Most children should be taking part in sport by the age of four in 1999 if a Pounds 14 million programme launched yesterday is successful.
In line with the Prime Minister's Raising the Game initiative the National Junior Sports Programme helps schools, councils, governing bodies of sport, clubs and youth groups to provide sporting opportunities for four to 18-year-olds.
The NJSP comprises Top Play, Top Sport, Champion Coaching and Top Club. The first two were introduced on Thursday in London's Tower Hamlets. The coaching scheme has been running for five years and the fourth element will start later in the year. The NJSP is to replace a piecemeal approach with a national quality assured programme delivered locally.
"If a child moves from Devon to Durham, he or she will be able to progress at a similar rate through the same programmes," said Di Horsley, head of the council's young people and sports section.
The first two schemes for primary children have three common elements: a bag of equipment, a set of instruction cards and training for teachers. Top Play, for four to nine-year-olds, will develop core skills such as co-ordination, throwing and catching, and teamwork. Top Sport introduces seven to 11- year-olds to games leading to mini versions of hockey, netball, cricket, rugby, tennis, table tennis and basketball.
The schemes have been piloted throughout England and will be extended to youth clubs and community and leisure centres in the summer. Ms Horsley said that children and teachers were enthusiastic. She emphasised that the council was not trying to take over from teachers. "The schemes have to be managed by educationists."
The primary age schemes, devised in conjunction with the Physical Education Association and the PE advisers and lecturers' organisation, will be delivered through the curriculum. Teachers are already being given one day's training to use the scheme. Champion Coaching provides a fast track for talented 11 to 13 year-olds and Top Club will encourage links between school and clubs.
Most of the funding will come from the National Lottery, the Sports Council, and the rest from sponsors organised by the Youth Sport Trust and Sportsmatch.
The statistics are impressive: Four million children will be involved, using 1.7m pieces of equipment and helped by 250,000 trained staff at 20,000 schools and community sites by 1999.