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Specialist sports schools blocked

Plans to extend the specialist schools initiative to cover sport have been dropped by the Government.

The decision to exclude the idea of funding elite sports schools, along the lines of technology and language colleges, represents a victory for the Department for Education and sports educators, who have successfully argued that the emphasis should be on raising standards in general.

Prime Minister John Major pledged this week to "put sport back at the heart of weekly life in every school". Speaking at a lunch in London given by the medical research charity SPARKS, he foreshadowed the White Paper on sport due next month.

Both Mr Major and sports minister Iain Sproat have been campaigning for a revival in school and elite sport for more than a year. However, the White Paper's publication has been delayed by wranglings between the Department of National Heritage and the DFE .

Mr Major said he wanted to re-establish sport as one of the great pillars of education alongside the academic, the vocational and the moral. "It should never have been relegated by the educational theorists to be just one part of one subject in the curriculum. That must be reversed.

"I can't readily accept a situation in which most 14-year-olds are offered only one-and-a-half hours a week of physical exercise in schools - while surveys tell us they spend a day and a half watching television."

He said the policy statement would set out a detailed programme sustaining minor sports, but would ensure that "our great traditional sports - cricket, hockey, swimming, athletics, football, netball, rugby, tennis and the like - are put firmly at the centre of the stage".

The new policy will improve links between school and club sport, he said. Students should have improved access to high quality coaching, facilities and equipment.

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