Labour to rank school competitive sport

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Labour has pledged to put competitive sport at the heart of schools with a new system of leagues and rankings for every school in the country.

Labour has pledged to put competitive sport at the heart of schools with a new system of leagues and rankings for every school in the country.

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, yesterday promised to create 400 "competition managers" to organise inter-school leagues in all major sports and said schools and children would be ranked in team and individual games. She made her promise as Labour pledged to cut childhood obesity and improve the nation's health.

Ms Jowell said: "Competitive sport teaches fair play; it teaches that hard work pays off; it teaches children how to win and lose by the rules. In a third term we will take competitive sport in schools to a new level."

The party is pledging to offer 85 per cent of children at least two hours per week of school sport by 2008, and eventually up to two hours of sport after school as well.

Conservatives attacked Labour's health targets while the Liberal Democrats accused the Government of "dither and delay" over public health.

Under the Labour proposals competitive sports leagues would be set up in 400 "school sport partnerships" between groups of local schools.

Ms Jowell said: "Labour believes that sport should be part of every child's life. The chance to be active, to do their best, to compete and be part of something that is bigger than just themselves.

"Under the Tories, except for children in private schools, sport virtually disappeared from children's lives and we have seen the consequences, not least in the growth of childhood obesity.

"We will set up inter-school leagues in all the main sports. We will create individual and team rankings in all the main sports and we will display all the fixtures and all the results for all to see."

Tony Blair used a campaign launch in Birmingham to highlight Labour plans to improve public health. He said the party would act to stop the NHS being seen as a "national sickness service".

Labour is pledging improved food labelling, a ban on smoking in public places, the removal of unhealthy food from schools and investment in sports facilities. All children will be offered access to a school nurse.

Mr Blair said: "And as we face the challenges of this new century, we must now add a new ambition for the NHS. For most of its life, though called the National Health Service, it has been in fact a National Sickness Service.

"I want to create a genuine national health service with services that help individuals, families, children and pensioners to keep fit and well, not just a sickness service treating people when they are ill.

"I am not talking about a policy which forces people to do things they don't want to do but a policy which goes with the grain of the health choices people are making for themselves. Later, he acknowledged that Labour had set too many targets for the NHS as he answered questions from senior medical figures.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrats spokesman on health, criticised the Labour plans. He said: "Liberal Democrats believe that prevention is as important as cure which is why we would tackle the root causes of ill health, and not just treat the symptoms."

Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, attacked the Government's NHS targets. He said: "Targets distort clinical priorities and undermine hard-working NHS staff. That's why Conservatives will get rid of them altogether.

"Mr Blair claimed that Labour has reduced targets but this is all talk."

Speaking at a conference organised by the King's Fund, Mr Blair insisted that the Government had streamlined targets for the NHS. He said: "I think in retrospect there were too many and that's why we have reduced them.

"They are always going to be a blunt instrument, it's true, but sometimes they are necessary.

"We wouldn't have got the big reductions in waiting lists and waiting times if we hadn't had them."

Labour last night maintained the pressure on the Conservatives over the NHS, in a party election broadcast claiming that the Tories were a fundamental threat to the health service.

The broadcast urged voters to sign a petition opposing the "introduction of charges for hospital operations".

Mr Blair maintained his claim that the Conservatives planned to take £1.2bn a year out of the NHS to subsidise private sector operations, despite acknowledging that the Tory plans would not involve paying for NHS treatment.

Michael Howard demanded that Mr Blair withdraw his charges, branding them "Labour lies".

He said: "Mr Blair started this campaign by lying about our spending plans," said Mr Howard. "When it became clear he couldn't sustain those claims, he dropped them.

"Now he's resorting to false claims about Conservative plans for hospitals. But last night Mr Blair was forced to admit that his claims about Conservative hospitals policy were wrong too," he added.

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