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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March, 2005, 12:28 GMT
Is school sport failing our children?
We asked you to tell us what you think are the big problems facing sport ahead of the BBC's national Sport Summit on 16 March.

An overwhelming majority of you were very concerned about school sport and want to know what is being done to get more pupils exercising more.

A QUESTION OF TIME

Our investigation reveals that despite huge concerns about child obesity, pupils are still playing shockingly low levels of sport in school.

The government is aiming to get 75% of pupils doing two hours sport a week, either in or outside of the curriculum, by 2006.

But figures from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority reveal only about one-third of schools are meeting that 75% target.

Meanwhile, childhood obesity escalated from 9.6% to more than 15% in 2002 with the result that a staggering 18% of 15-year-olds in the UK are currently grossly overweight.

The Food Standard Agency (FSA) also warned in 2003 that lack of exercise and poor nutrition among Britain's youth was a "ticking timebomb" for life expectancy levels.

Primary school children take part in a sack race on sports day

And the numbers of youngsters classing themselves as unfit is on the rise, reports the Schools Health Education Unit (SHEU).

These frightening trends are despite the fact that, according to the Government, school sport is receiving unprecedented levels of funding (Although the Conservatives claim only 1% of the 750m earmarked in 2000 has actually been spent).

And there are now more than 300 sports colleges in England, an idea borrowed from sport-savvy Australia and widely hailed as a success.

The Government's long-term target is to create a "behaviourial shift" and get 70% of the population moderately exercising for 30 minutes five times a week.

But it is currently a shockingly low 32%, which puts Britain well below a number of its European counterparts.

And the government admits meeting those goals are still a long way off - even if the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) hits its targets, 15% of pupils will still not be participating in two hours of school sport by 2008.

So why then, when everyone agrees we are sitting on a health time bomb, are schools still struggling to hit the two-hour target?

PRESSURE FOR ACADEMIC SUCCESS

It seems that, with the pressure so squarely focused on academic achievement, with school funding tied to results, head teachers have chosen not to allocate classroom time to sport.

And with resources tight, as many as one in five schools continue to lack even "adequate" sporting facilities, according to the Education watchdog Ofsted.

"The process of effecting change is often slower than a lot of us would like," says Eileen Marchant, general secretary of the British Association of Advisers and Lecturers in PE (Baalpe).

"There has been so much emphasis on standards in the core subjects that many schools have been reluctant to allocate additional time to physical education.

"However the tide is changing, albeit fairly slowly, and many schools, particularly those within School Sport Partnerships, are allocating at least two hours in curriculum time."

Sports Minister Richard Caborn insists it is up to schools to work out how to fit sport into the timetable.

"There is a balance to be struck: schools have to fit a lot of academic work into their timetables. But PE is a compulsory element of school life and we do believe that schools, in partnership with parents, are best placed to decide how much time it devotes to each area of the curriculum.

"We have strongly emphasised the importance placed on PE and sport and the benefits they bring to school life and exam results.

"Investment of over 1.5bn up to 2008 and measures to improve sporting choice, opportunity and facilities are already increasing the amount of time pupils spend on PE and school sport."

SHORT-TERM V LONG-TERM

Caborn says the government ambition is for all children to do at least four hours of sport a week, with two hours at school and at least two hours beyond the school day.

But the opposition parties believe the focus should be on forcing schools to make more time in the curriculum - now.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for culture, media and sport, told BBC Sport: "Obesity rates for six to 15-year-olds have more than trebled in the last 10-15 years.

"It is essential we get young people up and active, but it is clearly not enough to rely on out-of-hours activities.

"We must hold the government to their commitments about the number of hours allocated to sport within the curriculum in the future."

Marchant admits three groups are still really missing out - five to seven-year-olds, 14 to 16-year-olds and Asian girls.

"The first is down to a lack of trained teachers, the second is caused by academic pressures and the third is cultural.

"The solution lies in providing the two hours within curriculum time."

Hugh Robertson, the shadow spokesman for sport, said: "Two hours a week is a distinctly limited target and yet two-thirds of schools are not managing to provide that.

"For that reason we believe it is unrealistic of the government to double the target in the long-term to four hours.

"Rather, they should focus on creating the means to ensure the basic minimum is met across the board first."

PRIMARY PROBLEMS

Studies show that turning children on to sport at a young age is the key to turning them into active adults.

But, worryingly, it is in primary schools that we find the biggest crisis - with only about half of seven to nine-year-olds exercising for the required two hours, with the figure falling to just 40% for five to seven-year-olds.

The major reason for these poor participation rates is a lack of trained teachers at primary school level.


Marchant: "Many primary school teachers enter the profession with less than 10 hours training in PE.

"It's a sorry amount and as a result they don't have the confidence, or the knowledge, to take a sports lesson.

"The government has recognised this shortfall and additional on-the-job training is now being offered. The links through the schools partnership scheme are also helping to reduce the skills deficit at primary level

"But they are still playing catch-up."

Tomorrow, Sports Minister Richard Caborn and Eileen Marchant answer your concerns about school sport



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