We heard this week news about the much-vaunted Pupil Premium funds, worth £600 a year for every school student currently or recently in receipt of free school meals. This was not new money and should be seen in the context of cuts elsewhere in the schools budget. We heard that, due to these funds not being ring-fenced to boost basic skills for those falling behind, and to prepare Year 6 students for secondary school, the cash is often being used quite literally to plug gaps in school capital expenditure, such as for roof repairs.
This gob-smacking short-sightedness is typical of the current attitude to cuts and spending, which so often just shifts the costs elsewhere.
So. False economies and shifting of responsibility. Children from poorer backgrounds will continue to be disadvantaged throughout their school years and have worse employment prospects and life outcomes.
Similar attitudes prevail in relation to school sports.
The legacy I would most like to see post-Olympics is the very one we most miserably failed at pre-Olympics. Yes we produced some magnificent athletes, able, disabled and impaired, and a very respectable array of medals, but as has been rehearsed many times, our state school system has not produced its fair share of them.
Notable exceptions such as the Mo’s and Jess’s are indeed wonderful role models, but they were blessed by accelerated programmes so are the exceptions that prove the rule. Why should it be so much harder for prospective top athletes from poorer backgrounds to get to the top? Our mind-blowing paralympians put us couch potatoes to shame [will there ever be an Oldylimpics?], but we heard over and again about the amazing support they had received from family, associates, work, rehab services (civil and military); support and financial backing. How many people with impairments or disabilities were sitting at home thinking, what could I achieve with that level of support, moral and financial? Don’t all children and young people of all levels of physical capacity deserve that?
Let’s look at the recent record of Kensington and Chelsea Council-funded provision for our young people, and for sports:
Early Intervention Service - £350,000 cut
High Need Adolescents - £200,000 cut
Play Services - £100,000 cut
Early Years provision - £1m cut
Youth Services - £520,000 cut
Care Leavers - £468,000 cut
Sports for Schools - £279,000 cut
Free swimming for children – cut entirely
PM Cameraman said ‘school playgrounds are not being sold any more’ just as the playing fields of Elliott School in Putney were put up for sale for £30m. Our Council leadership is likewise involved in double-think. While all provision for children and young people is being systematically cut or shaved, and school sports funding under increased pressure, the richest Council in Europe – currently with £179m in General Reserves – is continuing to sell off playgrounds or parts of playgrounds to developers. Here is the roll of shame:
Middle Row Primary – part of playground to be developed with private flats
Warwick Road Primary (under construction) – v small playground, built next to air pollution hotspot
Oxford Gardens Primary – part of playground proposed to be developed with private flats
Holland Park School – part of playground sold to be developed with ‘super-luxury’ private flats
Chelsea Academy – very little outside space for sports, hamster cage on roof, residents complain when students overrun Westfield Park at end of school day
North Ken Academy – to be built on sports pitches that will not be replaced, hamster cage on roof, no proper playground, private flats proposed to be built on open space
Sports facilities for our proposed new North Ken school in Lancaster Road will be at Westway Sports Centre under the flyover, once again near one of the most polluted areas in London – Shepherd’s Bush roundabout. Even this will only be accessible for those who book in advance and have the means to pay. All informal and free kickabout areas are being slowly and deliberately replaced by ‘pay to play’, excluding the very people who need this most. No arguments, here are the stats:
Golborne children living in poverty, rising 51%
Children living in poverty in K&C 29%
Life expectancy in Golborne ward 71yrs
Life expectancy, Golborne Moroccan male 62yrs
Life expectancy, K&C average male 85yrs
Golborne children in overcrowded homes 70%
Physically active children 2009 7,939
Physically active children 2011 6,947
Obese children 2009 - 101
Obese children 2011 - 193
*all stats taken from Dept of Health Health Profile and GLA Intelligence Unit
The carefully choreographed disagreement between Mayor Johnson and PM Cameraman includes Johnson stating that ‘two hours’ sport a day’ should be the norm for school children, and that sports is of ‘profound importance for the happiness and success’ of the country.
Labour fought long and hard for the institution of two hours’ sport a week and even this is being whittled down by the exam-obsessed Coalition, and mirrored, disgracefully, in Kensington and Chelsea.
Oh, wait a minute, K&C Housing has already done this as part of the plan of social and ethnic cleansing of the borough, by procuring 500 properties for our homeless families - in Manchester.
While instances of diabetes, death from smoking and cancer, alcohol-related hospital stays and childhood obesity creep relentlessly up in the borough, school playgrounds are being devoured for profit, and access to free and informal active play and sports are eroded. This implicit shifting of responsibility from the Council to the NHS is planned, deliberate and little short of scandalous.