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Chaperone rule to be reviewed

The new ruling by Basketball Scotland that a teacher must accompany every team to cup events is proving difficult to implement, writes Roddy Mackenzie

Basketball Scotland, the governing body of the sport, is to reconsider a rule introduced this season which makes it compulsory for teams playing in the Scottish Schools Cups to be accompanied to matches by a teacher from the school.

The rule has not won wholehearted support and last month the youth commission of Basketball Scotland, voted to canvass all 120 affiliated schools before deciding whether it should be fully implemented.

Toni Szifris, the sports co-ordinator at Portobello High in Edinburgh, which has enjoyed the most success in the competitions, winning 37 cups over the years, believes that insisting on such a rule would be unworkable. Not only would it be hard to get a teacher to give up time to take every team to cup matches, but also teams could lose the benefit of having specialist coaches accompany them.

Mr Szifris, whose father, Boris, was one of the founders of basketball in this country, believes it is the only sport in Scotland to have insisted on such a rule.

"I think the ruling is not so much about child protection as what they feel is the best atmosphere and situation for the children," Mr Szifris says.

"All our coaches have been interviewed and employed through the local authority and have to be approved by the headmaster. They have to abide by the school disciplinary procedures, just like any of the teachers.

"It would be absolutely impossible to find teachers to go with every school team. We have a huge 12-14 sports programme at the school and need to tap into the best coaching expertise we have available.

"There are so many good things happening in school sport just now with school sport co-ordinators and development officers, and we don't want to stifle that."

Other sports appear to be more flexible about who accompanies competitors. John Watson, secretary of the Scottish Schools Football Association, says:

"What we insist is that anyone taking a school team is sanctioned by the headteacher. It can be a janitor, a technician or a parent as long as he or she is approved by the head. We'd prefer if it was a teacher, but realise that it can be difficult."

Colin Thomson, age-grade manager of the Scottish Rugby Union, echoed his views, saying: "We try to take a pragmatic approach to the development of school sport and we're trying to make it work as best we can. We have an amalgam of teachers, parents and club coaches helping school teams but we are acutely aware that the headteacher has sole control of what goes on under the banner of his school. In the entry form for our schools cup, there is a space for the headteacher's signature."

Linzi Morrison, administrator with the Scottish Volleyball Association, says there is no current rule stipulating that the adult accompanying teams to schools festivals must be a teacher but would be looking at this arrangement in the near future.

Linda Trotter, secretary of the Scottish Schools Athletic Association, believes it is unrealistic to expect athletes to be accompanied to schools championships by a teacher, particularly as some schools may send only one athlete.

"It would be totally unrealistic for a teacher to have a day off to attend, say, our indoor championships - which are held through the week - to accompany just one athlete," she says.

"Nine times out of 10 in that sort of case it is a parent who attends with the athlete and the coach is likely to be present. But we do insist that a form is signed by the school, giving permission for the person to accompany an athlete."

Heather Lockhart, development officer for Tennis Scotland, is not aware of any rules in tennis governing whether it is a teacher or coach that accompanies teams to Scottish Schools Cup matches, but says: "Nine times out of 10 it is a teacher that takes a team, though not necessarily a PE teacher."

Child protection is of paramount importance to schools and youth sport and governing bodies have been working with Sportscotland to ensure correct safety procedures are implemented.

Mr Szifris supports the Disclosure Scotland system set up by the Scottish Criminal Records Office, which allows schools to screen any coach working with children. However, he believes that it needs slight adjustments. Coaches could be redundant for four to six weeks while checks are made before they take up a new appointment and the process could be repeated each time a coach joins another school.

"I'm fully supportive of disclosure and believe that, with the number of people coming into school sport now, it is a good thing that checks are thorough," Mr Szifris says, "but I think the system needs to be refined and a way found to speed up the process.

"Portobello High's badminton coach left recently to take up a full-time position elsewhere and we faced the situation of the club being suspended for six weeks. Fortunately, we had a student teacher who had gone through disclosure at college and could keep the club going. Otherwise we faced the possibility of children drifting away from badminton or even sport altogether."

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