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Selection to be based on sports ability says premier

As John Major announces a windfall for sport, Diane Spencer looks at the state of play in the nation. Schools will be able to select up to half their intake based on pupils' sporting ability, and become "sports colleges", Prime Minister John Major announced this week.

But the plan, foreshadowed in last month's White Paper setting out proposals to give schools new powers to select pupils, has been greeted cautiously by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, and condemned by the Secondary Heads Association.

From this autumn, schools can apply for this new status as long as they can raise Pounds 100,000 private sector sponsorship to be matched by funds from the Department for Education and Employment, which will give an extra Pounds 100 annually for each pupil "to help nurture excellence". The policy is in line with the Government's strategy of developing a variety of specialist schools.

Nigel Hook, acting deputy director of the CCPR, said he hoped additional resources would benefit all children. "The real problem is that children should be taught effectively, teachers properly trained and an adequate time provided in the curriculum."

Bob Carstairs, the professional officer of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We are against selection in principle, and sport is a spurious criteria for selection." The National Association of Head Teachers hoped that funding would not be diverted from elsewhere.

Mr Major, surrounded by schoolchildren and famous figures from the sports world on the Downing Street lawn, launched Sport: Raising the Game, the first year report, this week.

He gave an upbeat account of progress since the publication of his policy document last July, emphasising the importance of a "ladder of opportunity" from school to the "pinnacle of excellence" in the form of a new British Academy of Sport, funded by the National Lottery.

"The message today is that the Government is determined to improve sporting opportunities not only for people at the top, but for people who are no good at sport, but just happen to love it. And it is not just a one-year determination," he said.

Although he was disappointed that all schools had not managed to reach the minimum target of two hours physical education a week set last year, some progress had been made. "Sport is as important as maths and sciences," he claimed.

Mr Major also announced: * A prospectus for the academy, with an October 31 deadline for bids. The winning location and bidder for the Pounds 100 million project to be funded by the lottery will be announced in January. The academy, which will co-ordinate a regional network of sports centres, will be run mainly for athletes with "world best" standards in sports training, coaching, sports medicine and science. It will also provide scholarships.

* A Sportsmark and Gold Star award will be open to secondary schools which meet targets for timetabled and extra-curricular PE from October. This will give recognition for parents and the community of the school's achievement in developing sport and will help applications for lottery funds. The scheme will be extended to the best teacher-training provision for competitive and team games and primary schools.

* A "university challenge" will be set up to double the number of sports scholarships in time for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

* A Pounds 2 million Challenge Fund established by the Sports Council to help school-club links will be open for applications in October.

* The Sports Council will be a statutory consultee on all local authority planning decisions affecting playing fields. Its policy will be to oppose any changes leading to their loss unless the development will improve sport and recreational facilities in the area.

Mr Major emphasised the important role of the National Lottery. "It has been a stunning success with Pounds 300 million a year available for sport. Think what could have been done over the last 10 years with that amount."

Almost 100 schools have already received lottery grants of Pounds 20 million. A further 89 school projects worth Pounds 57 million are being considered by the Sports Council which will be conducting an audit of all facilities in Britain to find gaps and target funds.

From October, schools with sports projects linked to clubs will be able to claim 80 per cent of the cost from the lottery instead of 65 per cent.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said it beggared belief that Pounds 100 million was available for an academy "but teachers are expected to resurrect sport in schools in the evenings and at weekends for no extra pay."

He called for the removal of "ludicrous bureaucracy" imposed on teachers by the Government and more pay so that schools could quickly return to previous high sporting levels.

Sport: Raising the Game - the first year report, free, from Sport and Recreation Division, Department of National Heritage, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH.

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