Different rules: Two schools with contrasting attitudes to competition handicapped by pressure of national curriculum and cash cuts

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In search of a level playing field


Tennis at Tapton school meets John Major's priority for competitive sport but the contest is an unequal struggle between players and a hostile environment, writes Jonathan Foster.

The four courts are covered with a rubber surface pockmarked by wear to reveal dangerous patches of concrete.

Former pupils include Sebastian Coe, Olympic champion and Conservative MP. Tapton has continued to provide England schools internationals, but the needs of schools sport appear different in west Sheffield. The reason is only partly financial. Sheffield has pioneered expert coaching in primary and secondary schools, and will next week win government designation as a centre of excellence.

But the city council no longer influences school budgets directly, and governors may not share Mr Major's passion for cricket and football.

"Every year, we think we are going to have the money, only for it to be cut," Richard Storer, the deputy head, said. "It can quite literally mean a choice between resurfacing the tennis courts or keeping a teacher."

Tapton's 1,400 pupils play traditional team sports but the PE staff would resist any narrowing of the curriculum to match the Prime Minister's tastes. The second-year PE class yesterday would have alarmed traditionalists. Pupils were simulating gang warfare, vaulting around the balcony and hall floor to the overture from West Side Story.

Kevin Mallinson, head of PE, said: "Not everybody wants to jump up and down, not everyone wants to be a cricketer. I'd like Mr Major to spend a week here to see the breadth and depth of PE and sport."

No place for team spirit here


There was little rejoicing at Sir William Burrough primary school in Limehouse, east London, yesterday as the Prime Minister announced his new sports initiative. There is not much enthusiasm here for the competitive ethos, and although pupils do play some games they are taught that winning is not all-important, writes Fran Abrams.

The 340-pupil school has practical and ideological difficulties with competitive sport. It has only tarmac playgrounds on which to play games, and even these were out of bounds recently while building work was carried out at the school.

Pupils may organise their own team games at lunch time but they are not encouraged to "make a great 'do' of it", according to the head teacher, Susie Powlesland. "I can see what the Government is getting at, developing the whole idea that it is the game that counts and not the result. But I think that is quite a difficult idea for young children to accept if they are playing a game where either they win or they lose, and where they see sport on the television with quite a different kind of ethos.

"We have to work quite hard to teach them to be reasonably sporting and not to show off if their team wins," she says.

The school does not take part in sporting competitions against other schools, not because its staff are opposed to them but because they simply do not have the time since the introduction of the national curriculum and assessment.

"We are not against that in principle, but it is so much a matter of time. Pre-national curriculum the teachers used to be much more willing to take part in after-school voluntary activities, " Ms Powlesland said.