HUNDREDS of schools in England and Wales will get new soccer facilities and equipment under a multi-million pound deal signed this week by ministers and the football industry.
A new foundation will distribute the money which could total pound;180 million over the next four years.
The need for the initiative was highlighted this week by the results of a survey of more than 3,000 pupils which revealed a dramatic fall in the amount of time spent on physical education in schools.
The survey, conducted by Sport England, which distributes the lottery money, found that the proportion of nine to 11-year-olds spending two or more hours per week in PE lessons has fallen from a half in 1994 to one in five in 1999. And the figures for six to eight-year-olds have fallen from a third to one in 10.
Primary pupils are the worst affected, although PE in secondaries has also been cut.
While young people are spending less time in PE lessons, there has been an increase in the numbers doing extra-curricular sport. However, although Sport England welcomed the rise, it cautioned that, after-school activity is no substitute for PE lessons as less enthusiastic pupils and those without parents will not participate.
The Government is expected to launch its strategy for revitalising school sport later this month but the pound;180m will only be used for football-related proects.
The cash will start arriving in schools from April, when the Football Association, the Premier League and the Government will each give pound;7m to the new foundation. It will then draw up regional plans to distribute the cash to where it is most needed.
This initial pound;21m is in addition to the football authorities' promise, revealed by The TES last year, to invest 5 per cent of the next Premier League television deal in school and community projects.
Recent reports suggest that the contract, which will be awarded this summer, will be worth between pound;1 billion and pound;1.6bn.
Around 80 per cent will be used to develop facilities and provide equipment for schools and local clubs, netting schools up to pound;70m. The rest will be split evenly between community education projects - such as study centres at professional football grounds - and improvements in professional stadiums.
In addition to basic equipment such as footballs and kit, mini-soccer pitches will be built in primary schools while secondaries could get floodlit all-weather pitches.
However, recipient schools will be expected to open up facilities to the wider community in the evenings and at weekends. If there are real security concerns a separate public changing block could be built alongside the new facility.
Ministers hope to match the football authorities' contribution using money from pools betting duty and the lottery - taking the total funding to at least pound;100m.