To the point - What really counts

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The Olympics and Paralympics brought cheer to millions, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the pageantry of the opening ceremony and much of the sporting drama. But what are our priorities? Would we rather pay for entertainment, or support the life chances of several million children by improving the essential skills of communication and language?

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Politics with a small 'p' is about decisions on how a society shares out its resources. We are currently floundering under cuts, and told that we all have to bear a share of reducing spending. When we are counting pennies, we have to think carefully about what counts. Looking at current decisions, the figures are stark.

Let's leave aside the £11 billion of public money used to put on the Olympics. There is also the ongoing cost of elite sports. Every single Olympic gold medal cost the public purse an average of £4.5 million. Elite sports people have cost us £100 million per year for the past five years. That comes to more than £83,000 per GB team member each year.

In contrast, the Every Child a Talker (ECAT) programme, which showed remarkable success in improvements for children, families and practitioner skills, ran for three years at an average yearly cost of £14.4 million, or £9.83 per child. There is political lip-service to the importance of a strong society for supporting children and families in the foundation years. But ECAT's work has been watered down to the Early Language Development Programme, funded at less than £500,000 per year.

It would be wonderful for children to get away from sedentary play and be active. But there is no evidence that elite sport supports this. Focusing on elites can even turn off those who haven't a chance of reaching the top.

So I'm not joining the current bandwagon of encouraging competitive sports for young children. Let's stick with the 'everybody-join-in' sports days where children can feel good about doing their own best, not about beating someone else. And I suggest we spend public money not on buzz, but the life-long feel-good factor of children growing up active, healthy, communicative and capable.

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