Future Olympians running on empty

John Major would like schools to find two hours a week for PE in the hope of improving Britain's prospects at the next Olympics. But would it work?

If schools currently offer less PE than they used to, many timetablers would blame the national curriculum. PE was long seen as an area from which you could pinch time if the demands increased elsewhere.

This was particularly so at key stage 4 - more modern languages, more technology - and PE frequently suffered. And the demands on curriculum time never seem to stop.

From September, there will be short compulsory courses in modern languages, technology and information technology. According to recent headlines, next in line is morality.

Most schools will already be teaching 25 hours a week, and even schools like mine, teaching almost 27, are hard pressed to squeeze in more. And whenever more is wanted, no one wants less of anything else.

Time released post-Dearing is a bit like Scotch mist - no one who had the time before Dearing is willing to give it up, possession being nine-tenths of the law. Besides, just because the Government seems to have gone off humanities, for instance, schools may not wish to follow suit.

You could justify more sport by offering it as a GCSE subject. Theory lessons and written examinations were not quite what most of us wanted from PE but, if you coupled more sport with good examination results, everyone was happy.

One-third of a KS4 year is likely to take this option in my school. The rest have one hour and 20 minutes of timetabled PE each week. Maybe it's not enough.

But, given the already intense, and visibly increasing, curriculum pressures, where will I find 50 per cent more time for PE? Perhaps at lunchtime and after school?

With a highly dedicated staff, my school has clubs and training sessions daily.

Some are dedicated team coaching, others are open to anyone who wants to come, skill being less important than interest.

But interest and skill often go hand in hand so the youngsters in danger of turning into couch potatoes are never going to take advantage of optional sessions.

And what of the price the whole school pays for these sessions? An hour and a quarter is a long lunchtime for pupils who are not running and jumping or involved in other activities. Add that to an eight-period day, and no wonder extending the day to accommodate new curriculum material does not seem to be an option.

After-school sessions do not impinge on other people's days, but are even more likely to appeal only to those already hugely motivated by success and expertise.

The continental day - early start, early finish and then sport for all - is attractive, but would it produce more medals?

If sporting afternoons were compulsory, truancy would be rife, much of it condoned by parents who know a non-sporty youngster when they have one and would forgo the ecstasy to relieve everyone of the agony. Make the sport optional, and even law-abiding pupils would disappear. You'd be left, yet again, with the keen types.

Maybe catering better for keen types is the answer. Provide regional training for the best 5 per cent in any year group, and let schools get on with the business of motivating the many to be at least a little fitter than they would be if left to themselves.

That would be quite hard enough. With honourable exceptions, most British schoolchildren do not like exercise. They are woefully like their parents. They would rather curl up in front of the telly and watch the exertions of others.

Steven Redgrave, rowing gold medallist, returned to Britain to a welcome committee composed entirely of his own family. Downing Street would not comment on why Mr Major had not personally congratulated him. That's how much we care.

And a course in Neath aimed at encouraging children to become Olympic athletes was abandoned after only two children turned up. That's how much they care.

Hilary Moriarty is deputy head of an independent girls' secondary school. The views expressed here are entirely personal.

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