Did the number of young people doing at least two hours sport per week increase dramatically under Labour?

Published: 10th Aug 2012

"With a Labour Government, the number of young people doing at least 2 hours of sport per week went from just 1 in every 4 to 9 in every 10."

Stephen Twigg MP, 8 August 2012

Inter-party conflict has been heating up recently with the Government and Opposition exchanging blows on the future of sport in schools.

Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, threw his hat into the ring on Wednesday, claiming that the Labour Government had facilitated a rise in the number of young people doing at least two hours of sport per week and that the Coalition's decision to abandon Labour's target was putting this in jeopardy.

Could sports participation have increased so much under the Labour administration? Full Fact decided to take a look.

Background

Focussing on two hours of sport per week dates back to the Labour administration's Physical Education and Sport Strategy: PE, School Sport and Club Links for which, according to a recent Parliamentary briefing note:

"the ultimate aim was to increase the percentage of school children participating in two hours a week of "high quality" Physical Education and sport to 75% by 2006"

Analysis

Full Fact contacted Mr Twigg's office, asking him to confirm the source of his figures but have been unable to make contact.

However, there was evidence of a similar claim made elsewhere. The Mail recently quoted Baroness Campbell, Chair of the Youth Sport Trust - the organisation responsible for organising the School Sports Network which was integral to Labour's strategy. The Baroness is reported to have said:        

"In 2003 there were 23 per cent of our kids doing two hours of PE and sport a week. That's how low it was. But [by] 2009 it was over 90 per cent."

After contacting the Youth Sport Trust, they suggested that the most likely source was the School Sports Survey.

What can we learn from the School Sports Survey?

The School Sports Survey has recorded the 'percentage of pupils who participated in at least two hours of high quality PE and out of hours school sport in a typical week' for every academic year form 2003/4 to 2007/8. For the years 2008/9 and 2009/10 this was increased to three hours a week.

The graph below (from the 2007/8 survey) shows the data for 2003/4 to 2007/8 and would appear to verify Mr Twigg's claim that the figure had risen to 90 per cent:

Considering the change in target, the information for 2008/09 and 2009/10 is not directly comparable. However, the 2009/10 survey informs us that 84 per cent of pupils in years 1 to 11 participated in 120 minutes or more of curriculum PE per week in 2008/09. In 2009/10 the figure was 86 per cent.

Obviously these statistics do not include sport outside of school hours and thus the figures could well exceed 90 per cent if it were included.

Where is the 25 per cent coming from?

The School Sports Survey would appear to have substantiated Mr Twigg's claim regarding what the figure has risen to. However, we have been unable to verify his baseline figure of 25 per cent.

As you see from the graph, the School Sports Survey reports the 'percentage of pupils who participated in at least two hours of high quality PE and out of hours school sport in a typical week' for 2003/4 was 62 per cent; almost two and half times Mr Twigg's figure.

It is worth noting, of course, that Mr Twigg did not specify that he was referring exclusively to data post-2003 and therefore he may have taken an earlier baseline. We have not, however, found any evidence that a comparable statistic was recorded previously.

But was this sport competitive?

All of the sourced data that we have presented includes minutes of PE as a curriculum subject. This is not necessarily the same as sport; as highlighted by David Cameron in suggesting that some of this could be spent on "Indian Dancing".

In an interview on the BBC's Olympics breakfast programme yesterday, the Prime Minister justified discontinuing Labour's target of two hours of PE per week by claiming that schools were focussing on meeting the target while neglecting to ensure that children were participating in competitive sport specifically.

When asked if there was any evidence to support this assertion, Mr Cameron said that there was and that he knew it to be true from his own experience.

Personal experiences are obviously not solid enough basis for evidence in this case, so is there any wider proof?

Returning to the 2009/10 school sports survey, the number of children participating in competitive sport (both intra-school and inter-school) had increased from 2006/7 to 2009/10 as shown in the graphs below from the 2009/10 survey:

However, these numbers remained below the reported rates of participation as a whole. Moreover, the survey reports that in 2009/10 the 'regular' participation rate in intra-school competitive sport for years 3-13 was just 39 per cent. Unfortunately we do not have a more comparable figure for years 1-11.        

These figures would suggest that, although the number of pupils receiving two or more hours of PE per week has increased, students were not always necessarily involved in 'competitive' sport, thereby offering some evidence to substantiate Mr Cameron's claim. 

Of course, it is also relevant to point out that PE lessons can include PE theory or lessons spent on ICT which would reduce the number of hours spent doing active sport anyway.

Conclusion

The results of School Sport Surveys suggest that, as Stephen Twigg claims, by the end of Labour's time in government at least 90 per cent of schoolchildren spent two hours or more in PE lessons or participating in sport outside of school. However we remain unsure whether this figure rose from just one in four.

Moreover, the figures on hours of curriculum PE don't necessarily reflect the hours spent on actually doing sport, or even doing competetive sport. So even given the high levels of sports participation evident from the sports survey, we can't say for certain how exactly the pupils' time would have been spent.


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