ALTHOUGH SCHOOLS are reputed to be screaming for funds, nine months after the New Opportunities Fund launched its out of hours learning activities programme only a handful of Scottish applications have reached the fund's Glasgow headquarters.
So Donald Dewar, the First Minister, will today (Friday) don the mantle of Santa Claus when he opens the Glasgow office. He will encourage schools and local authorities to submit bids quickly, as the Scottish Executive has set its store by its education priorities and the millions of pounds invested through the Excellence Fund and the lottery funds.
Local authorities have to complete lottery applications on behalf of school clusters. In an unusual twist, they blame the extra millions already channelled into education through the Excellence Fund for the trickle of lottery bids. Added lottery bureaucracy has not helped, they complain.
South of the border and in Northern Ireland, several hundred schools are already benefiting from the lottery millions.
Baroness Pitkeathley, chair of the fund's United Kingdom board, said:
"We're anxious to spend money. But it is early days . Once the first grants are awarded in January and February, it will give people encouragement to apply. I am sure the momentum will gather."
She rejected claims of excessive bureaucracy: "We've made it as simple as possible within the constraints. It is public money and we have to be accountable."
The fund aims to establish out of hours learning in half of all Scottish secondaries, a quarter of primaries and half of special schools by autumn 2001. But the fund has its work cut out to meet its Scottish target. Applications have to be submitted by March 2001 at the latest - fifteen months away.
Pauline Cameron, head of the NOF Scottish office, accepted schools' focus on the Excellence Fund had stymied interest in the pound;23.6 million fund, which can mean an average of pound;11,000 for a primary and pound;43,000 for a secondary over three years. Schemes can start four months after bids are accepted.
Sandy Wilson, lifelong learning head in Clackmannan, said virtually all schools in his authority were now doing after-hours' work through the Excellence Fund. "Local authorities know what works and what they would like to do on top of the Excellence Fund, and I suspect the New Opportunities Fund will gather speed. Schools, broadly speaking, have been happy with the Excellence Fund," he said.
Mr Wilson said the problem for councils was to connect projects to both sources of funds. Managing them could be quite complex. The lottery application also demanded "over heavy" statistical information. "It would be helpful if they reduced that," he suggested.
Mr Wilson believed the fund could help extend the range of holiday schemes and breakfast clubs, a view shared by Ms Cameron.
All schools are eligible to apply, although the fund favours partnership applications. Half the Scottish funds are targeted at schools with some form of disadvantage to counter.
* The New Opportunities Fund will support homework clubs; help with literacy, numeracy and ICT skills; study clubs; sports, games and adventurous activities; creative ventures including music, drama, dance and film; support for exam revision; volunteering; mentoring; community service; and anything out of hours that promotes self esteem.
The NOF is at 58 Waterloo Street, Glasgow G2 7DA. Tel: 0141 242 7801.