The future health of pupils is in jeopardy because of the Government's emphasis on literacy and numeracy, sports experts have warned.
A survey for Sport England and Leeds Metropolitan University says that more than half a million hours of PE teaching have been lost in primary schools to make room for the literacy hour and extra numeracy work. A third of schools surveyed claimed there was not enough time for teachers to become confident and competent to take PE and many staff are fighting for time to teach it in an increasingly crowded school day.
Geoff Edmondson, general secretary of the British Association of Advisers and Lecturers in Physical Education, said that although PE was included in the new curriculum for key stages 1 and 2, due to start next September, this did not mean that it would automatically reappear on school timetables.
"There's no guarantee that things will suddenly change in September 2000, especially as PE has been declining in perceived importance for the past 30 years," Mr Edmondson said.
He called for teachers at all levels to raise PE's status in the school day from "near the bottom of the agenda to near the top". He also expressed fears that new staff are not adequately equipped to teach PE. Some teacher-training courses devote as little as 10 hours in three or four-year courses to training teachers in PE, he said.
Mr Edmondson added that children need to do at least 20 minutes of physical exercise a day, three days a week, excluding changing time, to maintain a reasonable standard of health.
Professor Margaret Talbot, head of sport at Leeds Metropolitan University, said that she fully expected the picture to become worse in the coming year and that PE would have "lost valuable ground and that schools will be ill-prepared to deliver the new PE curriculum".
The Department for Education and Employment said there is still a requirement for schools to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum and that PE remains a compulsory subject for all pupils from five to 16.
The new national curriculum will safeguard the place of PE, with a revised programme of study introduced from September 2000.
Some of the pound;180 million that has been allocated to the New Opportunities Fund is being made available for schools to enhance school sport out of hours.