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On a good wicket

It's not cheap to equip today's PE department, but there are a number of sponsorship deals and free offers which can help, as Graham Hart discovers.

Four thousand pounds that's just the value of stolen equipment over the past five years according to one head of physical education in Cambridgeshire; Pounds 2,000 that's the price of a new trampoline; it also represents the entire annual equipment budget for the same school.

It's not cheap to equip today's physical education department. It never has been, of course. There have always been the traditional costs such as new hockey sticks, footballs, cricket bats, floor mats and the rest. Today there are a host of new demands as well. To offer aerobics or dance on the curriculum means stereo equipment (a real favourite with thieves); if two classes are running simultaneously, this means two sets. Self-appraisal, a key element of the national curriculum, encourages the purchase of a video camera. And then there's the range of heartpulse rate monitors, peak flow meters and other measuring devices. Modern coaching in many sports has shifted the emphasis away from team practice to individual skills. You can't take a football skills session without at least one ball between every two players; the same applies to volleyball, hockey, netball.

So how are ends made to meet? "It's a balancing act," says Jane Burrell, the recently appointed head of PE at Chesterton Community College in Cambridge. Wouldn't anybody in charge of a budget say that? Yes, but Jane has a slightly different problem from some of her colleagues. "We have to consider the relative merits of curricular and extra-curricular activities. We provide the best education we can for all our pupils, but also feel a responsibility to take teams out of school and to provide facilities for those with extra enthusiasm." Fulfilling the latter aim takes money, especially in the hiring of transport.

Transport costs loom large in the budgetary considerations of Steve Halkyard, head of PE at Cottenham Village College. One feature of his balancing act is short-term, low-budget versus long-term, big-budget. How many tennis rackets do you sacrifice to resurface the sports hall at around Pounds 4,000, or lay a new cricket square, a snip at Pounds 1,200? At the very largest scale, Cottenham is hoping to build an indoor swimming pool. This will not be met out of regular finances, but it does focus the mind on the funding issue.

Local partnerships, with companies and sports clubs, are one way of acquiring equipment. If you want to introduce golf to your pupils, where better to turn than the local golf club? If you need to purchase a new volleyball net, invite your local firm to hire your gym one night per week for their volleyball club.

Partnership may sound OK, but use the word "sponsorship" and uneasiness may creep in. One Norfolk head refuses to countenance sponsorship because he fears pressure applied by the sponsors, or disquiet voiced by parents. Others in the profession are just a little sceptical. Persil has recently launched its Funfit campaign: buy Persil, collect tokens and cash them in for PE equipment. It appears to be a straightforward scheme, similar to the recent Tesco computers for schools initiative. The net result will undoubtedly be a lot more Persil sold, and little more equipment in schools.

On a grander scale Snickers (Mars) are expecting to give away over Pounds 3m of football kit to schools and youth clubs as part of a major sponsorship initiative. It's soccer and youngsters, rather than the schools, that are probably the main attractions for Mars, but this still represents serious money . . . and a lot of chocolate.

You don't have to buy anything to get the Britsh Heart Foundation's Jump Rope Chest (skipping ropes, T-shirts, music cassettes etc) but you do have to raise money for the charity. This scheme has had an excellent take-up and offers a future model for linking fund-raising, health and a form of "sponsorship". A similarly popular scheme is Kitekat's sponsorship for the British Amateur Gymnastics Association. No equipment here, but certificates and badges for pupils as they achieve the various standards.

Perhaps the best hope for schools to acquire some equipment on the cheap is to go direct to the national association responsible for their sport. The British Schools Lawn Tennis Association, which one assumes can't be short of cash, is perhaps the best example. Its Midland Bank Match Point scheme provides credits for schools who take up coaching opportunities. Collect a small number of credits and cash them in for some high-quality rackets, balls and even nets and bases. Midland Bank, and also Nestle, are involved in sponsored tennis coaching too, where equipment can be provided free for the schools. The National Coaching Foundation, through its Champion Coaching scheme, offers Pounds 100 subsidies for equipment for schools who send children on the NCF's courses.

All this talk of sponsored and free equipment ignores the fact that funding is available. "There's certainly more money around than four or five years ago," says Steve Halkyard, "so I'm generally optimistic about the future." Dearing also seems to provide grounds for optimism; fewer curricular changes means greater spending confidence. As to the future, it's probably more of the same. A bit of make and mend, a bit of help from sponsors and a large amount of careful book balancing.

Persil Funfit 0345 581830 British Schools Lawn Tennis Association 071-381 7000 Snickers Football Kit 0753 550055 BAGA (Kitekat) Awards 0895 446683 British Heart Foundation 071-935 0185 National Coaching Foundation 0532 744802

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