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Cash handicap for primaries in sports race

The Government's drive to boost participation in sport is being undermined by cuts in support for primaries, the Scottish Council of Physical Education has claimed.

Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, last week launched the Scottish Sports Council's youth strategy at a conference in Edinburgh and highlighted the importance of developing regular physical activity at an early age.

But Sheila Whyte, who chairs the council, immediately said the Government was failing to acknowledge that visiting physical education teachers had been among the first casualties of cutbacks.

Ms Whyte said: "Research has shown that the best age for skill training is between eight and 12. If children do not get the opportunities then, they have missed the boat and you are looking at remedial programmes in secondary. "

Mr Robertson told the conference: "We need to establish the habit of regular physical activity at an early age if we are to have any chance of developing young people and adults of tomorrow who are physically fit and healthy and keen on sport."

Ms Whyte said the Government could not maintain its ambitious strategy without a sound physical education base. She supported the direction of A Youth Sport Strategy for Scotland, the Scottish Sports Council's document, and its emphasis on partnership, but warned that its objectives would remain suspect if authorities continued to be financially stretched.

Sandy Watson, chief executive of Angus Council and former director of education in Tayside, told the conference at Heriot-Watt University that councils had no choice but to "focus on duties rather than powers, on statutory obligations rather than on non-obligatory services, however desirable the latter may seem to be".

The sports council's strategy is subtitled "Pump Up the Volume", but Mr Watson doubted "the extent to which the volume can be pumped up".

PE staff are also unhappy with the Sports Mark scheme which will identify good practice in secondary school sport and make awards of Pounds 1,000 (TESS, last week). Ms Whyte warned: "If you are giving awards to schools of excellence, then one school will be compared with another. Middle-class schools are going to have an advantage." She hoped the judging panel of five would take account of such factors.

Mr Robertson underlined the Prime Minister's determination to put sport back at the heart of school life in his address, and praised the commitment of teachers who provided opportunities out of school. "This contribution needs more recognition and support," he stated.

He highlighted the five key elements of the youth sports strategy: coaching, physical activity, club sport, equality of opportunity and school sport.

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