Unions refuse to cheer Mr Major's side

21st July 1995 at 01:00
Diane Spencer reports on the Prime Minister's long-awaited proposals for school sport

The Prime Minister's long-awaited initiative to "put sport back into the heart of school life" has been greeted enthusiastically by sports bodies, but more cautiously by teacher unions.

The unions say that no extra money has been made available to pay staff to coach outside school hours, work overload is still not addressed and National Lottery money is needed for people as well as capital works.

The glossy 40-page document Sport - Raising The Game is long on style, but short on genuine initiatives. The Pounds 100 million academy for budding Olympic champions, to be paid for by lottery money, grabbed the headlines, but for teachers there is little more than hope and exhortations.

John Major caused many eyebrows to rise at his "celebratory breakfast" launch last Friday when he said: "We will ensure that by the end of the decade every school will have access to green-field sports facilities," adding, "but they may not be exclusive to every school."

Hardly surprising, since some 5,000 playing fields have been sold with the encouragement of his predecessor. The Sports Council might be given a statutory right to block the sale of sports fields, he said.

Although the National Lottery features largely in the document, it is usually as a reminder that schools, colleges and universities can bid for funds. But the Sports Council, one of the lottery distributors, is to set aside Pounds 2m to encourage school and club links. The Government's Sportsmatch scheme will earmark Pounds 1m to distribute among schools which attract matching sponsorship money.

Sport - Raising the Game falls far short of Sports Minister Iain Sproat's original plans. Early last year he proposed specialist sports schools, paying staff for 10 hours' extra-curricular sport a week, a ban on selling playing fields - even buying some back - and that every school should offer a compulsory core of five team games: cricket, football, rugby, netball and hockey.

His zeal annoyed the then Education Secretary John Patten, as Mr Sproat's "blueprint" to the sports-mad Prime Minister was leaked to the press while Mr Patten was on Government business in Malaysia. Although he reminded his colleague that he was in charge of the curriculum, Mr Sproat's interests were reflected in the revised curriculum which made games compulsory at key stage 4.

Wrangling over the proposed sports policy between the departments of education and national heritage followed, and the report, expected by Christmas, eventually appeared last Friday. It is not, as the then Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell promised in March, a white paper, but a policy paper.

Mr Major said Virginia Bottomley (who has just taken over at Heritage) and Mr Sproat would be consulting widely with sports bodies and he hoped that a white paper would be published this time next year. "This is not a one-off initiative, but the start of a series of changes," he promised.

The document says all schools should offer two hours a week of physical education and sport in formal lessons and aim to provide four hours a week of sporting opportunities at lunch-times, evenings and weekends.

A new Sportsmark scheme is offered as an incentive, along with a Gold Star for outstanding achievement to be managed by the Sports Council.

"Teachers who make an additional commitment to school sport can at school governors' discretion receive additional salary points. The Government hopes that governing bodies will use this flexibility in the existing pay structure when considering how much to pay their teachers," it says.

Voluntary home-school agreements should offer children the chance to play sport outside formal hours.

From the autumn schools will be required to include their sporting aims and provision in prospectuses. They should also record how they met these aims and their sporting achievements in the governors' annual report.

The document envisages a wider role for the Office for Standards in Education. Inspectors will inspect the quality and range of games offered as part of the curriculum, and report on this and on provision outside formal lessons. OFSTED will carry out a survey to identify good practice, and monitor and report on teacher training. The chief inspector will report annually on the state of PE and sport.

The Further Education Funding Council and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals will audit what is offered by colleges and universities which will publish details of services in the same way as schools. These limited aims have disappointed the Association for Colleges and university sports associations which hoped for earmarked lottery money and timetabled space for sport.

New criteria for initial teacher training will mean that all PE teachers will be equipped to teach at least one mainstream summer and winter game. For non- specialists who wish to take part in this "renaissance of sport in our schools", the Sports Council is giving Pounds 1m to the National Coaching Foundation to help them gain qualifications.

Mr Major says it is not for the Government to set up a British Academy of Sport, but he challenges the sports world to do so. The Sports Council will set out ideas by the end of September, and expects bids by the end of next March.

Sport - Raising the Game, free, from the Department of National Heritage, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DHZ.

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