The standard of sports facilities in Scotland's schools will be laid bare later this year in the most important study of its type ever carried out, TESS can reveal.
The national audit, commissioned by sportscotland, will show exactly how open school facilities are to the public, amid concerns that too many restrictions are placed on community access outwith school hours.
An audit was carried out from 2004-06, but this year's version is intended to carry more weight. Sportscotland says it will directly shape its strategy for years to come in a way that the previous audit did not.
The national agency has made improving access to the school estate one of the priorities in its four-year plan, which runs until the end of 2015.
There are concerns within sportscotland about the impact of the economic downturn, with evidence that charges to the public for sports facilities may be rising to unacceptable levels in some areas.
Chief executive Stewart Harris said: "We are working towards developing and supporting a world-class sporting system at all levels in Scotland, which includes maximising the opportunities for young people and communities to take part in sport, and using the school estate can help facilitate this. This objective will complement sportscotland's successful Active Schools Network."
He added: "It is important for people of all ages and abilities to have access to excellent sporting facilities, and opening up the school estate can play a significant role in facilitating universal access.
"Much of the school estate in Scotland is already being used by both pupils and members of local communities to enjoy and participate in sport, but there are likely to be facilities where that is not currently the case, and, even where facilities are being used, there are possibly many that could be used more extensively."
The tendering period for the audit ended last week, with three suitable contractors bidding to carry it out. It is anticipated that the contract will start in May and be completed later this year, leading to a national summary and detailed reports for each of Scotland's 32 local authorities.
FAULTS IN THE SYSTEM
Previous research published in 2006 and revised in 2008 showed that almost all Scottish secondary schools and many primaries were open for community use. But it also uncovered several difficulties:
limited availability of facilities at weekends and out of term time;
high costs for community users outwith school hours;
difficulties in providing affordable staffing outside the school day;
lack of clear definitions in public-private partnership contracts;
complicated booking systems;
variations in pricing within local areas;
lack of clarity in development priorities.