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Olympic warning

After Sydney, unions say more time for PE is needed, reports Jon Slater.

BRITAIN'S chances of building on its success at the Sydney Olympics are being undermined by a shortage of time for physical education in schools, teachers' leaders have warned.

The five main teaching unions have asked the Council for Phsical Recreation to write to Education Secretary David Blunkettt to express their concerns over the Government's concentration on after-school sport. The letter warns that after-school clubs "could be by-passed by the very pupils who need quality PE the most," and "may be used by some headteachers to marginalise the importance of curricular PE".

While Olympic heptathlon gold medallist Denise Lewis praised her PE teacher for putting her on track to success, the Government has so far preferred to concentrate on extra-curricular sport.

Last week, Tony Blair's pound;1 billion packge of lottery money for new sports facilities, co-ordinators and after-school clubs was welcomed by sports organisations and the unions. But they remain concerned about time available for exercise within the school day, and complain of uncertainty over how long the lottery will continue to fund school sports projects.

Ron Tully, of the Central Council for Physical Recreation, said: "Sport after school is not an entitlement. Five, six and seven-year-olds aren't going to stay on after school and if you're not turned on to sport at that age then you're not going to go to after-school clubs when you're older. But these kids could be potential Olympic medallists - or 30-year-olds with heart problems."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said after-school clubs were "just scratching the surface" of the problem.

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