School tests are threat to sports' future

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The Independent Online
HOMEWORK CLUBS promoted by ministers and the Government's obsession with the three Rs are killing sport in schools, heads said yesterday. They warned of a "generation of couch potatoes" and said sports facilities in most schools were little better than "those in a Banana republic".

A survey of 2,126 primary and secondary schools carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers found that 94 per cent of primary schools have no gym and more than half have to share a playing field. More than 100 primary schools and 55 secondaries had no access to a playground.

Though virtually every school has a hall, it is used in nearly all cases for assemblies, drama, teaching, meals and tests as well as PE.

Primary heads said that both sport and PE are in decline as schools struggle to meet new Government literacy and numeracy targets for 11-year-olds. Ministers have relaxed detailed requirements for subjects such as history, music, art and PE to allow primary schools to concentrate on literacy and numeracy.

Secondary heads point out that inter-school sports competitions and clubs are now in direct competition with homework clubs, promoted by the Government as part of its drive to raise standards.

More pupils are also taking jobs after school and teachers are too busy keeping up with Government initiatives to coach teams.

Roger Hewins, head of Holliers Walk primary school in Hinckley, Leicestershire, said: "You let children out for an hour to play sport and you think we have gone down a point from our literacy target."

Heads say they are worried about the fitness and sedentary life style of children who are taken everywhere by car. David Hart, the association's general secretary, said the Government must put more emphasis on PE in the curriculum and give schools more resources for better facilities: "There is enormous yearning among the great British public for us to win the World Cup, for us to win at cricket. We will never achieve that if we skew the whole of PE and sports provision towards specialist sports colleges and Premier League football academies. There must be an investment which benefits all children.

"Sports facilities in too many schools are not much better than those of a Banana republic. Nothing illustrates the yawning gap between the affluent independent sector and the state sector quite so starkly as the state of PE and sports facilities."

But Charles Clarke, the Schools minister, said: "We attach the highest priority to sport and PE in schools. It remains a compulsory subject for all pupils. A significant proportion of pounds 180 million from the New Opportunities Fund will be used to enhance school sport out of hours. "

A total of 34 specialist sports colleges have been set up and more will follow. They not only benefit their own pupils but those in the area, providing high-quality facilities and training, said the minister. The Government is protecting school playing fields against disposal and providing pounds 1.1bn for capital works in schools, including improvements in sports facilities, he added.