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Team games set to be compulsory after 14: Revised national curriculum to end pupils' choice after pressure from sports minister and MPs. Judith Judd reports

Team games are likely to become compulsory for all 14- to 16- year-olds after protests from MPs about their decline.

Government advisers are considering the changes as part of their review of the national curriculum and their recommendations will go to John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, later this month.

At present, 14-year-olds are allowed to choose two subjects out of games, dance, gym, athletics and outdoor or adventure activities. Games are compulsory until 14 and are given priority over other activities.

Senior government advisers said yesterday that, in practice, 90 per cent of schools were providing team games for over-14s. One said: 'We felt the physical education curriculum should be reviewed to reflect the reality and in the light of the current debate about the place of team games.'

When the national curriculum was introduced five years ago, 14- year-olds were offered a choice because ministers feared they would be put off all physical activity if team games were made compulsory.

However, Mr Patten is under pressure to increase compulsory team games in schools from Iain Sproat, the sports minister, who wants pupils to do one hour's games each day instead of about one hour a week. Mr Sproat says more team games would mean fewer thugs and fitter children.

Dr Barry Cripps, a sports psychologist who works with Britain's Olympic team, said no one should be forced to play competitive team games. 'Competitive games stimulate some children and don't stimulate others. When I was a young teacher we played them after school or on Saturdays. To go back to that would be perfectly acceptable.

'The trouble is that games in our education system are based on the very Victorian idea that if you have girls and boys on the pitch you are stopping them thinking about other things.'

Professor Neil Armstrong, of the physical education research centre at Exeter University, said: 'I am very pro-team games but it would be sad to narrow choice for children at 14. All the evidence shows that there are better ways of helping children to be fit than compulsory team games.

'One of the main objectives of PE at this age is to try and develop an activity that they will continue in later life.'

He said one of the main challenges was to interest more girls in physical activity. 'Research shows that 14- to 16-year-old girls are much more inactive than boys. Team games are not attractive to them. Only 6 per cent of girls play hockey or netball outside school even though they dominate the PE curriculum.'

Studies in America showed that children who were forced to play games were unlikely to do so in their own time.

Peter Lawson, general secretary of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, supported the proposal: 'Team spirit is a fundamentally important part of physical education. The idea that team games should be compulsory is first class.

'But the Government will need to make more time available for compulsory team games or it will be unworkable. By the time you have got the kids changed and on to the field there is no time to do anything.'

Team games dominate PE in schools, according to an inspectors' report published last December. More than half of the PE lessons for 11- to 14-year-olds were in games and, in the summer, two-thirds. There is also after-school sport in many schools.

However, an official at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority suggested yesterday that there had been a decline in extra- curricular sport after the Government introduced teachers' contracts with fixed hours following the teachers' strikes of the mid-1980s. 'The number of teachers from subjects other than PE involved in after-school sport has declined,' he said.

He said schools should consider links with outside organisations and clubs to ensure pupils have the chance to develop their talents.

The National Union of Teachers said the reluctance of some teachers to undertake more after-school activities was not surprising in view of the ever-increasing workload imposed on them by the Government.

A spokeswoman said: 'If Sir Ron Dearing is bowing to government pressure to make school sport compulsory that would be a very sad development. Today it is sport. Tomorrow, it will be on the content of other areas of the curriculum.'

Leading article, page 15

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