Game plan will rely on goodwill of teachers

Judith Judd examines the latest in a bombardment of initiatives aimed at schools
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The Independent Online
The Prime Minister cannot compel schools to do more sport, even within the timetable. He can only encourage them.

Indeed, Margaret Thatcher's government passed a law that forbids the Secretary of State for Education from stipulating the amount of time schools should spend on any subject.

The real difficulty for the Government's sporting enthusiasts is their dependence not just on teachers' goodwill but on their time.

For the last seven years, schools have been bombarded with new initiatives designed to improve teaching on everything from Aids to Buddhism.

Will the prospect of a Sportsmark or gold star for schools offering four hours of extra- curricular sport bring the playing fields to life on Saturdays? As David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers put it yesterday: "The aim of producing another four hours per week on an extra-curricular basis is unrealistic unless there is real additional money in budgets which will enable the teachers involved to be paid for the supervision and the coaching at a time when they are already spending long hours outside school on other key aspects of their job."

Michael Duffy, head of King Edward VI school in Morpeth, Northumberland, asked: "Do politicians understand the commitment involved to get a team together, meet them at the bus on Saturday morning, count the jerseys, look after the injuries and get home at 2pm?" In some inner-city schools, teachers even take the jerseys home to wash.

Parents may present another obstacle to John Major's ambitions. Margaret Morrissey, press officer for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations welcomed the new sports academy but said parents were divided about the need for more sport. "A lot of parents will say that maths and English will take their children further in life."

In times of youth unemployment, some parents will pay scant attention to the new sports section of the prospectus recording that Rory Underwood and Mark Hughes have been to visit and the number of victories by the hockey team.

Yet, after breakfast in Downing Street yesterday, most teaching union leaders gave a broad welcome to the Prime Minister's efforts to raise the profile of school sport.

There is widespread agreement about the decline of PE. A report this year by the Secondary Heads Association showed that only one-quarter of state schools managed to give their 14-16-year-olds the recommended two hours of PE a week, compared with 72 per cent in 1987. One-quarter of state school heads also reported a decrease in weekend sport over the last four years. The number of non-specialist PE teachers prepared to help with after-school sport had also declined. The report blamed the national curriculum for squeezing out sport. School inspectors report that enough PE is provided for most younger pupils, although a minority of schools still fail to offer adequate time.