An Olympic Legacy

Lord Moynihan, head of the British Olympic Association, recently called for a step-change in sports policy in the UK. He demanded better funding of school sports, better facilities, and better access to facilities, to develop Britain’s young talent towards future Olympic success.

He also said that it was wholly unacceptable that more than 50% of medallists at the Beijing Olympics came from independent schools. He described as one of the “worst statistics in British sport”, the fact that half of Britain’s medals came from just 7% of the population who are privately educated.

Identifying and developing the untapped talent of the remaining 93% has got to be a priority for future sports policy, he insisted, and he called for an urgent overhaul of policy, saying private school dominance of sports was “wholly unacceptable”.

As you might expect the Government responded with their own statement, but this promised only a new initiative to encourage olympic-style inter-school competition.

This is, of course, the same government that is hell-bent on replacing all the comprehensive schools in the country, which are legally obliged to provide sports facilities, with academy schools which are not. The recent school building programme in RBKC bears eloquent testimony to this.

The illustration above, from the Government’s BB98 guidance, shows the typical layout of a secondary school that would conform to the ‘School Premises Regulations’ (1999)  which apply to comprehensive schools. Please note that under BB98 most of the school site would be outdoor space. As part of its drive towards prioritising academies, the current government introduced new rules, called the ‘Independent School Standards Regulations’ (2010), under which there is no obligation to provide any sports facilities at all. These new rules apply to academies, while the older stricter rules still apply to comprehensives.

It should be emphasised also that the new laissez-faire rules apply to more than just school sports provision, as every category of school facility is less stringently regulated under the Independent School Regulations. This is accomplished mostly by using  deliberately vague terms when stipulating minimum standards. School buildings, for instance, are required to provide only reasonable resistance to rain snow and wind, they are required to provide only a satisfactory standard and adequate maintenance of decoration, and to make appropriate arrangements (whatever that means) for providing outside space for pupils to play safely. The older regulations, that still apply to comprehensives and other LEA schools, are far stricter and far more detailed, covering all the minutiae of space, facilities, health and safety etc.

It’s no wonder the playground of the new Kensington Academy will not even be big enough to swing a cat  – the regulations demand no more than this. It would be interesting to see, when and if any of these academy schools are ever sued over health and safety failings, what view the courts will take of these ultra-vague regulations. Realistically, it would be hard for them to find any schools negligent, when the standards set for them are so utterly nebulous to start with.

Compared with the required standard for comprehensive schools, the Chelsea Academy, and the soon to be Kensington Aldridge Academy, are remarkable for their almost total absence of external space, for sport or any other use, as both have been shoe-horned onto sites that are far too small to accommodate these uses.

So, the Kensington Aldridge Academy, like the Chelsea Academy before it, will be built with just a single rooftop muga, no bigger than a tennis court. This will be the entire outdoor sport provision for a school of 1200+ pupils. It is hard to see how this will even begin to answer Lord Moynihan’s appeal for a radical rethink of school sports policy, or the Governments warm but inadequate words in response to that appeal.

Meanwhile, the popular sports pitches currently in use at Lancaster Green will soon be bulldozed out of existence to make way for the academy, and the various school parties who habitually use these facilities will be forced out, probably to the Westway Sports Centre, which we have previously described on this blog as a Minotaurs Lair in a poisonous underworld, beneath and surrounded by motorway ramps.

If push comes to shove, one wonders if Lord Moynihan would have the stomach to challenge the hypocrisy of his fellow Tories in government, by suggesting that they reverse some of their more destructive policies, particularly those relating to schools and school sports.

A good place to start might well be a rewrite of the decidedly dodgy ‘Independent School Standards Regulations’, to give them some teeth. Our children are surely entitled to a greater measure of protection than is provided in this Fagin’s Charter.

A bit of space to run around in might not be a bad idea either.

What do you think, Sir Colin?

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