A game everyone wants to play

Edinburgh bucks trend to boost girls' participation in sport

Encouraging girls to take up sport is notoriously difficult. But it seems that Edinburgh has reversed the trend, with participation by female pupils up across all age groups in primary and secondary.

A City of Edinburgh Council report shows that 50 per cent of pupils taking part in extracurricular sporting activities are now girls. Moreover, the number of sessions taken by female students in S1 increased by 40 per cent between 2012 and 2013, from 23,915 to 33,416.

Mel Coutts, principal officer for sport and outdoor learning at the council, told TESS that girls' participation traditionally dropped off in their teenage years, but that young people now had a better understanding of the benefits of sport and more opportunities to take it up.

It was crucial to keep providing at secondary level the kinds of activities that girls had enjoyed at primary school, she said, even if this involved after-school and community clubs.

Ms Coutts added that offering stereotypically "girly" sports and avoiding competition was not the answer. "It is a frustration to almost take girls away from competitive sports and other activities that are a bit more rough-and-tumble," she said. "Girls enjoy these sports just as much [as boys do]."

One project that seems to be having an impact on girls aged 13-15 is Health 4 U, an eight-week initiative run jointly by the council, Edinburgh Leisure and the NHS. It comprises workshops on issues such as nutrition, self-esteem and the media, as well as eight sessions of physical activity that the participants might not have tried before, such as yoga or combat fitness.

The city's active schools coordinators (ASCs), too, have had an impact. After extensive consultation with girls in S1, they have added after-school clubs and activities ranging from dance and gymnastics to netball.

In the Fit for Girls programme, sponsored by SportScotland and carried out in seven schools in the city, consultation with the female pupils has also played a significant role. Together with the ASCs, the PE teachers at these schools have put together action plans based on the girls' comments about what motivates them to take part in sports.

In some areas, girls' participation is now outstripping that of boys: female pupils comprised 58 per cent of enrolments and completions in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award in 2013-14.

Bob Laurie, active schools coordinator at Craigmount High School, said that providing a wide range of activities had been key to engaging his female pupils. Craigmount High now offered 24 different after-school activities to all year groups, he said. "If we can offer an opportunity, we will."

Mr Laurie added that although stereotypically female sports such as dance were available, girls also took part in sports like rugby and basketball. He said that the sporting success of girls at the school had inspired others to follow suit, with the netball team in particular very successful. The gymnastics squad, too, have been Scottish champions for the past 10 years.

Ricky Karoyan, an ASC at Balerno High School who helped to develop the Health 4 U project, said she had started the scheme to combat the drop-off in participation among teenage girls and the self-esteem problems from which they often suffered.

Health 4 U was initially run as a pilot at two schools. After the girls who took part continued with the activities they had been introduced to by the project, it was rolled out more widely. At the end of this school year, S3 girls at all Edinburgh schools will have had access to Health 4 U, and CPD is being planned to help teachers deliver the workshops.

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