Margaret Talbot, Carnegie professor and head of sport at Leeds Metropolitan University, said sport investment had outstripped the resources available for PE. She did not regret the new funding for the Sports Council's National Junior Sports Programme, for projects like Sportsmark or the availability of up to 80 per cent capital funding from the National Lottery for school sports' facilities. But she was concerned that so little investment was made directly in PE by the mainstream agencies responsible for it.
The Department of National Heritage had demonstrated its commitment to improving young people's opportunities to play sport; but she was increasingly worried about the lack of matching commitment from the Department for Education and Employment to the national policy on young people and sport, and the department's apparent failure to value and invest in the unique role of PE within it.
"If that role is not adequately filled by physical education, my fear is that the gap will ultimately be filled by sports agencies, with a further drift towards sports education rather than PE, to the detriment of the more generic purposes of school PE, including health promotion."
She called for "designated, committed leadership for PE at the highest level" of the DFEE; minimum time for primary PE in initial teacher training; a minimum of two hours' PE a week for all secondary pupils; all primaries to provide daily PE;the subect to be extended to 16-19 year olds; physical and manipulative skills to be designated, like numeracy and oracy, as cross curricular skills; and sustained, ring-fenced funding for staff development and inservice training.
Professor Talbot was addressing a conference organised by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority on PE and the health of the nation held in London. SCAA wanted to identify issues to consider in the review of the national curriculum order for PE and to see how health and fitness could be developed in PE lessons.
The need for health-related fitness was highlighted by Kenneth Fox, senior lecturer in exercise and sports sciences at Exeter University. By 2005 one in four women and one in five men will be clinically obese, he said. A survey by his department showed that 19 per cent of nine-year-old girls and 15 per cent of boys were in the "high fat" range.
Changes in lifestyle patterns were partly to blame. Today, 36 per cent of pupils were driven to school compared to 19 per cent 20 years ago; 5 per cent cycled to school compared with 70 per cent in the Netherlands; and parents were reluctant to let their children play unsupervised despite statistics showing they were no more at risk than they were in the early 1970s.
"Affluence, technology and parental fears imprison children," said Dr Fox, adding that it was a mistake not to have a programme of study in health-related exercise, particularly as the current emphasis on competetive sport would mean a lot of children being left out.