The claim:

“We haven’t done that [scrapped compulsory PE lessons in schools]. Sport is part of the national curriculum and we want schools to deliver sport.”

“There’s £1bn going into school sport over the next four years.”

– David Cameron, LBC radio, 8 August 2012

The background:

Well, with Team GB’s remarkable gold medal haul, it’s no wonder sports, sports and more sports are the words on everyone’s lips.

But amid fears that the shine from our new stash of gold may soon wear off once the Games are over, there has been a fresh scrutiny on sports for children in schools.

Lord Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, has come out and said it’s unacceptable that so many of our medallists at Beijing came from private schools. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted earlier in the week that schools sports provision is “patchy”.

This morning, the prime minister took to the airwaves to defend the government’s record on sports in schools, denying that they had scrapped compulsory PE and pointing to £1bn he said they had spent on the subject.

“We want schools to deliver sport,” he said. “What we need is a combination of maintaining the playing fields, making sure the money’s going in, asking schools to make sure they all do their bit in terms of sports. Then we need a big cultural change in terms of competitive sports.”

FactCheck’s looked at whether the PM’s claims stack up.

The analysis:

So how many children take sport at school, and how much money is put into providing it?

One of the earlier things that Michael Gove did when he became education secretary is scrap the need for schools to monitor how many children were getting two hours of physical education (PE) a week.

That was a target which had been set by the previous Labour government, which said that by 2010, 84 per cent of children up to GCSE stage were taking part in at least two hours of PE a week, with plans to raise that target to five hours a week.

But in his letter to Baroness Sue Campbell, chair of the Youth Sport Trust, Mr Gove said schools no longer needed to “collect information [on PE] about every pupil for an annual survey”.

The department for education (DfE) said they were scrapping the measurements to cut red-tape and bureaucracy.

But it means that the DfE no longer knows how many pupils at state schools are actually taking part in PE.

We also pointed out that less schools than ever are now required to follow the national curriculum, with a considerable number of secondaries either academies or on their way to becoming one, and therefore free to do as they please in relation to sports provision.

We asked Mr Gove’s department how they know how many children are taking part in sport, but we didn’t get an answer.

Mr Cameron also said: “We want schools to deliver sport”.

But when we looked into school sports, we found that 69 per cent of the budget for funding sports in schools had been cut.

In 2010 to 11, £162m was provided through school sport partnerships. The partnerships were brought in by the previous government to encourage pupils to take part in games at schools and between schools. That was cut to £50.5m.

According to an Ofsted report from June last year, best examples of the partnerships helped to drive improvements in PE and school sport, by increasing curriculum time for PE, and by leading to “higher participation rates in competitions and tournaments and more training for young leaders”.

Another survey into sport and PE acknowledged that by 2010, participation rates in competitions had increased overall. One in five children took part in regular competitions between schools, and two in five in their own school, the report said.

As justification for scrapping the partnerships, Mr Gove said: “I have concluded that the existing network of school sport partnerships is neither affordable nor likely to be the best way to help schools achieve their potential in improving competitive sport…the fact remains that the proportion of pupils playing competitive sport regularly has remained disappointingly low.”

But a Freedom of Information request from Labour suggests that of 150 top tier local authorities, the decline in school sports partnerships was matched by  a decline of 61 per cent in days worked per week by teachers on PE.

FactCheck also wondered about the £1bn Mr Cameron said was being spent on school sports. This is how the money for the youth sport strategy is set to be spent:

– £50m on school-based sports clubs

– £150m for “school games” for competetive sport

– £50m for further education colleges and universities

– £160m for sports facilities

– £40m for local authorities’ sports funds

– £270m for sport governing bodies to spend on 14 to 25-year-olds

– £180m for sport governing bodies to spend on the general population

– £100m which the department for culture, media and sport couldn’t directly attribute, but said was being spent on “other smaller things”.

Which means that of the £1bn, only £200m is going directly to schools.

The verdict:

The PM’s been a little disingenuous on this one, FactCheck thinks.

While he’s claimed that sport is still compulsory, more and more schools are no longer bound by the national curriculum.

And for state schools, he may say he wants them to deliver sports, but having taken away the requirement to measure how much sports children take part in, the government has little way of knowing whether they actually do or not.

The Freedom of Information request has provided more details on school sports participation than the government can.  It shows that since the government reduced school sports partnerships, sports provision in schools has declined. Which doesn’t quite fit with the sentiments of a government which wants to increase sport.

Likewise, for Mr Cameron to claim during a discussion on sports in schools that £1bn is being spent on schools is massaging the numbers.

He didn’t say, for example, that hundreds of millions were being spent on youth sports, which would have been accurate. He specifically raised the £1bn figure in relation to a discussion on how our schools fare in the world of sport. Which is misleading.

Just out of interest, FactCheck raised the point that Mr Cameron had said during the interview that while at school, he had “played quite a bit of cricket” and he had “played quite a bit of tennis”.

Did he still play now, FactCheck asked? Downing Street weren’t prepared to tell us how often, but we gather from our Whitehall sources that he uses a racket more than a bat.

Not really cricket, is it?

By Fariha Karim