When the English Sports Council (ESC) celebrates its second anniversary of distributing National Lottery cash in March, it can look back with a certain satisfaction on the 1,500 schemes that have so far benefited from its largesse. Sport in schools, once an area of serious neglect, has been given a huge boost, with Pounds 47.7 million of Lottery money directed to improving coaching and equipment.
The ESC was among the first of the "good causes" to begin distributing lottery money. Paul Brivio, head of the council's development unit, says there has been a rapid and enthusiastic take-up of the different elements of the National Junior Sports Programme (NJSP).
"We are not playing a numbers game. Our schemes are all about quality provision, but, even in the relatively short time since the launch of the NJSP, the numbers of schools, local authorities and children involved are already very impressive."
The idea for the programme pre-dates the Lottery - cash was earmarked for it back in 1993. Louise Fyfe, a spokeswoman for the ESC, says: "There was an idea that young people were not taking part in as much sport as they should have been. Something was needed to rectify that."
The council, says Ms Fyfe, had identified a need for a national sports programme for young people working with other organisations such as local authorities and sports governing bodies.
However, it is undoubtedly the injection of the Lottery money that has enabled the scheme to develop so rapidly.
The sports that have been targeted are the traditional school sports: rugby, cricket, hockey, athletics and netball. Football already has its own well-established development programme.
The programme is aimed at children aged from four to 16, in or out of school. Ms Fyfe says: "Our missionstatement is for all young people to become involved in sport and physical recreation, and to realise their full potential. What we are trying to do is to challenge everybody to take up a sport, or couple of sports."
Under the programme, teachers - not necessarily PE professionals - can benefit by taking advantage of coaching courses on offer. These usually last for two to three days and take place during the school holidays. Last year, 3,500 teachers received special sports coaching.
The main aims of the programme are for schools to link up with sports clubs in the community to ensure a transition between sport in school and outside; to set up coaching schemes to improve standards; and to establish a fast-track programme to identify potential champions.
The programme is operating three leading schemes for children. The first, Top Play, is aimed at children between the ages of four and seven. The children are given a bag of different equipment and linked activity cards; these might include a foam rugby ball or plastic hockey sticks. The children then get the chance to pick up the basic skills of a game while they play.
The BT Top Sports scheme is a programme for 7-11-year-olds that is similar to the Top Play scheme but is more sport-specific. Activity cards outline the actual games which are then played. Top Sports has been in schools for a year now, and it is hoped that every school in the country will soon be benefiting from it.
Finally, under the Top Club scheme, sports clubs can become designated "top clubs" by providing facilities for children. It aims to bridge the gap between schools and clubs for children aged from 11 to 16.
"We want to get children involved with sports clubs before they leave school," says Ms Fyfe. "At the same time, champion coaching can be aimed at kids who show some aptitude for a particular sport, along with access to good facilities." There are 90 coaching schemes for future champion under way.
Funding is provided through the Sportsmark award and the Challenge Funding scheme. A Sportsmark award is given to schools that meet certain criteria, such as the quality of their sports facilities. Under the Challenge Funding scheme, Pounds 2 million is being made available to an estimated 1,000 schools over a period of two years. Schools have to be seen to be developing sporting opportunities, both in and out of school, to qualify for a grant.
Posters, booklets and resource materials are provided under the Sports Fair initiative. These help teachers to win the propaganda war by persuading young people that they should be playing some kind of sport.
"We are trying to ensure that every local authority gets something," says Ms Fyfe. "It takes time, but by the year 2000, the programme will be everywhere and 4 million children will benefit."
Four million pounds have been invested in the sports programme and 67 local authorities are already involved, says Ms Fyfe. Lottery cash and sponsorship provided the bulk of this money. "Local authorities are really pleased with the programme," she explains, "because we are providing them with everything they need to integrate the programme into schools. They are very keen."
According to Ms Fyfe, sport in school used to be organised in a more ad hoc manner. "We want every child to have the same opportunity to access coaching, facilities and a range of sports, regardless of where they live in the UK."
By its schemes, the NJSP is helping to fulfil John Major's call for more emphasis to be put on young people's sport and on sport in schools generally.
To see the programme working at its best, the ESC points to a pilot programme operating in schools in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Taking part in a Top Club scheme, 16 schools are trying to get children more involved in hockey, cricket, short tennis and basketball. Leagues have been set up and prizes and trophies will be awarded to those taking part. One of the prizes, for the two best basketball teams, includes a trip to London to see a top league game.
Lottery funds have awarded Pounds 47.7 million to education facilities. "The majority of these grants are for ground improvements," says Stevie Pattison-Dick, a spokeswoman for the Sports Council. "They will enable schools to improve their sports facilities. To qualify for the grants there must be at least 40 hours a week community use of the facilities out of school hours.
"Lottery money is being used to revitalise sport in schools, as well as to expand community use."
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* Physical Education Association stand AV18
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