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Sports bids 'not a dash for cash'

As the March 6 deadline looms for applications for schools aspiring to specialise in sports, headteachers should heed Jennifer Newman's words: "It is not a dash for cash. There has to be a true commitment from the head and the governors; it is very costly in time and money."

She found the application process itself had an "enormously positive effect on raising the standard of physical education and community sport".

In October 1996, Mrs Newman was seconded from her post as PE inspector with Kent County Council to the Youth Sport Trust to help schools with their applications.

Last month, the Government announced the latest tranche of six specialist sports colleges, bringing the total to 17. At the same time, six were designated as arts colleges, three for languages and 18 for technology.

In November, Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett told the Technology Colleges Trust that the Government was committed to increasing the number of these schools from 260 to 330 by next September as part of the target of 450 for the lifetime of this Parliament.

Schools have to raise Pounds 100,000 in sponsorship to get a matching Pounds 100,000 from the Department for Education and Employment and an extra revenue grant of Pounds 100 per pupil, and they must show commitment to raising standards and investing in staff.

Schools also need letters of support from the education authority, feeder schools, sports governing bodies and the local community; and evidence on rising standards from inspectors' reports .

Mrs Newman, whose secondment is funded by the DFEE, invites interested schools - the headteacher, the head of PE and one other, usually a governor, to a seminar six months before the deadline for submissions.

"I stir it a bit; I play devil's advocate. If schools are unsuccessful I do an analysis of their plan in comparison with the successful ones. I'm brutally honest . . . and they can always ignore my advice."

She reckons it takes six to nine months to produce a good plan which involves an audit of the school's strengths and weaknesses; exploring community links; liaising with sports development officers; and generally presenting a vision of how the grant would change the direction of the school. One successful school allowed its PE head to take two days a week off the timetable in the summer term to work on it.

The first stumbling block is getting the cash, as it is harder to raise money for arts and sports colleges than for languages and technology.

Ashton-on-Mersey school in Trafford was lucky to get the whole amount from Manchester United Football Club: Penryn Community School in Cornwall raised Pounds 100,000 from a host of small businesses, including an ice-cream man who would give Pounds 20 when he had had a good day. Sometimes sports governing bodies help out: the Lawn Tennis Association has been particularly generous.

Mrs Newman emphasised that the colleges were not about filling trophy cabinets or creating top performers, but they would benefit children of all abilities, and physical education in its broadest sense.

Youth Sport Trust, 3rd Floor, 107 Woburn Walk, London WC1H 0JJ

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