PE specialists and the British Heart Foundation are urging the Government to promote an "active school" campaign to complement the Sportsmark scheme.
Sportsmark, to be launched in the autumn, aims to recognise the achievements of schools in competitive games and the performance of pupils. But the scheme, which will be run by the Sports Council, is not intended to consider overall fitness.
British children spend less time on PE than any of their continental peers, European Union research has shown.
A study by Neil Armstrong, professor of health and exercise science at Exeter University, found that a few secondary pupils did less than the equivalent of 10 minutes' brisk walking in three days (TES, July 26).
Len Almond, a PE specialist at Loughborough University, criticised the Government for its "unrealistic expectation of school sport".
He said an audit of schools would show that if they wanted to promote excellence and commit staff time to sport, they would have to offer fewer activities, increase practice sessions and cut the number of participants to about 15 per cent of the pupils.
"From a public health perspective, we need to find ways of encouraging young people to be active and schools have an important role to play. We need to get kids huffing and puffing - young children in particular need lots of aerobic activity," Len Almond said.
He is concerned about the lack of emphasis on this in key stage 1 and the early part of KS2 in the PE national curriculum.
Sportsmark is not about participation or the nation's health, he said. A parallel scheme could encourage all children to start exercising.
The British Heart Foundation is collaborating with the university to develop an "exercise challenge" scheme similar to one launched by Loughborough and Cica, the shoe company, six years ago. This could form the basis for the "active school" plan which would need to be high profile and supported by prestigious backers, he said.
The Cica scheme rewards pupils for following an exercise programme and recording their activity in a diary for six weeks. It aims to motivate children to be active outside school.
A similar project was set up by the Persil company three years ago in response to research that showed youngsters' activity levels had declined.
Persil Funfit targets three to 11-year-olds and has reached 34,000 organisations, including more than 20,000 schools and 11,000 nurseries and playgroups.
It also rewards children's efforts in following an exercise plan with badges and certificates, produces termly newsletters and training videos for teachers, and arranges competitions.
Organisers believe that teachers are less resistant to business links with schools, as long as curriculum requirements are met. For details of Persil Funfit, ring 0345 581830.