Major's empty vow on sports

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR'S Tory conference promise to increase the number of team games played in schools will be shown to be meaningless when the new National Curriculum is published next week.

Mr Major had planned to announce that schools would be forced to play two hours of sport a week but had to withdraw this on legal advice, it has emerged. The Government does not have the power to state how much time should be spent on each subject.

Schools advisers have resisted pressure to place more emphasis on competitive sport, and in practical terms the revised curriculum will be almost exactly the same as the old one in this respect.

Children need not play the full versions of any games until they are at secondary school. From the ages of 11 to 14 they must try a variety of activities, but after that they can continue with only one.

The only concessions to Mr Major's point of view have been minor. For example, it is understood that the word 'games' has become 'competitive games' in the new curriculum, which has been accepted by the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard. But as almost all games played in PE lessons are competitive, this makes little difference.

Examples of team games which might be played, such as football, hockey or netball, are thought to be included but only as suggestions.

Mr Major told the conference that changes to the curriculum made during a slimming-down exercise would 'put competitive games back at the heart of school life'. Sport would be played by all children aged from five to 16, he said. But that is the case already.

He added that he hoped schools would offer at least two hours' sport per week. It has emerged that he had hoped to announce that they would be forced to do so, but was told by lawyers at the Department for Education that this was not possible.

Under the new curriculum, children aged five to seven will play simple competitive games, in pairs or in small groups. Between seven and 11 they will play simplified versions of recognised games such as kwik cricket or mini-football.

Once at secondary school, they should start to work towards playing the full versions of recognised games, and should try a number of them before they are 14. Between 14 and 16 the minimum requirement is to play at least one competitive game, against others, which need not be a team game.

David Blunkett, Labour's new education spokesman, said competitive sport was a vital part of the PE curriculum. 'It is time that John Major and Gillian Shephard got their act together. Mr Major's comments are typical of his rhetoric on policy generally: fine words, no action and total confusion at the end.'

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: 'The Prime Minister's speech is absolutely accurate. Details of both sport in schools and the revised National Curriculum will be available in due course.'