A strategy for the millennium;Sport in Scotland
Since the teachers' industrial action in 1985, the educational establishment has chosen not to debate the delivery of a comprehensive extra-curricular programme for all children. George Robertson, Labour's shadow Scottish Secretary, described this recently as a "conspiracy".
Meanwhile, many schools in the independent sector have continued to nurture and develop such opportunities. It is a fundamental part of their provision.
In the state sector, pressure has been building for parallel opportunities for all our young people. The National Council for School Sport in England and Wales and Scottish Schools Sports north of the border have lobbied both the education and sporting establishments for the past seven years to recognise the potential benefits and find ways to support this aspect of schooling.
Last year, the Government published two reports which declare their purpose is to develop school sport (Raising the Game, covering England and Wales, and Scotland's Sporting Future). A report by the Inspectorate on physical education recognised sport's contribution to ethos and advocated that headteachers acknowledge their responsibility for provision.
We are making progress, but virtually no new finance has been identified to support and improve conditions for those volunteering involvement in extra-curricular sport. However, there are ways forward. One of the most interesting arises from the network of after-school, supervised homework clubs where students can add leisure programmes to their studies.
Early research indicates significant improvements in exam performance. This model should be developed and enhanced.
If there is substantial progress on the academic front, musical and sporting talents should be fostered. If young people are entitled to the best academic opportunities, equally they should be entitled to the best extracurricular opportunities. It is a dual strategy familiar to the independent sector.
A concentration on after-school activities in school would be economically and socially acceptable, make the best use of facilities and allow children opportunities in their local community. And in the long term there are important advantages to society in terms of a healthier lifestyle by encouraging more consistent and active involvement in sport and leisure.
It is surely unrealistic to expect parents to transport their children seemingly to the ends of the earth in pursuit of their chosen sport or activity. The average youngster may well have problems travelling on public transport to other communities. Some may lack the confidence. So their local school is the best venue. Most are well equipped and the support of qualified staff could be available.
A developed programme of activities could also play a major part in after-school care. How many places are safe and secure for children to play or practise? Funding is a problem, as it is with homework clubs, but schools and authorities have found ways to set them up and keep them going. It is a matter of priorities.
Other countries in Europe have developed similar schemes, some of which encourage parents to pay the cost of provision, while others in the same scheme, have made no contribution at all. Can we persuade government to develop an imaginative programme of after-school opportunities for youngsters of all ages?
Meanwhile, an ageing volunteer force of teachers continues to offer some activities and by way of reward are offered their bus fare to turn up on Saturdays, which, of course, is subject to tax.