Fitness and fun

Scotland's schools are on the move and its Executive is set on keeping it that way, Roddy Mackenzie reports

The biggest investment in Scottish school sport has been triggered not by shortcomings in our national teams but by health concerns.

The Scottish Executive is investing pound;24 million over three years to boost the school sports co-ordinators programme set up in 1999. Its job is to encourage sporting talent and improve the nation's physical activity.

Ian Taylor, chief executive of SportScotland, believes the programme will inject new life into school sport, which suffered serious damage from the teachers' dispute in the 1980s.

"Physical education has got much of its enthusiasm back with this programme," he says. "It's saying, 'Here's your chance to make a difference. Here's a chance to do a lot more, particularly now it's resourced.'"

Concerns over obesity prompted the Executive to invest heavily in the programme and overhaul school sport. The local school will become the focal point for sport in the community, as the project seeks to create opportunities for children to stay active throughout their lives. Setting up networks across diverse sports is the main job for co-ordinators, rather than coaching.

School-club links must be strengthened so that talented youngsters can achieve their potential, but the stress is on raising activity.

One priority is girls and young women. Another is young people from ethnic-minority groups and those with physical and learning disabilities.

The target for 2007 is to have 32 active school managers, 260 active school co-ordinators for primary and 370 for secondary working across the 32 Scottish local authorities. By the end of 2004, there were already 29 active school managers in place, 194 primary co-ordinators and 342 in secondary schools.

"All the local authorities are signed up and committed to the programme," says SportScotland spokeswoman Katriona Bush. "But finding the right people is a huge challenge in such a short time. It isn't just about curriculum time - it's also about active transport and getting kids to walk or cycle to school, playground activities and after-school activities.

"We're getting a mixture of people from education and sport backgrounds.

The large percentage coming through from education are PE teachers but others have worked in sports development and are better at the organising, co-ordinating, networking and drawing partners together. It's almost a sports development job, but in schools."

Ian Taylor believes the sports co-ordinator scheme has many merits. "It's about co-ordinators creating their own networks, training, coaching and facilitating," he says. "If we just put 350 coaches across all secondaries, their time would be decimated. Our idea is that they spread and create their own network."

But Alastair Dempster, chairman of SportScotland, warns that it will be a long-term strategy to get fitness levels up in Scottish schools.

"SportScotland is fully committed to playing its part in the battle to improve health in Scotland through increasing physical activity levels among the young," he says.

"But the obesity problem didn't occur overnight and it will take a concerted, long-term effort by government agencies, parents, schools and community organisations to tackle this important issue.

"The focus of activity is now much more diverse than it would be in a more traditional programme and this has encouraged a significant number of young people previously not engaged in sport and physical activity to become involved."

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