Sport risks dying in its tracks

24th March 1995 at 00:00
Diane Spencer finds a new report is critical of Britain's PE provision compared to other European countries

The national curriculum is killing school sport - that is the main message of a survey report by the Secondary Heads Association covering 1,000 schools.

Ironically, this depressing finding comes in the same week as the announcement that a state comprehensive was the biggest winner in the first tranche of sports beneficiaries in the National Lottery.

The SHA report said that the number of 14-year-olds receiving less than two hours physical education per week has nearly doubled in the past seven years: from 38 per cent in 1987 to 75 per cent last year. Independent-school pupils get nearly twice as much time for PE at that age. Extra-curricular games have also declined in state schools, and to a small extent in independent ones, especially at weekends.

Keith Smith, retired head of Aylesbury grammar and one of the authors, said the national curriculum should carry a health warning to parents: "This can damage the health of your child."

Nearly 80 per cent of state school teachers and 74 per cent in private schools said the main reason for this was the increase in workloads for the national curriculum and GCSE.

Mr Smith said that the UK came bottom of a league table of European countries in the number of hours secondary children spent on PE. This was disappointing, given the Prime Minister's interest in promoting school sport, he added.

Ray Carter, the deputy chairman of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, said teachers should be given tax allowances for volunteering to coach children out of hours.

National Lottery money could compensate schools for replacing staff who take pupils to represent their county or country, and could be used for paying teachers outside contract hours, said SHA general secretary, John Sutton. This was common practice in other countries.

SHA wants the Government to set up centres with peripatetic teachers, along the lines of music centres, to give specialist help for schools rather than creating elite sports schools, an idea which Sports Minister Iain Sproat supports. And it would welcome a clear lead from the Department for Education emphasising the importance of giving time for sport and PE in the curriculum as part of preparation for a healthy life.

Mr Smith thought it a "scandal" that student teachers could not continue with sport in college. Ann Williamson, headteacher of West Heath independent school, Sevenoaks, and a member of SHA's executive committee, said two indoor and two outdoor activities were a compulsory part of teacher training when she was studying to be a maths teacher. Opportunities should be available, with the help of governing bodies of sport, for teachers to gain coaching qualifications.

She feared there would be ever-increasing discrepancies, not only between the public and private sector, but between grant-maintained and local authority schools. For example, her school could afford four specialist coaching staff for slightly more than 100 pupils. "What can we do to make life fairer?" However, Ian Lancaster, head of Arthur Terry school, Sutton Coldfield, could well reply: "Go for the National Lottery." A joint application in January by Birmingham education authority and the school has led to a grant of Pounds 752,600 towards a Pounds 1.4 million project to improve and expand the 1960s sports complex for the 1400 students and the local community.

"This is very much a 'sports for all' project, but we are also interested in developing excellence as we have a good track record for that," he said.

Olympic runner Phil Brown trained there and the current head of performing arts, Tony Hadley, is a Great Britain athletics coach whose squad trains at the school.

Under the lottery rules, the Sports Council is allowed to give 65 per cent towards the cost of a capital project. Birmingham council is providing the rest of the money for Arthur Terry school.

SHA Enquiry into the Provision of PE in Schools, 1994, Pounds 6.50, from the Secretary, Aylesbury Grammar School, Walton Road, Aylesbury, HP21 7RP.

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