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Vital sports programme axing across Gravesham creates outrage

PUBLISHED: 09:21 02 December 2010 | UPDATED: 09:32 02 December 2010

Meopham school

l to r Headteacher Sara Kemsley and sports co-ordinater Deb Jerrett

Meopham school l to r Headteacher Sara Kemsley and sports co-ordinater Deb Jerrett

Archant

Leading members of an education programme designed to create sporting stars of the future are outraged the government will cut its funding only a year before the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Sara Kemsley, headteacher of Meopham School, the hub for the School Sports Partnership serving 37 schools in the borough, has joined a chorus of protest across the country, writing to Minister for Education Michael Gove to express her anger at the decision.

The scheme costs £220,000 a year in Gravesham, funded centrally by the Youth Sports Trust.

She said: “I have been in schooling for 33 years and this is the only strategy to come out of national government where every headteacher says it is brilliant.

“It is crazy they are pulling the plug just before the Olympics. It is no secret why we did so well at the Beijing Olympics and cutting this will plunge us back 30 years.”

As a specialist sports college, Meopham has been the hub for the programme since 2005, with co-ordinators linking with primary, secondary and special schools across the borough to promote exercise, identify talent and train coaches.

Deb Jerrett, one of the school sports co-ordinators (SSCOs) working across Gravesham, could lose her job following the cut in funding.

She said: “What this has created is a link between school sports and pushing through talent to a national stage. When we go so will all that experience, knowledge and contacts. Primary school teachers already have so much on their plate. How are they going to be able to co-ordinate big events or make these links?”

During 2005 in Gravesham, fewer than 50 per cent of pupils did two or more hours of PE a week but now 51 per cent engage in five or more hours of supervised exercise in schools, she claimed. Kent School Games, which has proved so successful the Sports Minister is looking to spread it across the country, is organised by the co-ordinators and could face collapse. Also at risk is the Youth Ambassadors Programme, co-ordinated by the partnership, which uses teenage pupils to encourage and mentor up-and-coming athletes in school and clubs.

Ms Kemsley added: “It isn’t just about sport. These initiatives have given youngsters huge self esteem, offered them the opportunity to meet the Olympic committee and athletes such as Lord Coe, and developed important links locally with other schools and sports clubs.” The letter to Mr Gove, signed by more than 50 headteachers, calls the decision “ignorant, destructive, contradictory and self-defeating”.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton defended the decision. He said: “Creating an Olympic legacy must be more than simply investing taxpayers’ cash to meet a centralised, arbitrary, five-hours-a-week target, which still left low levels of high-quality competitive sport in many parts of the country.

“High-quality sport should be at the heart of growing up – that’s why we are creating a nationwide school Olympics. We’re giving heads the freedom to make more of the established network of school sport partnerships but without being tied down by centralised targets and a bureaucratic blueprint set by ministers.”

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