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Taking a walk on the wild side

Despite the revamp of the sports development bodies, the Active Schools programme are on track. Elizabeth Buie reports.

Sports co-ordinators will carry out the same functions in schools despite the revamp of the sports development body, sportscotland, it has been confirmed.

A spokeswoman for sportscotland said money for the pound;16 million Active Schools programmes remained in its budget and "we will continue to fund them".

However, with local authority finances moving into new territory, following the concordat between national and local government, there remain doubts over whether all councils will choose to spend their money on Active Schools programmes in future. The removal of ring-fencing in local government spending may prompt some councils to divert Active Schools money to other projects or priorities.

There have already been casualties of the Scottish Government's decision to merge the agency with the Scottish Institute of Sport, which was set up to develop elite sportsmen and women, and move its headquarters from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Julia Bracewell, chair of sportscotland, and Dougie Donnelly, chair of SIS, have both been removed from their posts to make way for a new regime.

Stewart Maxwell, the Minister for Communities and Sport, said the new structure would cut bureaucracy and boost support for grassroots and elite sport, but he has come under fire for his handling of the merger, with political opponents claiming SNP ministers have gone back on their manifesto pledge to scrap sportscotland.

Mr Maxwell was hoping to find himself on firmer ground last week when he went to Castlemilk in Glasgow, where teachers, classroom assistants and senior pupils have been co-ordinating their own exercise programme.

They are being trained to lead woodland walks in a bid to encourage children to take more exercise. The project, pioneered by Forestry Commission Scotland in partnership with Paths to Health and Castlemilk Environment Trust, aims to promote walking and encourage locals to make the most of woodlands in the area.

After teaming up with staff and pupils to see the project in action, Mr Maxwell said: "It's vitally important that schoolchildren have good opportunities for fun exercise at an early age, as this can have a huge bearing on how active they are in adulthood, and they are less likely to suffer from many serious health problems in later life. Castlemilk has a woodland on the doorstep, so introducing walks to children in the area is a great idea."

Teachers and assistants from four schools in Castlemilk have started the training, which is to be extended to other primary schools in the area and in neighbouring King's Park. The leaders learn about the woodland paths and are taught the skills required to head up guided walks and explain health benefits to youngsters. Once trained, they will take pupils out regularly. The skills needed to lead walks will be made available to the wider community, including parents.

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