Appetite for activity hits a high
One of Perth Grammar's mottos is "Everyone Active", so it is no surprise that the school scooped the Getting Scotland Active award at this year's Scottish Education Awards. But PE and activity were not always a priority, admits head John Low.
Mr Low joined the school three-and-a-half years ago and decided on two focuses: sport and health, and the expressive arts. It was part of his plan to turn the school around. It had "horrendous" pupil behaviour problems and "real challenges", he says. "Of the four high schools in Perth, it would have been rated fourth."
The number of pupils studying certificate PE was low and there was no core PE for senior classes. But that picture is changing, with a "huge spin- off" in discipline, team working and confidence, he says.
The numbers in Higher PE alone have risen almost 400 per cent in the past year (from 13 to 50). And S5 and S6 pupils are now obliged to take part in two hours of PE a week - as are all pupils from S1 upwards.
Two years ago, 45 per cent of S1 pupils took up an after-school activity; last year, it was 75 per cent, with 26 activities on offer. "It's about sport for all - but also spotting and nurturing talent," he says.
The after-school clubs, to which the school's feeder primaries have access, are timed to take place just before specialist clubs run their training at the school. Youngsters who show promise are fed into these and their talents developed further. "Hopefully, we'll get an international or two out of this," says Mr Low.
Michael Wallace, who is 13 and in S3 at Perth Grammar, concedes he is "not the tallest person". But that did not stop him taking up basketball at school and recently he was selected to train with Basketball Scotland.
"I was a football man before and I still play at the school, but when I came to the grammar, all these other options were opened up and now I'm mostly about basketball," he says.
The school appreciates that not everyone is an athlete, so after-school activities include Duke of Edinburgh awards and a horticulture course run in the new garden and polytunnel, funded with pound;80,000 of Lottery money secured from The People's Millions project for improving the local environment.
Although senior pupils are obliged to participate in PE, they have control over the activities on offer and organise these themselves, every Friday afternoon, with senior pupils from St John's Academy.
Perth Grammar has also succeeded where many secondaries have failed - in managing to get girls active. It can now boast more girls than boys in its fitness programmes.
The introduction of cheerleading was the catalyst, says Mike Edwards, principal teacher of PE. Since then, the solution has been quite simple: provide them with things they want. The school is now taking part in Beauty and the Bike, a project run by cycling charity Sustrans to overcome potential barriers such as "helmet hair" and inspire girls to take up cycling.
The school is also fortunate in having female role models on the staff, says Mr Edwards. Eilidh Child, one of Britain's top female hurdlers, is a PE teacher. The department has a perfect blend of "youth and experience", he says, but it has also benefited from other "enthusiastic staff" like geography teacher Ashleigh Wilson, who coaches the cheerleaders.
If there's an appetite for an activity that teachers at the school can't offer, it will bring in paid coaches. "You can't expect PE staff to give up every night of the week, so we have coaches," Mr Low says.
The school is able to pay for coaches, thanks to the creation of a sports trust which gives it access to funding streams normally closed to schools. It currently has an application lodged with the Gannochy Trust for pound;85,000 to build a climbing wall.
"Creating a trust is not without its difficulties," says Mr Low. "But then it allows you to apply for funding you can't access as a mainstream school. There are thousands of charities across Scotland, and as long as you can show that what you are doing is of public value, there's no reason not to do it."
However, while Perth Grammar believes choice and variety are key, there are some things over which pupils have little say: everyone must wear black shorts and a white T-shirt, and everyone has to take part.
"If someone is not fit, they still get changed and take part in some way, be it as coach or referee, or to evaluate other pupils," says Mr Low.