Friday, February 18, 2011

Conservative minister calls for an end to PE teaching in schools

Well, perhaps not quite, but if you follow the logic of DCLG minister Bob Neill's latest comments that's where you end up.

What he has done is attack 'Crazy non-jobs like cheerleading development officers' in local authorities. Now my council does not employ any cheerleading development officers, but ever supportive of the coalition government I'm keen to engage with how Mr Neill's comments might more generally be applied.

Let's reason through why a local authority in its misguided, non-job friendly kind of way, might create such a post. I imagine it has something to do with promoting physical exercise, health and fitness, particularly in the light of much-discussed concerns about obesity levels. Cheerleading is the sort of activity that might just tempt people who wouldn't normally take much exercise to do so. Foolish local councillors might even think that such activities are in line with the government's professed approach to public health, namely that:

society, government and individuals share collective responsibility for public health and the new public health system will encourage all to play their part in improving and protecting the nation’s health and well-being.

But apparently not, and this is simply a non-job. So one must infer that Mr Neill believes councils and public bodies have no business spending taxpayers' money on promoting fitness and physical exercise and should cease such activities forthwith. What does this then imply for public policy?

• Schools to save money by ceasing to teach physical education and sacking their PE teachers.
• No taxpayers' money to be wasted on competitive sport in schools.
• Local councils to stop providing sports pitches for hire, reducing the cost to the public purse of their maintenance.
• Councils also to stop providing swimming pools, swimming lessons and leisure centres.
• The government save money by scrapping all Department of Health initiatives to promote physical to exercise.
• A small fortune to be saved by ending all public spending on the Olympics.

Presumably this is not what Bob Neill is advocating. Indeed if councils actually stopped providing sporting and similar facilities right-wing ministers and media would denounce them for political correctness gone mad etc. So the minister is not actually putting forward an argument that he actually believes: it is merely a cheap shot and the latest instance of ministerial gunboat diplomacy.

For avoidance of doubt let's just pause to say that I quite accept that local authorities like any bureaucracy can and sometimes do have posts that don't achieve much in practice. This may or may not apply to cheerleading coordinators. But to know for sure one would have to look into the specific circumstances - what is the postholder doing, how many people are benefitting, is their work making a different? etc. I doubt very much whether Bob Neill has done this.

A final point: another non-job he cites is 'press officers tasked with spinning propaganda on bin collections'. So one might reasonably expect that there are no press officers in DCLG then. Of course one would be wrong. It has a rather impressive website complete with its own 'newsroom' presumbaby written by paid press officers. And what useful information are they telling us? Well at taxpayers' expense they have published a press release from one of Mr Neill's ministerial colleagues to remind people they can stand for election as a councillor in May. You couldn't make it up etc. etc.!

If ministers want to stop wasting taxpayers' money on non-jobs perhaps they should start with their own department.

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