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Good sports lured from their studies

The promise of fame and fortune enjoyed by professional sports stars is luring independent school pupils away from their studies, headteachers have warned.

Members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference are worried that students are not able to combine academic study with the training demands of elite-level sport. There are also concerns that some parents are pushing their children too hard because of the financial rewards for professional sportsmen and women.

Stephen Smith, headteacher of the pound;9,500-a-year Bedford Modern School in Bedford, said: "These are big educational issues. What happens when children dedicate themselves to sport but then fail to make it to a professional level? It's about getting the balance right.

"Some parents see money at the end of it. If their son or daughter can be a successful athlete, it can bring in a lot of money and prestige."

The HMC will hold a conference at Dulwich College in London next year to try to resolve the problem. They have invited the national associations for rugby, cricket and hockey to listen to their worries.

Headteachers are calling on associations that run elite performance centres to better balance training and education so pupils can still fulfill their academic potential.

Mr Smith, who is chair of the HMC sports committee, said top-level sport was reliant on independent schools. He said: "They have taken us for granted and we are worried about that. Our teachers keep amateur sport going in this country, but it's been an uphill struggle to show sports bodies that."

Over 60 per cent of gold medalists at the Sydney Olympics were former independent school pupils, although the schools only educate around 7 per cent of children.

While some sports, such as tennis and gymnastics, require specialised training from an early age, many do not, said Mr Smith. Schools should consider playing less competitive games and focus more on developing skills, he added.

Peter Johnson, headmaster of Millfield School in Street, Somerset, which is renowned for producing elite athletes, said: "Keeping children's education going is absolutely fundamental because very few will make money from sport.

"But schools should do all they can to help pupils achieve their potential. They should draw up academic and training plans with pupils and consider offering GCSEs and A-levels over three years so they can be combined with training."

Four stars from the private sector

Lawrence Dallaglio, former England rugby union team captain (Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire)

Quinton Fortune, former Manchester United and South Africa football player (Forest School in north-east London)

Jonny Wilkinson, England rugby union player (Lord Wandsworth College in Long Sutton, Hampshire)

Frank Lampard Jr, the England and Chelsea football player (Brentwood School in Essex).

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