The claim
“What we experienced over the last decade was a lot of money being put into school sport but without seeing a lot of progress.”
David Cameron, Prime Minister’s Questions, 24 November 2010

The background
The issue of sport in schools is being slugged out in the political arena – and Michael Gove’s plan to axe the £162m budget for the Schools Sports Partnership met with outrage from teachers and Olympians alike.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, fresh from paternity leave, stepped up to the plate at PMQs today, calling the cut a “daft decision”.

David Cameron retorted that we didn’t see “a lot of progress” under Labour’s strategy, which had resulted in “wrapping teachers and schools in red tape”.

But has the prime minister scored an own goal with his figures?

The analysis
Mr Cameron fired off a volley of school sports stats around Parliament today – and some of his numbers caught FactCheck smack in the eye.

Types of sport offered
“Let me give him one figure,” came the familiar build-up from the Prime Minister. “The number of schools offering rugby, hockey, netball and gymnastics actually fell under the previous government.”

Well, yes, the Schools Sports Survey shows that fewer schools are offering these sports in 2009/10 than they were in 2003/04 when the survey started – somewhere between a one and five per cent reduction. But there’s nothing like picking the statistics that suit your argument.

Over the same period the number of schools offering rugby league (as opposed to rugby union), football, dance, athletics, cricket, tennis, fitness classes, basketball, orienteering, cycling, golf, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, canoeing, archery, martial arts, mountaineering, judo, rowing, sailing, karate, boxing, lacrosse, squash, bowls, equestrian sports, triathlon, skateboarding, and angling have all gone up. The number of schools offering swimming has stayed the same.

In total, the average number of sports offered by a school has risen from 14 to 19, according to the Youth Sports Trust.

Playing competitive sport
Next, David Cameron looked at competitive sport – saying only two in five pupils played competitive sport regularly in school. “That is a terrible record,” he said. He added that only one in five children play regular competitive sport against other schools.

Note that word “regular” that the Prime Minister uses. The Schools Sport Survey defines this at least three times a year for 7 to 11 year olds and at least 12 times for 12 to 16 year olds competing in internal school competitions. And for inter-school competitions, “regular” means three times for 7 to 11 year old pupil and nine times for 12 to 16 year olds.

In the last academic year 39 per cent of pupils “regularly” took part in competitive sport within their school – the two in five pupils Mr Cameron talked about – but that’s up from 28 per cent of pupils the year before.

Likewise, last year 21 per cent of pupils “regularly” took part in competitions between schools, but this number was only up slightly from 19 per cent the year before.

If you look at the number of pupils that take part in any competitive sport in the academic year, it tells a different story. The total number of pupils taking part in competitive sport within their school was 78 per cent in 2009/10, up from 58 per cent in 2006/07. And 49 per cent of pupils took part in any competitive activities against another school, up from 35 per cent in 2006/07.

Playing any sport
David Cameron’s parting statistic was to say that “last year the proportion of 11 to 15 year olds playing sport went down”.

This is from a different survey – this time from a Department for Culture Media and Sport statistical release.

It shows a tiny fall in 11-15 year olds taking part in active sport in and out of school in the seven days before the survey – from 88.8 per cent in 2008/09 to 88.0 per cent in 2009/10. The number of 5-10 year olds taking part in sport outside of school alone, meanwhile, increased from 74.7 per cent to 77.9 per cent. These results are based in a survey of 537 children of all ages.

Going back to the Schools Sports Survey, which includes responses from 99.8 per cent of schools, it shows that the number of pupils taking part in at least three hours of school sport increased across all school year groups, including those for 11 to 15 year olds. The same goes for the number of pupils taking part in two or more hours of sport.

The verdict
So Mr Cameron got his numbers right, but he was certainly playing the staistical field. Has there been “a lot of progress”? Well, we’ll leave you to decide how you quantify “a lot”, but there certainly has been an increase in schools sport over the last seven years.

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Category: David Cameron
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