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Council cries foul on football

After-school football has been suspended across Renfrewshire primary schools because of concerns over lack of personal and public liability insurance cover for parents and volunteers.

Other authorities are understood to be watching developments with interest in case they feel the need to take similar action.

Renfrewshire issued a warning last year to primary heads over risk assessment when its review of off-site activity showed that the Paisley and District Schools Football Association and its umbrella organisation, the Scottish Schools Football Association, did not have insurance cover for coaches taking pupils for after-school training or football matches.

If a child was injured, even on the way to a match in a parent's car, the organisers could be held personally liable. If a headteacher asked a parent to transport children to a match and there was an accident, then the authority might be held responsible.

The net effect is that since last autumn at least 18 primary heads have withdrawn schools from the 42-strong Paisley and District League and formal football matches have stopped in all 42.

Secondary school football has been relatively unaffected because the vast majority of teams are coached by teachers, who have insurance cover as they are employed by the local authority. Some 90 per cent of primary football teams are coached by parents or other volunteers.

Paisley and District SFA members are hoping to organise insurance for named volunteers over the next few weeks - but are unlikely to have the new arrangements in place before the school football season finishes at Easter.

They will also have to satisfy other conditions laid down by insurers and the council: that volunteers meet specified standards in coaching, that they undergo child protection and first aid training, and that they undergo Disclosure Scotland checks.

Bernie Gonet, vice-president and acting primary representative on the Paisley and District SFA, said the authority had told primary heads that matches would only be covered by its public liability insurance if one of the authority's staff was present.

As most matches are held on a Thursday afternoon after school or a Saturday morning, when they are run by parents and other volunteers, this would have required a permanent commitment by a teacher or headteacher.

Mr Gonet hopes that negotiations with a potential insurer will be resolved soon. Among the stipulations included in any policy would be that for child protection reasons the named driver should never be alone in their car with one child.

A spokesperson for the authority said: "Renfrewshire Council supports schools football and is working in partnership with the SSFA to re-establish football in schools where it has been suspended."

A working group with representatives from the local and national SSFA will address three main issues: child protection, coach education and insurance.

The council is also providing training for volunteers and staff, on coaching, child protection and first aid. Courses are free of charge.

"This is about making football safer for young people," the spokesperson said.

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