Stewart Harris

The chief executive of sportscotland discusses the progress of the Active Schools programme, the changing role of PE teachers and his hopes for some positive knock-on effects from Glasgow’s forthcoming Commonwealth Games. Interview by Henry Hepburn
11th May 2012, 1:00am


Stewart Harris

Why, a decade on from John Beattie’s task force, haven’t we got two hours of PE for all pupils in Scotland?

There’s been a lot of progress - two-thirds of primaries and two-thirds of secondaries have achieved that.

Is PE in primaries good enough?

We’ve done a lot around Active Schools, a pound;13 million commitment to a network of professional staff whose job is to work inside schools, set a programme, build capacity for young people to participate. That connection into PE needs to be strengthened, and we’ll help do that.

Has Active Schools delivered?

The key aim was to build capacity, to encourage teachers and parents, to build primary-secondary relationships - it has achieved that. The emphasis now will be on transferring that into club or community.

Is there a danger of primaries relying too much on Active Schools coordinators so that sport’s educational potential goes untapped?

No, leadership from primary staff is good.

How has the job of PE teacher changed since you left that role in 1991?

In essence, it’s the same. We had a curriculum responsibility and a cluster approach, and worked very closely with primaries.

Big sporting events don’t usually boost participation. Why will Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games be different?

It’s our vision to create a systematic approach. This is ambitious: to have young people grow up in a school context where PE and sport are world class, to have world-class opportunities in their communities, and to have the opportunity, if you have talent, to realise your dreams.

Is there a post-Commonwealth Games target for participation rates?

We’ve got a commitment to 150 sports hubs - places that are multi-sport and led by the community - by 2016. Look at the Tryst club in Larbert: 500 people for the opening event, because it was on their doorstep, about them. We could set all sorts of targets. We have a potentially empty games hall that’s absolutely full.

So there are no specific targets?

Not a national target, but we need to illustrate growth and I’d rather do that in the context of schools, communities, clubs.

Chelsea’s Didier Drogba spent much of the recent match against Barcelona rolling around, then scored the winner. Are the big sports stars good role models?

I would look at the Chris Hoys and Hannah Mileys - hard workers with dreams and ambition. Those messages are stronger.

Why is Scotland so bad at getting teenage girls into sport?

People say girls are not interested in traditional sports. They are, but also in dance, gymnastics, movement. It’s trying to provide that choice. We’ve had a very strong programme called Fit for Girls, and I see unbelievable stuff with people like Bob Foley at Newbattle Community High.

In a 2010 newspaper interview, you said Scotland’s sports facilities were in `the Dark Ages’. Are things improving?

I had an issue with that headline. We’ve got iconic, sport-specific facilities being built: the velodrome in Glasgow, Ravenscraig, The Peak in Stirling, Aberdeen Sports Village, the Commonwealth pool. Add to that a school estate that has been transformed. I think we’re in good shape. The debate probably lies around access. We’re about to put an audit in place to look at what’s available nationally.

You expressed concerns that school design wasn’t giving enough thought to sport. Could you elaborate?

We believe primaries should have separate dining areas and sports facilities. In many cases that has happened.

How are budget cuts affecting sports clubs?

There’s an issue around charges going up. A Highland scheme called High Life brought down the cost for families - numbers have gone up and revenue has gone up.

Does it concern you that Scotland’s football obsession overshadows other sports?

I don’t buy that. There are probably more positive stories in the media about athletes in other sports - the Robbie Renwicks, Andy Murrays, Katherine Graingers.

The proposed national performance centre will have `football at its heart’, the government said. Will it be more for football than other sports?

We’re in the early stages of talking this through. There’s a group which (Scottish Football Association chief executive) Stewart Regan is steering. We’re developing something which hopefully will benefit football, and we’ll explore how that may benefit others.

Andy Murray left Scotland to progress; squash player Peter Nicol switched allegiance to England. Will we ever keep our best young talent in Scotland?

Where appropriate, we should do that and provide facilities here. But if it’s better for Andy Murray to go to Spain at a particular time in his career, that’s right and proper.

Sport is central to life in some countries. Which provides the ideal model?

I wouldn’t advocate lifting a model, but some key principles have impacted on me, such as community sport in Denmark. There’s a big gap in this area in Scotland, so we’re going to put a lot of effort into that.

What would you most like to happen in the next 10 years?

We’ve got a target of 150 sports hubs. We have 131 identified and would probably say there are 57 or 58. In an ideal world, I’d like one in every secondary school in Scotland.


Born: Dundee, 1957.

Education: Harris Academy, Dundee; B.Ed in PE at Jordanhill College, Glasgow.

Career: PE teacher for 12 years in Dundee’s Kirkton High and Harris Academy; club and international basketball coach for more than 20 years; various positions at sportscotland - responsible for the School Sport Coordinator Programme and Active Schools Network; chief executive since 2005.

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