It’s right that in the aftermath of a successful Olympics we have a debate about how to achieve a lasting legacy and clearly getting people playing sport at an early age is a key part of that.
I am a huge sports fan and passionate about the role sport can play both in terms of personal health, team-working and striving to better yourself. But the current debate seems to be based on the premise that it is always wrong to sell school playing fields and that the only way to improve things is for the Government to specify exactly what every school should do. I don’t agree with either of these propositions.
On playing fields, it is clearly important that schools have access to the necessary facilities to enable their pupils to try out various sports. But that doesn’t mean it is *always* wrong for a school to sell any land. You have to look at what they are going to do with the money they raise - they may be using it to improve other sporting facilities - and at how much they space they will still have. Take the secondary schools in my constituency: some, like Addington High, have huge playing fields; others, like St Mary’s, very little. Each case has to be considered on its merits. The recent criticism from Labour spokesmen is pretty hypocritical - they sold off over 200 playing fields, including dozens when Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Secretary of State, was in charge. This Government has actually tightened planning policy to protect school playing fields.
I am similarly sceptical about Labour’s insistence that the right way forward is for all pupils to have to do two hours of sport a week. These kind of top-down targets are not the best way to improve things (and in this case, the focus is solely on quantity, not quality - personally I would like to see more competitive team sport within and between schools so that young people learn to work with others, to strive to be successful and when they lose to do so gracefully). The National Curriculum should insist that all young people do some sport but we should then leave it to individual schools to improvise as to how much and what - they know better than politicians in Whitehall. And by allowing lots of different approaches, we can then see which ones work best and everyone can learn from that.