Thousands of Barking and Dagenham residents fight school sports cuts

PROTESTS against cuts to school sports gathered pace this week as pupils, teachers and parents took to the streets of Westminster to hand over a nationwide petition.

Dozens of people from the borough took part in a national demonstration yesterday (Tuesday) against cuts to the School Sports Partnership scheme (SSP) which encourages more exercise in schools.

The government has indicated a possible �U-turn on its plans to slash the SSP after coming under pressure from campaigners and opposition politicians.

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review of the money available at local level before cutting the scheme.

Elaine Burgess, partnership development manager for Barking and Dagenham SSP, said: “We welcome the review of the decision. This seems to be to be a common sense approach.

“Teachers, headteachers and co-ordinators have been aghast at the speed at which the �decision was made.

“Given that we are only 18 months from the Olympics, this seems a strange decision.”

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She said locally around 7,000 people had added their signatures to the nationwide petition, handed to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education.

Last week, 60 headteachers from across England wrote an open letter to Mr Gove, �describing the move as “an ignorant, destructive and, (even in terms of coalition policy) a contradictory and self-defeating decision” while more than 70 top British athletes defended the SSP scheme in a letter Mr Cameron.

Barking’s Labour MP Margaret Hodge accused the government of hypocrisy during a House of Commons debate last week.

She said to Mr Gove: “We have just seen the launch of the �public health White Paper, which says that one of the government’s aims is to take ‘better care of our children’s health and development’, which could ‘improve educational �attainment’. Yet now we are debating the cutting of a proven programme that does just that. Is that not sheer hypocrisy?”

In Barking and Dagenham, the �162million national programme helped increase the number of youngsters taking part in three hours of school sports, from 48 per cent to 56 per cent since its launch in 2002.