England developing closer links between school sport and clubs


Eurobarometer figures from 2004 on sports participation indicate that as few as 17% of adults across the EU take part in sport at least three times a week. Drawing in sports clubs and families into school sport is proving successful in driving up sports participation, says England’s Youth Sport Trust Chief Executive Steve Grainger in an interview with EURACTIV.

With the UK set to take over the presidency of the European Union in June, this is an ideal moment for EURACTIV readers to see how a major sports organisation in England, the Youth Sport Trust, is addressing the challenges of sports policy. 

The UK Government is committed to an ambitious Public Service Agreement. The aim is to enhance the take up of sporting opportunities by 5 to 16 year olds by increasing the percentage of school children who spend a minimum of two hours each week on high quality physical education (PE) and school sport, within and beyond the curriculum, from 25% in 2002 to 75% by 2006 and to 85% by 2008, and to at least 75% in each school sport partnership by 2008.

Chief Executive Steve Grainger tells EURACTIV about the English experience, something that may help and interest policy-makers throughout the European Union. 


Is there a growing problem of too few EU citizens taking regular exercise? What can be done about it?  

New figures on participation suggest that as few as 17% of adults across the EU take part in sport at least three times a week.

The Youth Sport Trust believes that lessons learnt at a young age can create habits for life. The decline in adult participation can be addressed by providing all young people with a quality introduction to physical activity.

The idea of an EU ‘sports-minded schools’ label has been backed by sports ministers. The Luxembourg Presidency has unveiled its proposal. What are your top two or three core criteria for schools to be eligible for the label?

There are a few crucial points that should sit at the heart of any ‘sports-minded school’:

Strong management and leadership are key anywhere – but should, in a ‘sports-minded school’, be committed to PE and school sport and the contribution that they can make to a school’s ethos

Schools must be able to demonstrate quality of learning, good provision within the curriculum and high participation rates

A strong and vibrant out-of-school-hours learning programme is central to a ‘sports-minded school’

Schools should also understand and apply the principles of inclusion

External links are also important, and can be demonstrated by strong community partnerships, employment of adults other than teachers, use of the school site within the community and good communication with parents

Finally, evidence that PE and school sport is valued and rewarded and result in high standards are key to a ‘sports-minded school’.

How do schools in England go about making sure that they can afford to build a minimum amount of sport into the curriculum? 

In England, the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) Strategy aims to increase the percentage of 5-16 year olds who spend a minimum of two hours each week on high quality physical education (PE) and sport, within and beyond the curriculum, to 75% by 2006 and to 85% by 2008. 

This government strategy, which the Youth Sport Trust is helping to deliver, is already achieving results. School sport partnerships – families of primary, secondary and special schools that come together locally to enhance and increase sports opportunities for all – are just one strand of the PESSCL Strategy. All schools in the country will belong to a partnership by 2006. 

How much sport and physical exercise are pupils doing within and outside the curriculum? What proof is there that school sport partnerships are working effectively?

In 2004 we surveyed the 9,000 schools that belonged to a partnership at that time. We discovered that on average, 62% of pupils in partnership schools spent at least two hours in a typical week on high-quality PE and school sport within and beyond the curriculum. 

This figure rose to 68% in the longest-established partnerships – a great indication that school sport partnerships can produce long term increases in participation. 

Are there lessons that the EU can learn from the English experience?

We are far from complacent and recognise that there is a long way to go to provide young people with the introduction to physical activity necessary to get them active and keep them that way throughout their lives. However, the EU could do worse than look to this vibrant infrastructure that is building across England, and the meaningful and sustainable local opportunities that are now being developed.

EURACTIV understands that disabled people, young girls and those from poorer backgrounds can sometimes slip through the net and end up missing out on opportunities for sports participation? What can be done to prevent this from happening? 

To maintain a healthy, happy population, we need to make sure that all young people benefit from a positive introduction to physical activity. 

With a little imagination, it’s not hard to include those groups who may traditionally fall through the net – girls, young disabled people, those living in areas of high socio-economic deprivation. The challenges faced by one area may be very different to those elsewhere in the country, so it’s important that the strategies the Youth Sport Trust has helped to devise to include all young people are adaptable depending on local need. 

Do you have any specific examples?

Three examples spring to mind:

The Girls in Sport project developed with Nike has helped over two thirds of secondary schools in England to develop girl-friendly forms of PE and sport. Actions range from promoting positive female sporting role models on school noticeboards and in assemblies, to consulting students about what activities they would like to do, to redesigning kit and changing areas. 

Research conducted by the Sutton Trust in areas of deprivation has shown that over a six week period, the Youth Sport Trust’s physical activity programmes for the early years, TOP Tots, can improve children’s physical skills and increase parents’ and carers’ motivation and confidence to take part in active play with their children. 

The Youth Sport Trust’s TOPS Sportsability programme creates opportunities for young disabled people to enjoy, participate and perform in PE and sport. The popularity of this programme is spreading beyond special schools thanks to the new national network of school sport partnerships, which is helping special schools to show mainstream schools how to cater for young people with special needs.

Recently there have been a number of instances in some EU member states of xenophobia and bad behaviour in professional sport. What can be done to ensure that this does not filter down into school sport?

Changing attitudes and developing a positive ethos in a school environment is a planned intent of all school sport partnerships in England. This will not change overnight but we are confident that partnership development managers are using a range of strategies in conjunction with school leaders, teachers and community partners to develop young people’s respect for all. 

Our school sport partnership network regularly meets to share ideas in their regions and I am confident that although there is still a lot of work to be done, we are seeing very innovative local strategies in the context of family learning, young people’s leadership development and increased local opportunities, which will help to find solutions to anti-social problems.

The UK government is often criticised for an obsession with targets and figures? Can the Youth Sport Trust vouch for the UK government’s methodology in establishing statistics for the two hour per week high quality physical education in sport concept that I understand to be the UK government’s flagship sports project?

The Youth Sport Trust believes that committing time to PE and sport, both within and outside of school, is important for a number of reasons. It raises awareness of the importance of PE and sport and encourages practitioners to think differently about how to use that time and to consider strategies for those most in need. The results of the 2003-2004 school sport partnership survey now give a clear baseline for this and have really raised aspirations in partnerships, who can set their own meaningful targets.

However, equally important is quality. A continuous professional development programme for teachers, and a number of research strategies, are affecting the quality of provision in schools. Maintaining and improving standards involves the use and deployment of personnel, making a difference through teaching and learning strategies, and reconfiguring curriculum models. We are collecting good action-based case studies and using these to challenge and support the school sport network to review its own provision.

Finally, how far should the EU be involved in the process of promoting sport – should it be fully behind the promotion and development of projects or should it take a more hands off-role? 

The Youth Sport Trust welcomes interest in PE and school sport. In England, Government support through the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) Strategy has improved the quality and quantity of provision for young people.

Read the shorter version of this interview


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