Batting for Britain?

21st July 1995 at 01:00
John Major was clearly in his element in the No 10 rose garden last Friday. There he was, batting for Britain with Sir Colin Cowdrey in front of an appreciative crowd on a sunny summer's morning. But will his performance at the launch of Raising the Game mark the point when the nation's sporting stock began to edge up, or eventually be seen as just another frothy offering that - like the Bucks Fizz proffered by the Downing Street waiters - soon went flat?

The sports bodies incline towards the former interpretation. They are grateful to the Prime Minister for giving physical education a higher profile than it has had since 1937, when school PT was made compulsory. Grateful, too, that no more school playing fields are likely to be sold, even though it was a Conservative government that in 1982 introduced the notorious DES Regulation 909 that permitted such sales.

But, understandably, the welcome from the teacher unions has been muted. They cannot oppose the notion that two timetabled hours should be earmarked for PE each week - our schools allocate less time to sport than any Western European country apart from the Republic of Ireland. But naturally they do not see why teachers should provide another four hours of extra-curricular sport without a guarantee of recompense or any reduction in their other duties. Even the former sports minister Iain Sproat who, ludicrously, suggested that teachers should work an extra 10 hours a week in the service of PE, had the decency to offer a hypothetical Pounds 500 in return (more than Pounds 1 an hour!).

But, to add insult to these injuries, there has been virtually no recognition of the unpaid hours teachers already devote to sport. Secondary PE staff put in seven extra hours a week, according to a recent Loughborough University survey.

Non-specialist teachers may be less inclined to help out than they once were, but they too are investing many "free" hours in PE - a point that was eloquently made by the Crystal Palace sports meeting for 2,500 primary children which took place on the very day Mr Major highlighted the lack of school sport.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that the biggest challenges facing school PE are at primary level. Ninety per cent of primary PE lessons are taken by non- specialists who may have had only 10 hours of sports training during their PGCE course. Mr Major was right to insist that this must change, but he was almost silent on the equally important need for in-service training, which hard-pressed LEAs are not always able to provide. His Pounds 100 million academy for elite performers may eventually provide handsome dividends, but some practical help for primary staff could prove to be an even better investment.

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