TONY BLAIR dropped into a secondary school in Newton Aycliffe yesterday to see how his sports foundation was helping, and gave the pupils his top five tips to achieve success.

The former Prime Minister was accompanied by Stephen Miller, the triple gold medal winning Paralympian, who has joined forces with Mr Blair's foundation to deliver a sports leadership course at Woodham Sports Academy.

Mr Blair, returning to a school he last visited 15 years ago when he was the local MP, made an impassioned plea for sport to be a central part of the curriculum.

He said: "Sport was a big part of my life when I was young.

"The sports foundation is saying that sport should be mainstream in government policy. People should stop thinking of it as an add on – it is central to making our education system work properly."

Mr Blair set up his foundation in 2007 when he stepped down as Prime Minister. It works exclusively in the North-East training club officials, referees and umpires. So far, more than 4,500 volunteers have passed through its hands.

At Woodham, the foundation is part-funding sports leadership courses in tennis, basketball, bocha (a kind of boules), cycling, athletics and cricket. These enable pupils to themselves deliver training courses and increase their self-confidence.

"Students last year attended better, achieved better and worked harder," said headteacher Christine Forsyth. "Eighty-five per cent got five A* to Cs with Maths and English. It's phenomenal, but that's the power of sport. If pupils don't make the requisite progress in their academic subjects they don't get to train; if your homework isn't done, you are not playing football, and that really transforms their mindset."

Mr Blair took a special motivational assembly at the school with Mr Miller, who held the world club throw record from 1997 to 2008. "That's a year longer than you were Prime Minister, but yours was probably a harder job," said Mr Miller, who captained Britain's Paralympics athletics squad at the 2012 games in London.

Exclusive interview Page 14