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Sporting chances pay off

At Earlston High School, PE is seen as an important part of a child's education because it helps to prepare them for a healthy future. Raymond Ross reports

In sporting terms, Earlston High School has its claims to fame. As befits a Borders school, success on the rugby pitch is valued highly, especially as former pupils include ex-Scottish international Craig Chalmers and a member of the present Scotland squad, Steven Scott.

It's a tradition that looks likely to continue with the school having recently won the South of Scotland Cup and the South Sevens for schools, while last year pupil Kelly Brown captained the Scottish Schools fifteen.

But Earlston is a model of good practice in more than rugby. "Last year we had 16 out of 17 Higher candidates passing, and 10 of those were A passes. That's well above the national average," says physical education principal teacher Alastair Kidd.

This success is all the more impressive because, as Mr Kidd says: "In PE we take anyone who is keen. Yet at Standard grade for the last three years all our passes have been General or Credit - no Foundation.

"We've written our own courses for Standard grade and Higher. Everyone in the department develops work and we share what we develop. We think of PE as an organic course which develops each year," he says.

Like any model of good practice, success is built on firm foundations. While a recent survey indicates that some S1S2 pupils receive as little as 50 minutes of timetabled PE per week, Earlston S1S2 pupils receive four 40-minute periods; S3S4 receive two 40-minute periods of core PE per week plus an option of Standard grade, with the school presenting around 60 Standard grade and 20 Higher candidates each year.

Such generous timetabling, however, does not satisfy Alastair Kidd. "In an ideal world, I'd cut kids' Standard grades to six and work 10 periods a week on fitness," he says.

"At the age of 40, how many Standard grades will you be using? But fitness will matter - a strong heart, a good pair of lungs. PE is skill-based and helps co-ordination and team working. Regular exercise is good for you and hugely enjoyable for kids."

For r Kidd, certificated PE and whole-school core PE work hand in glove and nothing, he says, is achieved at the expense of extra-curricular activities.

"We just have to work twice as hard," he says. In his case, that involves two lunchtimes, two after-schools and a Saturday morning - an extra eight hours.

"I've had to cut back because we have a new baby. But that's about average for the department."

Around one-third of the 750 pupils on the school roll take part in extra-curricular sport. The school can cope because of the number of volunteers, including staff from many other departments and the management team as well as some parents. And the pupil uptake is so healthy because of the options available: rugby, hockey, badminton, athletics, football (girls and boys), basketball, tennis, golf, weight-training, table-tennis, volleyball and modern dance.

"The whole-school support effort is crucial as well as the parents' support. And I think the programme is also popular because there's equal opportunity for girls. We have an under-14 girls football team," says Mr Kidd.

In terms of facilities, Earlston has a dedicated games hall, an assembly hall, a new gymnasium (shared with Earlston primary), and a weightsexercise room; two rugby pitches, two hockey pitches, one football pitch, three tennis courts and a long jump pit in the school grounds.

They can also make occasional use of both Earlston RFC and Melrose RFC rugby pitches as well as Tweedbank Athletic Ground, Galashiels.

But Earlston is the only school in the Borders without access to a swimming pool in its own town. Pupils have to be bussed to Jedburgh. Yet there is still pressure on facilities. "Occasionally we have used the village hall for PE," says Mr Kidd.

We should mention the final jewel in the Earlston PE department's crown. "We have our own classroom," says Mr Kidd. "It's Internet-connected with videos. We use it for Higher theory sessions or the quick video before going to the gym. It's also a lunchtime drop-in centre."

We could add that on the school's doorstep is a rolling landscape of fields and hills. But we wouldn't want you to feel jealous.

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