Edinburgh is anxious to raise the profile of sport in its schools and turn some into specialist centres. Raymond Ross reports.
Someone is doing something right when around 1,500 Edinburgh eight and nine-year-olds play Soccer 7s every Saturday. Seven primary football leagues strengthen the view that the city has a bright sporting future.
The wider picture reveals 20,000 primary and secondary pupils take part in sports programmes, ranging from extra-curricular activities to special events, such as festivals and day competitions. Provision is expanding.
"The development of sport is a key part of council policy and the provision in Edinburgh is at the forefront of national developments," says Elizabeth Maginnis, the city's education convener.
The development of school-aged sport is organised by the sports and outdoor education unit, based in the education department. Brian Harris, principal officer, says: "Not only does every pupil get the opportunity to take part in some sporting activity, but Edinburgh has the highest provision of primary physical education specialists in Scotland. The fact that, under devolved management, most primary schools have bought in this expertise shows that most primary schools see it as a priority."
Football (for boys and girls) is the most popular sport and the council will shortly appoint its first development officer with the Scottish Football Association as partner. The city has a rugby development officer established with the help of the Scottish Rugby Union, Scottish Gas, Lismore RFC and the South East Edinburgh Initiative. The post was held by Richie Dixon, the Scottish national coach.
The partnership organised the Scottish Gas New Image Rugby Festival at Murrayfield last Saturday which attracted more than 500 boys and girls from primary schools throughout Scotland, competing as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting celebrations. In addition, the unit organised a morning seminar on integrating sport and the curriculum through partnerships. It was aimed at education conveners and directors of education.
Such partnerships are seen as the way forward in developing sport. "With the reduction in local authority spending, more work is being done in fostering links with private firms and external agencies," Mr Harris says.
The unit's plan for this academic year includes developing pilot sports co-ordinator posts at the Royal High and Portobello High, following the wish of Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, to establish such posts in every Scottish secondary. It is a joint venture with Team Sport Scotland, the arm of the Scottish Sports Council.
The unit is also involved in developing facilities at Meggetland playing fields, which awaits planning permission, and at Leith Academy where new facilities include an astroturf hockey and football pitch.
"One of our ultimate aims is to establish specialist schools for sport, similar to the music unitschool at Broughton high," Mr Harris says.
More immediate priorities include the "rationalisation of outdoor education centres", Benmore in Argyll and Lagganlia in the Cairngorms, which are threatened by closure. Consultants are carrying out a feasibility study and considering a trust to run them, though this is looking unlikely.
The unit offers courses in sport, outdoor education, physical education and first aid. Its remit includes curricular advice on 5-14 expressive arts and certificate courses in PE and advice on Higher Still physical education. Edinburgh is hoping to expand international sporting links by taking rugby teams to Paris and would like to expand to other sports. Advice on applying for funds from the National Lottery is another function, along with support for school sports associations, run independently by teachers.
The unit manages the Granton Sailing Base, offering sailing to schools, and monitors, administers and evaluates safety requirements for outdoor education.
Mr Harris says: "Our aim is to improve the quality of learning, preparation and performance at all levels. Our promotion of sporting activities is on a wide basis, including the roles of participants, players, officials, judges, organisers and secretaries. It is important that we maintain a wide remit while developing sporting opportunities for all pupils."