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Pounds 520,000 aim for sports bid

Pupils at a comprehensive school in east London could be among the first to gain from a drive to improve sports performance.

Barking Abbey school stands to gain around Pounds 520,000 of government and private sector cash in the first two years if successful in its bid to become a specialist sports college.

The plan to improve standards in sport announced by John Major last year was given fresh urgency this summer following the nation's disastrous Olympics performance.

The Raising the Game initiative will involve a network of centres of excellence and a national sports academy. This week education minister Cheryl Gillan chose Barking Abbey to announce the opening of bidding for cash to create the regional centres.

Candidates are expected to raise Pounds 100,000 from business to improve facilities, to be matched from government funds, and will also be given Pounds 100 a year for each pupil to cover costs. They will be able to admit up to half their pupils on the basis of sporting ability.

Barking Abbey looks a strong candidate to be among the first 10. Its under-16 teams have been finalists in the TSB English Schools Cups in athletics and cross-country for the past five years. Six of its current pupils have won county honours at cricket, one is the national cross-country champion and top of the under-13 rankings for 800 and 1,500 metres, and another is a national 200 metres butterfly champion.

Barking Abbey's head, Tony Maxwell, a former 1,500 metres international and Cambridge athletics blue, said applying for specialist status was a natural progression for the school. Ford and the chemical company Rhone Poulenc, both nearby, could be among sponsors.

"We take sport pretty seriously here, and this means we could go a stage further and improve the service we give kids and the community."

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