UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Sport investment: Headlines can be Sooooo Deceptive .....

Glasgow Herald – Monday.”Cameron’s Vow to invest millions in the run up to Rio”. The immediate response has got to be, well maybe the leopard can change his spots. Could the Prime Minister’s reaction to the real Olympic spirit have caused a complete sea change in his attitude? Has he responded to the camaraderie, the sense of belonging, the feeling of real community?

Has the fortnight of British success and communal elation changed the man of ideology, where the combined efforts of the best part of a generation of professional economists have failed? Have Cameron and Osborne decided the Age of Austerity is now over?

Alas, the second paragraph swiftly dashes any hopes. The promise is that elite athletes will get £125million a year over the next four years, to keep the medals rolling in. The money will be a combination of lottery funding, and money from the Treasury. Well if some mugs are easily parted from their cash on a bet where the odds are stacked against them to provide lottery funding, that’s up to them. But where’s the Treasury funding going to come from? Surely that would mean increasing public spending, the mortal sin in the Osborne catechism?

Besides, where are the elite athletes going to come from? At this Olympics, forty per cent of medal winners come from the private education sector. (see also http://unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/benefits-of-state-education.html) Well let’s think. Ninety plus per cent of British children attend state schools. Let’s face it, most children in this country don’t attend schools with the facilities for horse ballet (or dressage, darling), sea going boats or sword fighting, (unless the swords in question are imaginary light sabres in which case, look out Luke Skywalker).

Did you hear the BBC acknowledge that the facilities of Eton Dorney are the preserve of the scholars of Eton (yet another private school with tax advantages through “charitable status”) or did that comment pass you by? More worryingly the sports that rely on raw talent, swimming or track and field are also now becoming the preserve of the privately educated elite.

For the right including Cameron, the reasons for private school supremacy are ideological, summed up by Peter Wilby in this quote, “State school teachers are in thrall to egalitarian ideology and therefore discourage talented children from aspiring to the top, whether in sport, academic work or career ambition. All would be well if we could bring state schools up to private school standards.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/01/sport-britain-elite-privilege-schools )

So there are no major advantages conferred by massive investment in facilities and coaching staff that a private education confers? Ascribing an anti competitive attitude in this way to state school teachers absolves the state of all responsibility in the provision of decent education facilities for most young people.

Apart from those attending academies or so called “free schools”, both usually middle class establishments in middle class enclaves, investment in education though democratically responsible local authorities is being cut. That means less investment in infrastructure, in schools themselves and investment in education. And that is investment not just in sport and sporting facilities but in books, equipment, materials and trained education staff.

It means that it is not just potential elite athletes who are written off by the failure to invest in educating young people. It is prospective academics and scientists , writers and musicians There may be thousands of potential elite athletes or scholars written off in the name of government policy, “All would be well if we could bring state schools up to private school standard”; but not their standard ideology, their levels of investment.

What is needed is a commitment that every child matters and every child should have the chance to realise their potential. Instead a generation is condemned to an education best deemed sub-standard, because for the many, the government is satisfied by not just second best but bottom of the barrel.

Unfortunately commitment to education for the many has rarely meant much - even when the slogan was education, education, education. The inability of Michael Gove to see beyond the rather narrow education he had demonstrates the extent to which the so called public school ethos permeates education policy under this government but it is a perspective that has never far away from the Department of Education.

Not everyone will be a sporting champion or an academic genius but deserve the opportunity to realise their potential. But then our current cabinet adequately demonstrate that having a few cosseted years at Eton followed by Oxbridge does not actually make you educated. Let’s campaign for the investment of millions - in the education our children deserve.