'We are ahead of the game'

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Sue Campbell, designer of schools PE policy, is convinced that children are shaping up despite negative press on their fitness. Jon Slater reports

With obesity approaching crisis levels and continuing criticism of the Government's efforts to improve school sport, Sue Campbell could be forgiven a little self-doubt.

The former international netball player and pentathlete, who counts Olympic gold medallist Mary Peters as a very good friend, is the architect of government policies on PE and sport in schools.

Last month's revelation by The TES that schools are still waiting for the pound;750 million bonanza for sport - promised by Tony Blair more than three years ago - does nothing to dent her confidence.

Nor does the evidence presented to MPs that children are doing less PE than ever.

She believes that things are moving in the right direction and says: "Sport helps kids to socialise, improves behaviour and encourages them to work together. Team sports improve children's understanding of each other; they learn to win and lose. I could go on.

"We are not there yet but people across Europe recognise that we're ahead of the game. We should be very proud."

That, says Miss Campbell, is why she was invited to speak at the international launch of the European Year of Education through Sport (Eyes) in Dublin ahead of the UK launch this week.

The European Union is spending more than pound;400,000 on projects encouraging young people to develop through sport. The scheme will be administered by the Youth Sports Trust (YST).

Teenagers in Yorkshire and Humberside will learn about drug-free sport through a range of cross-curricular activities such as running a campaign for drug free sport.

This will include research, surveys with athletes, issues around how the media promotes it and scientific studies.

In Leeds, 70 deprived youngsters will take part in an exchange programme with seven European countries giving them the chance to gain qualifications and skills through coaching, organising and taking part in sport.

Miss Campbell's self-confidence also extends to the most controversial school sport issue of the past year - the decision by the YST to back a scheme which enabled schools to exchange vouchers on Cadbury chocolate bars in return for sports equipment.

"The decision was not a simple one. I am not naive, Cadbury clearly wanted to increase its market share. But I was disappointed by the huge imbalance of the reporting.

"On balance would I do it again? Yes I would. The fact is that calorific intake is not going up but obesity is increasing. You can draw your own conclusions but mine is that we need to do more exercise."

Miss Campbell's role in ensuring this happens is significant. As chief executive of the YST she is responsible for supporting sports colleges. She is also responsible for implementing the school sports co-ordinator programme.

More than 200 partnerships involving 1,216 co-ordinators have been put in place to provide expertise to primaries. The aim is to spread good practice and to foster links between schools and clubs.

As specialist adviser to both the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, she is responsible for developing policy and ensuring that schools meet the Government's target that 75 per cent of pupils complete at least two hours of high-quality PE and school sport each week.

For good measure she was last year appointed as chair of UK Sport, the organisation which has ultimate responsibility for boosting the nation's sporting prowess with a brief to, as she puts it, "get things moving".

"I am not going to make excuses for the pound;750m but the most important thing is that it gets to the places that need it most," she says.

An additional pound;459m, which came onstream in April, will improve training for teachers, particularly at primary level where there is a dearth of specialists. "We want primary schools to be as proficient at teaching PE as they are at literacy and numeracy," she says.

But will they hit the targets.

"We will certainly hit the volume target. Will it all be high quality? That is the challenge for everybody. I would not be blase about that."

Critics argue that many children in rural areas are excluded from after-school sport because they have no way of getting home afterwards.

Miss Campbell admitted that children's ability to participate in after-school sport is often determined by transport rather than desire.

But she said schools are experimenting with changing school hours and different bussing systems to get around the problem.

And what about criticism that the 25 per cent of pupils who do not get the two hours are likely to be the fat children who need it most?

"The question is why these children are turned off sport. The real challenge is to be able to deliver PE in a fun, enjoyable and challenging way."

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