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Cheerleading tempts pupils

in barrhead Sports Centre last week, a sea of yellow, white and pink pompoms filled the hall. About 300 P4 and P5 girls - and three boys - from 13 schools across East Renfrewshire were dressed, not as nativity-play characters, but as cheerleaders.

After a group warm-up, each school performed a routine to music. All the children joined in activities and dances, and were treated to a performance from the older girls.

The festival was to celebrate the completion of an eight-week cheerleading course in their primary schools. East Renfrewshire has introduced cheerleading into schools as part of a drive to encourage girls to participate in exercise.

Marie Bennett, an active schools coordinator for the council, organised the event. She launched the project as a pilot at Neilston Primary last year, with an after-school cheerleading club for girls and boys in P5-P7.

At the start of the Autumn term last year, the council's six other active schools coordinators introduced the programme into a school from their cluster, after securing a grant of pound;2,500 from sportscotland, the national body for sport development.

"Our remit is to encourage more girls to take up physical activity, so they'll get into the habit of being active for life," says Miss Bennett.

Some schools received sport-scotland funding, while others - those continuing it from the previous year - either charged the children pound;1 a week or paid for it out of the school budget.

Next summer, the coordinators hope to hold a three-week activity programme during the vacation, opening it up to boys. In the following school session, the intention is to introduce a CPD option that will train teachers to coach cheerleading after school.

Catherine Dillon-Ruddy, acting head at St Cadoc's Primary in Newton Mearns, says the programme has been a valuable way of introducing exercise to pupils who might be put off by other sports.

"When girls hear sports, they think of football and basketball, and many think it's not for them," she says. "They're so enthusiastic about the cheerleading that som want to take it up on a Saturday."

Miss Bennett says the response has been phenomenal. "The children love the pompoms and the dance, but they don't realise they're getting great exercise.

"Cheerleading is a great way of keeping fit, building confidence and making friends."

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