Games on

Enthusiasm among Scottish youngsters hits a high in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics

Henry Hepburn

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Scotland wasn't bothered about the Olympics. The awarding of the Games to London in 2005 had unleashed great excitement down south, but north of the border there was a collective Caledonian shrug of the shoulders.

That was a commonly-held view, with evidence to back it up. Research by the UK government suggested that Scots were underwhelmed. A report noted that, like the Welsh, Scotland "seemed to resent the fact that England, and especially London, is hosting the Games almost on principle".

But schools have been building up a powerful counter-argument. They have seen in the Olympics a unique, grand canvas of potential learning, and a catalyst for implementing Curriculum for Excellence. That interest is reflected in startling figures that TESS can reveal.

Some 2,307 schools in Scotland, or nearly 85 per cent, have registered for Get Set, the London 2012 education programme - just behind England's 88 per cent and well ahead of Wales (69 per cent) and Northern Ireland (52 per cent).

Every single one of Scotland's 32 local authorities has at least 70 per cent of its schools registered with Get Set, while 62 per cent of all schools are "networked" - in other words, a commitment has been shown that qualifies them for this enhanced status and extra resources.

The tone for Olympics education in Scotland was set after the Scottish government consulted in 2008 on the legacy of London 2012 and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Three "key actions" were established: developing volunteering; increasing children's and young people's participation in civic life and expanding their influence on local and national decision making; and capturing the enthusiasm of children and young people for the Games.

They would provide "an ideal opportunity to support the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence" and "a focus for interdisciplinary work across the curriculum".

A view was starting to form of the Games as far more than sporting jamborees: they were epochal events which would encompass - and could drive forward - the variegated modern curriculum.

Few places in Scotland, if any, have understood that more profoundly than the West Lothian town of Linlithgow.

Its schools immersed themselves in the Olympics over the past academic year, in projects driven forward by primary PE coordinator Lesley Malone, Active Schools coordinator Lauren McLean, sports development officers and teachers. They believed that the biggest sporting event ever to take place in the UK provided the platform for something very ambitious.

"It's a one-off opportunity - I don't think my management would have let me go for it if it hadn't been for London 2012," said Mrs Malone. "It became absolutely huge - the whole project grew arms and legs."

Schools adopted countries and Olympic values for the year. A Greek taverna, a pizza joint and a French cafe were among the eateries that sprung up in the primaries, and "exchanges" took place. Pupils made canvases to reflect what they were learning; some were destined to be put on display by the National Galleries of Scotland. The Woodland Trust agreed to give 400 nursery children trees to plant, to remind them of 2012.

But the centrepiece of the year was the "Lin'Olympics". Every Friday, starting in February, Linlithgow held its own torch parade, from one school to another, the torch made by an ironworks in Bo'ness. This led up to the town's own multi-sport games on 9 May - involving 1,700 young people including a 200-strong choir. Scottish athlete Frank Clement, who competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and was invited to light the games' flame, was said to be spellbound by the event.

The town's provost was there and local businesses had helped out with 5,000. Mrs Malone said schools now have a far better idea of who they can call on for help in the town. "It's brought the whole thing to our children - now they're seeing it on the telly and they understand it," she said. "But it's united everybody."

There were headaches - transporting so many children around on a single day being the biggest - but organisers are determined to carry the momentum through to a bigger event tying into the Commonwealth Games. Next time, they hope to involve the whole of West Lothian. The potential educational scope of the Olympics was underlined in an independent evaluation of Get Set. Some 70 per cent of educators said that students were inspired by the Games and its values, and were seeing the benefits of using the values to support their school's ethos and culture. Teachers saw great benefits when Get Set was used across the curriculum.

The most encouraging results were around the impact on pupils, including better life skills and enhanced confidence; improved behaviour and attendance; increased activity in sport; and a greater empathy with the disabled.

Theresa Campbell, a senior teacher at the university of Glasgow with a PE background, has been "taken aback" by the resonance of the Olympics in Scottish schools. Every classroom she has visited recently had an Olympic display. She has been particularly impressed with the ambition of interdisciplinary learning and how the Paralympics are bringing disability to the fore.

Heather Lowden, coaching and education manager for Scottish Disability Sport, has been encouraged by the interest from mainstream schools in schemes which bring pupils together with Paralympians. The Paralympics were getting more attention than ever before, although a lot of work remains to be done, she said. Many people, for example, have never heard of boccia, a Paralympic bowls-type sport at which Scotland excels. But she believes that Glasgow 2014, which will have more Paralympic events than any previous Commonwealth Games, will raise awareness to another level, in Scottish schools and beyond.

The global nature of the Olympics has encouraged schools throughout Scotland to look well beyond their environs. An interactive map on the Education Scotland website, stretching all the way north to Baltasound Junior High in Shetland, shows 184 schools which have been inspired by the Olympic, Paralympic or Commonwealth games to forge international links.

Claire Soper, international unit manager at Edinburgh City Council, explains how her authority offered a programme to all primary and special schools, pitched at P5-6, which, like the Lin'Olympics, was part of Inspire, the UK-wide initiative backing schemes - educational and otherwise - inspired by the Olympics.

Each school "adopted" a country, and looked beyond mere capital cities, culinary characteristics and cultural traditions: pupils explored global footprints, numbers of refugees and access to education.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Zoo set up workshops, letting pupils see animals from their adopted countries; the National Museum of Scotland helped pupils to create their own exhibitions on their countries to take back to school; pupils had displays at the Gardening Scotland exhibition, inspired by their countries; and the universities of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt sent international students into schools.

The impact of the work in the Edinburgh programme will be evaluated to inform a similar programme for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The scale, scope and proximity of the Olympics account for the excitement at Calderglen High in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, explained in a profile for the Get Set website. "Students have shown particular enthusiasm for the sports and athletes of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the size and spectacular nature of the Games, media coverage and the fact that it is reasonably close to home," it stated. Or, as one pupil put it: "Something interesting is finally happening here."

The school believes it can harness this enthusiasm for long-term good, by introducing pupils to "sports and physical activities they can really engage in and (which) will stay with them throughout their lives".

The Olympics-focused activity is not confined to term-time. The Games will be over before Scottish schools return for next session, but that has not deterred some from travelling to London en masse. Membership of the Get Set network allows access to tickets for schools, and tour companies are offering school visits.

Jennifer Gallacher, principal teacher of pastoral care at Falkirk High, is one of the teachers who will lead 72 pupils on a whistlestop tour, including prized seats for basketball and volleyball matches. The Olympics have been a "big part of school life" for some time, and making the effort to go the real thing seemed the logical culmination.

The whole school went to see the torch relay when it passed through Falkirk in June. When Falkirk High held its own recreation of the ancient Olympics, it was able to use a genuine Olympic torch, lent by a torch- bearer and former pupil.

Through Inspiregt;Aspire, a programme to help schools make the most of teaching through the Olympic and Paralympic values, the Falkirk High pupils have been impressed by the stories of individual Olympic athletes. Diver Tom Daley and Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds, in particular, made a mark, being of a similar age.

But younger pupils especially can still struggle to understand exactly what the Olympics are about, so Mrs Gallacher was keen not to miss "a once-in-a-lifetime experience".

It will not be easy, entailing a long bus journey followed by a 5am start to ensure getting to the venue on time - taking the pupils on the Underground - but Mrs Gallacher is certain it will be worth the effort: "It's one of these things where you've just got to bear the headache and go for it."

For the past two years, Murrayfield Primary in Blackburn, West Lothian, has set aside one afternoon a week for "vertical learning": there are 12 groups, each comprising P1-7 pupils. For 2011-12 the pupils decided on two topics: from October to January, "animals"; from February to June, the Olympics.

It is the all-encompassing nature of the games that makes them suitable for this type of work, believes Lynne Jones, a chartered teacher who took a P2 class last session: she cites the range of disciplines, the competing countries, and the Olympic and Paralympic values.

Work has stretched well beyond simple health and well-being and citizenship Olympic topics, with pupils becoming heavily involved in Send My Friend to School, a campaign demanding that world leaders keep their promise and make sure that every child in the world can go to school. They designed medals with messages about children's rights that were sent to the local MP, reminding him of his responsibility towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

"Any PE dept that has not used the Olympics to promote the values and the huge excitement that children have for the Olympics has missed a huge opportunity," said Bob Foley, head of PE at Newbattle Community High in Midlothian.

The school assigned older pupils to do work based on the values for over two years, with S1-2 pupils and local primaries. The Olympic values are closely associated to those of the school and appear prominently in its corridors.

Newbattle pupils have, with Creative Midlothian, written three pieces of music inspired by the Olympics. They have appeared on the BBC performing the London 2012 mascot dance, and in their own school-produced film, London 2012 - The Newbattle Story. The school has already started working on sportscotland and the Youth Sport Trust's Lead 2012 initiative for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, aimed at developing the leadership skills and harnessing enthusiasm for the Games.

Commonwealth Games and sport minister Shona Robison told TESS about her hopes of channelling schools' enthusiasm for the Olympics right through to the Commonwealth Games.

"London 2012 is looming fast on the horizon and I am pleased to see that so much has already been done across education sectors for both the Olympics and Paralympics," she said. "As the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence continues, it is our aim to raise the ambition and attainment for all by making learning and teaching more relevant, engaging and inspiring. The Olympics offers an ideal opportunity for this to happen."

Bob Foley can testify to the long-term impact of the Olympics: "In 1972 in Germany, I saw the Olympic flame lit and attended and spectated at the Games. It changed my life, from a tough Edinburgh estate to Jordanhill Scottish School of Physical Education, and a career in education."

In Rutherglen, on 8 June this year, hundreds of young minds had a formative Olympic experience of their own own. Gerry Campbell, general manager of South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture, told how the main street was closed off, not just to allow the Olympic torch to pass through but to hold a school sports day in the town centre; a 450-strong choir of children and adults provided a joyous soundtrack.

There is a film of the day, available on YouTube, in which local children are asked their thoughts. One little girl sums it up: "I thought it was . rather powerful."

Numbers game

Participation rates in Get Set, the London 2012 education programme, as of 9 July.

2,307 of eligible institutions registered in Scotland (ie, 85 per cent, compared with 88.2 per cent in England, 68.9 per cent in Wales and 52.2 per cent in Northern Ireland).

61.9 per cent of Scottish schools with enhanced ("networked") Get Set status in the programme schools.

Clackmannanshire has 100 per cent of schools registered, with other authorities having close to full participation.

All 32 local authorities have more than 70 per cent of their schools registered.

Inspire programme

90 projects in Scotland spanning education (21), culture, sport, sustainability, volunteering and business, delivering over 400,000 "participation opportunities".

All projects either directly or indirectly help young people participate and be inspired by the games.

Inspire projects exist in each of the 32 local authorities.

The Inspire programme was launched in April 2008, with an Inspire programmer for Scotland in place since 2010.

78 per cent of Inspire projects are expected to continue after the Games.

9 out of 10 project leaders have been inspired to run similar projects in future.

Source: NielsenLOCOG Inspire Survey (base: 290) March 2012

Look at a legacy

Findings in A Games Legacy for Scotland, the 2011 edition of an annual Scottish government report:

No great change since 2010 in physical activity levels in Scotland, with 39 per cent of adults and 72 per cent of children meeting recommended levels.

"Real progress" in getting young people physically active: 55 per cent of seven-year-olds walking to school each day; almost half involved in organised after-school or weekend activities at least twice a week; 73 per cent taking part in sport at least once a week - higher than other parts of UK.

86 "community sport hubs" in development across 22 local authorities; the government made a new commitment to increase the target from at least one hub in every authority by 2012 to 100 hubs across Scotland by 2014.

56 Inspire projects across Scotland, with 35 still under consideration; there were 10 Inspire projects in 2010.

There have been 4 recent successful Glow meets on the theme of A Games Legacy for Scotland

Over80 schools took part and chatted with Craig Coulthard, the designer of Forest Pitch, a London 2012 Cultural Olympiad art project; spoke with athlete Lee McConnell; and took part in a Qamp;A session with the holder of the triple-jump world record, Jonathan Edwards (pictured above).

Olympic values

Respect - fair play; knowing one's own limits; and taking care of one's health and the environment.

Excellence - how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one's own objectives.

Friendship - how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences.

The Paralympic Values are based on the history of the Paralympic Games and the tradition of fair play and honourable competition. They are: courage, determination, inspiration and equality.

Original headline: Scottish youths prove they are game for the Olympics

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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