, of which I have been critical of in the past, will be subject to new grant conditions and expectations. The focus will now be on sustainable improvements rtaher than maintaing exsisting provision. The key for this is to deploy the experienced and qualified outside coaches alongside the classroom teachers rather than displacing. Leading to an upskilling of current primary school teachers in PE.

The School Games appears to be under review, with the question of whether it is still delivering on it’s original purpose and if that purpose is still relevant with the shift of focus that is set out in the new strategy. The review will explore how the School Games and the role of the School Games Organisers can most effectively link up with sport provision in their area to deliver a stronger local sporting offer. Perhaps this review will be linked to overcoming the believed transition drop off in engagement from primary to secondary education. The government will seek to better understand the barriers and the issues around this and look to identify good practice. I look forward to the governments findings, but I believe the key to overcoming this will be around facilities, resources and funding.

Facilities

A large number of respondents commented on the importance of providing facilities in the right place, open at the right time, offering the right opportunities at the right cost and maintaing them to a good standard. For me this is the most important aspect of the document. Taking part in physical activity needs to be be made safer and easier if a real legacy is to be achieved. Co-locating multi sport facilites with other services such as education makes sense to me. Making use of a school’s sporting facilities, not by selling them off but by upgrading them, funding them to be well looked after and maintined can put both the school and physical activity back into the heart of the community. Although there are obvious legal and safeguarding issues using school facilities in the evening and the weekend, I do believe the benefits (physical, mental and social) far out weigh the problems that might be faced in opening them up.

Final Thoughts

Personally I feel the document is a step in the right direction in promoting an active and healthy nation. However I’ve felt this before with previous intiatives which later governments have come in and stopped the progress. Cutting of funding to sports academies. The cutting of SSCOs and the SSP 6 months before the 2012 Olympics. The removal of the minimal requirement for PE in schools. Whilst there is a lot to make me feel quietly optimistic, there is a lack of addressing the building, access and maintenance of indoor and outdoor facilities for community use which makes me question whether they will be able to meet their outcomes. Many of the messages in the document I have heard before, and have been promised many of these things in the past, however the proof will be where we are as an active nation in 5 to 10 years from now. There is a lot of work to be done to see these targets met, I hope we work together for the good of everyone not just the pockets of certain groups or indviduals.

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