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Burnham For Mayor

Monday, 29 November 2010

An open letter to Michael Gove MP

Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP
Department for Education
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT
28th November 2010

Dear Michael


Sixty head teachers have today written to the Observer to protest in strong terms about your decision to withdraw funding from School Sports Partnerships (SSPs).

I also understand that you have received a letter from the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee questioning the impact of your decision on our ability to deliver the 2012 legacy of bringing a new generation to sport.

It seems to me that the Government is looking increasingly isolated in maintaining its stance that SSPs don't work. The overwhelming consensus with the worlds of sport and education is that they have been a real success.

As you know, we have called an Opposition Day debate on this subject on Tuesday. I hope we can use this to make progress on this important issue and, in advance, wanted to put a constructive proposal to you that might help us make progress.

From our exchanges to date, I have serious concerns that you have not considered the views of head teachers, sportspeople and young people themselves about the contribution sport can make to raising standards in schools.

Our debate has focused on the effectiveness and value of School Sports Partnerships. I believe the evidence points overwhelmingly to their success in increasing both the range and quality of sporting opportunities for young people, including opportunities to take part in representative competitive sport between schools. I know that you feel you can produce evidence to suggest that these improvements are not good enough and that the investment we make in SSPs does not represent best value for money.

So we are in something of an impasse. To resolve it, I suggest we bring in independent referees to arbitrate - the primary and secondary head teachers in England.

In your White Paper, you rightly emphasise the need to put head teachers in the driving seat. You also correctly state that they are best placed to make decisions that affect their pupils.

This is common ground that we can build on. To do so, I suggest that a simple survey of all head-teachers be carried out to develop a clear and accurate picture of the views of heads on the value and effectiveness of SSPs. It would need to ask a simple question: whether they would prefer SSPs to continue as a properly-funded national programme, or whether they would prefer to make their own arrangements for sport provision.

If the survey reveals a lack of majority support for SSPs, then we would of course accept the Government's decision to develop alternative plans for school sport. However, if the survey reveals majority support for SSPs, I would hope you would work to put in place a funding package that keeps a basic SSP structure in place.

If you agree to this course of action, it is important that this survey is carried out soon while the SSP infrastructure is still in place. If it breaks down, it would be very hard to put back together again.

Sport is a collective activity - and it takes at least two to have a competition. This is why I have a firm belief that schools can achieve far more in sport by working together than by going it alone. SSPs are delivered through collective local action, often by volunteers. They make it easier for schools to access sport-specific coaching. But they also provide the essential organisation for competitive sport. Any successful cup or league competition needs central co-ordination. Such structures are the backbone of competitive sport, which seems to be your overriding aim.

However, rather than try to persuade you myself, I suggest we both listen to what head teachers want. I would like to stress to you that this is a genuine and constructive suggestion. I hope you will give it fair consideration.

Yours sincerely